Mariana and the Duke

I’m going to wrap up my series of discussions of the Mariana character from Measure for Measure with a look at what I find the most fascinating question of all: What is her history with Duke Vincentio and Friar Lodowick (who are, remember, the same guy, our ever-lovin’ fruke)?

When the fruke explains to Isabella how she may save her brother, he outlines to her the history of Mariana: she had been engaged to Angelo, her brother Frederick had died at sea while bringing her dowry home, she was then abandoned by Angelo–who also then also intimated her to be unchaste–and she has been living ever since in isolation in a “moated grange” (III.i.262), where her love has grown “unruly” (III.i.241). That’s quite a bit of history for the duke to know, especially when you consider he’s only been masquerading as the friar for a few days, during which he learns of her past.

A few days? you ask. You betcha, I reply.

Remember that when we first see Claudio, Mistress Overdone claims that he will be executed “within these three days” (I.ii.67); it is during this scene that Claudio asks Lucio to beg Isabella to intervene. In the next scene, the duke asks Friar Thomas for the clothing to pass him off “like a true friar” (I.iii.48). If this is a flashback, it would be the first and only one I’ve seen in all of Shakespeare.

Instead, we know that the following scenes (up through the Bed Trick) all take place in the next two days. The timeline gets a little fuzzy, but it goes something like this:

  • Act One, Scene Four: Lucio meets Isabella at the cloister (with Isabella saying she will only stay long enough to tell the mother of her leaving, and that she will talk to Claudio that night to tell him of her progress) – Day One, within hours of Act One, Scene Two
  • Act Two, Scene One: Angelo and Escalus discuss Claudio’s case (wherein Angelo calls for Claudio’s execution to take place before “by nine tomorrow morning” [II.i.34]), and Escalus deals with Elbow, Pompey, and Froth – still Day One, because of what happens in…
  • Act Two, Scene Two: Angelo meets with Isabella (and Lucio); Angelo reiterates that Claudio is to die “tomorrow” (II.ii.82) but he also tells Isabella to return “tomorrow … ‘fore noon” (II.ii.157, 160) – Day One
  • Act Two, Scene Three: The fruke meets with Juliet in the prison; the fruke reiterates that Claudio is to die “tomorrow” (II.iii.37) – Day One
  • Act Two, Scene Four: Isabella meets with Angelo; Angelo propositions Isabella and demands an answer by “tomorrow” (II.iv.166) – let’s say for argument’s sake that this scene takes place on Act Two, Scene Two’s “tomorrow” and thus, Day Two (but conceivably it could still be Day One)
  • Act Three, Scene One: Isabella breaks the bad news to Claudio in prison; the fruke tells her of Mariana and explains his plan; the fruke anticipates that the Bed Trick will take place “this night” (III.i.260), and tells Isabella to meet him at Mariana’s “moated grange…quickly” (III.i.262, 264) – Day Two
  • Act Three, Scene Two: this is actually a continuation of Act Three, Scene One, as the fruke never leaves the stage – Day Two
  • Act Four, Scene One: the fruke and Isabella meet with Mariana, and the plot is set in motion and they must “make haste // (as) The vaporous night approaches” (IV.i.56-7) – Day Two
  • Act Four, Scene Two: Prison, post-Bed Trick and pre-dawn on Day Three

Two days, and yet… (you knew there was going to be an “and yet…”, didn’t you?)

In Mariana’s first speech, she says of the fruke, “Here comes a man of comfort, whose advice // Hath often stilled my brawling discontent” (IV.i.8-9).


How often could it have been in the last day or so? There can be only one answer: he has been there before. But as she knows him only as a friar–addressing him as such (IV.i.53)–and not the duke, then those previous visits must have also been under the guise of a friar. Then why does the duke need to ask Friar Thomas for the habit of a friar? That would then depend on the real reason for the duke’s public masquerade (known to Friar Thomas)–as opposed to his private masquerade (during which he ministered to Mariana). And that reason? “To behold (Angelo’s) sway” (I.iii.43), and to understand “if power change purpose, what our seemers be” (I.iii.54). This final masquerade has one purpose alone: to watch and hold accountable the “precise” (I.iii.50) Angelo.

This leads to other timeline questions:

How much time elapses between the duke handing power to Angelo in Act One, Scene One, and the proclamations that take place in the second scene? Months? Weeks? Days? The answer to this question is not trivial; it ties into how long the duke’s private masquerade has in effect. If it’s months, then maybe he’s been ministering to Mariana this whole time, enough time for him to still her discontent “often” enough to learn her history. If it’s mere days, however, then there wouldn’t be enough time for this knowledge-transfer to take place, which would mean that the duke’s been privately masquerading as a friar since before he handed the governance of the city to Angelo.

And if THAT‘s the case, then the duke knew about Mariana when he made Angelo his deputy, which makes all of this a trap. Has the fruke been waiting for Angelo to do something, anything, like what he’s done to Isabella, just so the fruke can put his Mariana plan into play? Was his stated purpose of leaving Vienna to the rule of Angelo so that his deputy could begin enforcement of the “strict statutes and most biting laws” (I.iii.19) a sham as well?

Is Vincentio a heroic figure, saving Mariana from a future of madness (as depicted in the Tennyson poem) in the “moated grange”?

Is he a playwright putting his characters into place?

Is he a malevolent god-figure?

Or is he the “old fantastical duke of dark corners” (IV.iii.156-7) Lucio supposedly slanders him as?

The answer lies in the enigma that is Mariana.

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