At the end of Measure for Measure, we get the generic comedic ending: marriage and birth.
There is the promise of multiple weddings–one assured–before the close of the action…
- The assured: Angelo and Mariana
After the duke’s friar revelation, Duke Vincentio enforces the former marriage agreement between Angelo and Mariana, an agreement that had been consummated (pun totally intended) the night before in the Bed Trick. When the couple returns just before line 398 of Act Five, Scene One, they are married. Because of the mercy argued for by Isabella and granted by the duke, Angelo is allowed to live and “love her” (V.i.524).
- The allowed: Claudio and Julietta
With the sentenced execution for fornication revoked (after being faked), Claudio is “pardoned” (V.i.489) by the duke, who also calls for him to “restore” through marriage Julietta, whom he “wronged” (both V.i.523). The couple also represents the other generic comic ending: a future birth (though I have seen a production–though for the life of me, I can’t remember which–that presents her with a baby in that last scene).
- The enforced: Lucio and Kate Keepdown
We learn (as does the fruke) from Mistress Overdone:Mistress Kate Keepdown was with child by [Lucio] in the Duke’s time; he promised her marriage. His child is a year and a quarter old come Philip and Jacob. I have kept it myself, and see how he goes about to abuse me.
Lucio had promised to marry the prostitute while the duke was in power, but reneged. Now his child will be 16 months old the following May. When the revelations takes place in the final scene, the duke makes sure that Lucio’s punishment for “slandering a prince” (V.i.522) is marrying the woman (and “any (other) woman wronged by this lewd fellow” [V.i.507]).
- The possible: Duke Vincentio and Isabella
On two separate occasions in the final scene, the duke proposes (subtly) marriage to Isabella:
- “for your lovely sake, // Give me your hand and say you will be mine, // He is my brother too” (V.i.489-91)
I have a motion much imports your good,
Whereto if you’ll a willing ear incline,
What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.
Two proposals, no acceptance (of course, she doesn’t have any lines after her begging for mercy in the case of Angelo).
By conventions of genre, it’s a perfect comedic ending…if marriages and not happy marriages are the goal.