In yesterday’s blog entry, I touched upon the foreshadowing of piracy in Measure for Measure. Today, let’s take a look at dowries.
Just as Act One, Scene Two contained the first inkling of piracy, so too it holds the first references to the concept of dowries and contracts. When Claudio attempts to tell Lucio of the reasons behind his arrest, he references the “true contract” (I.ii.144) between Claudio and Juliet; and this engagement granted Claudio “possession of Juliet’s bed” (I.ii.145). The only thing missing was the wedding itself, which had been delayed until the “propagation of a dower” (I.ii.149). The problem was a pregnancy that took root before that dowry could be secured, and now with the pregnancy showing (“too gross…writ” [I.ii. 154]), the crime of fornication is obvious. In just this single eleven-line speech, the concept of dowries is foreshadowed and the parallel between Claudio and Angelo is created, to be revealed later.
In Act Three, Scene One, as the disguised duke (our ever-lovin’ fruke) discusses how Isabella might solve all the problems stemming from Angelo, he tells the tale of of Mariana, the former fiancee of the deputy duke. Using the same terms as Claudio, the fruke talks of the “contract” (III.i.213) between Angelo and Mariana; recounts how the brother of Mariana was returning from a military exploit, when he was “wracked at sea” (III.i.214) and thus lost “the dowry of his sister” (III.i.215). Alone, later, as he reviews his plan in soliloquy, he mentions again the “old contracting” (III.ii.270) that needs to be completed.
This legal term of “contract” surfaces again when the fruke discusses with Mariana her past, calling Angelo her “husband on a precontract” (IV.i.71). Mariana uses this term as well during the confrontation with Angelo is the play’s final scene, alluding to her “vowed contract” (V.i.208). When all has been revealed, the (undisguised) duke asks Angelo if he was “contracted to this woman” (V.i.373), a question Angelo can only answer in the affirmative.
However, before all is revealed, Angelo (like Bertram in our last play All’s Well That Ends Well) does everything in his power NOT to use those legally-charged words of “dowry” and “contact.” Instead, he describes the contracted dowry as “promised proportions” (V.i.218), a completely innocuous term, with no legal or matrimonial connotation (while the term “marriage portion” was a euphemism for dowry, note that Angelo’s phrase is even an avoidance of that euphemism). Angelo, needless (but still fun) to say, is a bit of hypocritical douche-bag.