I’m fascinated by the character of Mariana in Measure for Measure. I know, she can be seen as not that different than the truly bland, almost character-less Diana from All’s Well That Ends Well, our Bed Trick substitute. But she’s so much more than that. As I discussed a little a couple of days back, there’s a real Helena from All’s Well That Ends Well vibe as well.
She’s also a double Isabella, and I’m not just talking about only the Bed Trick intended/Bed Trick substitute, either. Both owe their current sad situation to the downfall of a brother (Mariana’s a death; Isabella’s a heretofore unpunished act of impatience). She’s no less a deus ex machina than the dead pirate Ragozine [who caught what I did there?]).
That all is her present; the future, if not happy, at least seems certain–marriage to Angelo.
But what of her past?
We know little, only that “five years” (V.i.216) earlier, she had been engaged to Angelo. Her brother was Frederick, a warrior of enough renown to be called “the great soldier” (III.i.208) by the Duke, and she was famous enough for Isabella to have “heard of the lady, and good words went with her name” (III.i.209-10). What was the source of her fame? Was it her family name? Doubtful. If that was the case, why would Frederick be returning from (assumed) military exploits with the dowry? It should have already been in the country.
Once Frederick was lost at sea, Angelo called off the wedding. It seems at first that it was the “lost … dowry” (III.i.217, 219) that also lost her Angelo. However, Angelo also raised the specter of something more acceptable for marriage cancellations (at least) from the douchebag-male point of view (just ask Claudio from Much Ado About Nothing): the duke references Angelo’s “pretending in her discoveries of dishonor” (III.i.224-5). In other words, there were whispers of her un-chastity, a good enough excuse for Angelo to leave “her in tears” (III.i.223). It doesn’t matter that Angelo’s statements were only “pretending(s)” in the duke’s mind, it’s enough for Isabella to feel that it would be better for “death to take his poor maid from the world!” (III.i.229-30). Instead of death, however, she’s been taken in by the church, and allowed to live in that “moated grange” (III.i.262). This explains her location, which we discussed a few days back.
I think we can safely assume she’s been in that farm-barn for these past five years.