The Role(s) of Mariana

Continuing with my ongoing fascination with the Mariana character in Measure for Measure, I want to look at a three-way exchange in the play’s final scene between the duke, Mariana, and Lucio. Mariana has appeared before the duke and Angelo, following the accusation by Isabella.

Mariana is veiled and has declared that she will not reveal herself until “[her] husband bid [her]” (V.i.171). Since she mentions a husband, the duke begins a line of questioning:

DUKE
What, are you married?
MARIANA
No, my lord.
DUKE
Are you a maid?
MARIANA
No, my lord.
DUKE
A widow, then?
MARIANA
Neither, my lord.
DUKE
Why you are nothing, then, neither maid, widow, nor wife?
  • V.i.172-9

In the world of the play, these are the roles which a lady may play: a pre-marriage virgin maid, a widow, or a currently wed wife. Note that I say “lady” here; Lucio offers another alternative, but not one for a lady: “My lord, she may be a punk, for many of them are neither maid, widow, nor wife” (V.i.180-1). For Lucio, the fantasic, the customer of the suburban brothels who has “purchased … many diseases under [the madam’s] roof” (I.ii.44), however, Mariana could be a prostitute.

Now, this is the spectrum of roles the a woman can play within the world of Measure for Measure: a maid before marriage, married woman, a widow, or a whore. Otherwise, she is “nothing.”

Though it’s of no real value in this discussion, I do find it interesting that in concluding her argument, Mariana says, “Let me in safety raise me from my knees // Or else forever be confixed here // A marble monument” (V.i.230-2). Why interesting? Because this inanimate possible future aligns her perfectly as Angelo’s wife: the duke had earlier described him as just such “a marble (statue) to her tears” (III.i.227).

Comment?