Measure for Measure – Mariana: the Helena parallel

A man abandons a woman. She should be angry. Should be vengeful. Instead, she says, “I am not worthy of the wealth I owe” (II.v.78). Mariana from Measure for Measure? No. Helena from All’s Well That Ends Well. There are some striking parallels.

Both women are treated poorly by their contracted husbands: Mariana was abandoned before the wedding, Helena immediately after hers.

Both are put on solitary paths. Mariana resides in a “moated grange” (III.i.262). Now while most definitions for “grange” take on the concept of a barn or a country house, the question has to be raised: why would such a building need to be surrounded by a moat? Maybe an alternate meaning might shed some light upon this:

An outlying farm-house with barns, etc. belonging to a religious establishment or a feudal lord, where crops and tithes in kind were stored
  • “grange, n.; 2b”
    Oxford English Dictionary Online.
    Oxford University Press,
    September 2015.
    Web. 15 September 2015.

So. Mariana was being housed by the church, in the same place where they kept crops and tithes (but more on this in a few days). Helena has her own religious solitary path, or at least one she takes on–her proclaimed pilgrimage to the shrine at St. Jaques.

Both women face such tribulations but do not lose their love; rather, they continue to love their respective men. The duke says of Mariana’s feelings,

(Angelo’s) unjust unkindness, that in all reason should have quenched her love, hath, like an impediment to the current, made it more violent and unruly
  • III.i.238-41

If her love was so violent, I (jokingly) wonder if the moat wasn’t so much for her protection than to protect others from her. In Helena’s case, her love takes her away from a holy pilgrimage, takes her into a war zone, and has her convincing a woman to allow people to think that her virgin daughter has been violated. I could see filing that under “love, unruly.”

Yet after all this, both women still desire marriage: Mariana marries Angelo, and then pleads for his life. Helena assumes the continuence of her marriage to Bertram; only “deadly divorce” (V.iii.315) can separate the two. Contrast this with Isabella’s response to the duke’s two proposals of wedding: silence.

Was Helena a rough draft for Mariana? Did Shakespeare begin to think that Helena was problematic as a protagonist, so he put her in a different play, to play a more supporting role?


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