Measure for Measure Passage: Jeewon

II. 2. 107-110

So you must be the first that gives this sentence,
And he, that suffer’s. O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.

II. 4. 115-148

You seem’d of late to make the law a tyrant;
And rather proved the sliding of your brother
A merriment than a vice.

O, pardon me, my lord; it oft falls out,
To have what we would have, we speak not what we mean:
I something do excuse the thing I hate,
For his advantage that I dearly love.

We are all frail.

Else let my brother die,
If not a feodary, but only he
Owe and succeed thy weakness.

Nay, women are frail too.

Ay, as the glasses where they view themselves;
Which are as easy broke as they make forms.
Women! Help Heaven! men their creation mar
In profiting by them. Nay, call us ten times frail;
For we are soft as our complexions are,
And credulous to false prints.

I think it well:
And from this testimony of your own sex,–
Since I suppose we are made to be no stronger
Than faults may shake our frames,–let me be bold;
I do arrest your words. Be that you are,
That is, a woman; if you be more, you’re none;
If you be one, as you are well express’d
By all external warrants, show it now,
By putting on the destined livery.

I have no tongue but one: gentle my lord,
Let me entreat you speak the former language.

Plainly conceive, I love you.

The lines reproduced above are a part of the tug-of-war between Isabella and Angelo. She asks for an abeyance of the law and he, of her chastity. The two discursive domains intersect in the social form of a woman’s plea. The form is a familiar one to our characters, for some of them even meddle with instructions on how to plead effectively. Within the scene, however, I want to focus on the bolded phrase and think about how this statement arises, why it is accepted as legitimate, how the response melds the discourse of law and love, whether the response appears elsewhere in different form.

I want to think of “we speak not what we mean” as a metadiscursive act, one that not only references and describes a feature of the conversation at hand (pleading, making a case) but also functions as a discursive move on its own (analogous to but different from Berger’s meta theatrical). Which is a long-winded way of saying the line falls into the category of things we say about what we say while saying them—“It’s hard to understand you,” “Let me clarify,” “Do you see what I mean?,” and etc. I think this feature of the line is important because it is a way of staying within a discussion and stepping out of it, of participating and observing one’s participation in a discourse. We might care to keep this mind for when we might introduce Berger’s ethical questions.

We may read “we speak not what we mean” as acknowledging a failure in communication—one that can be corrected through perhaps elaboration, clarification, or even substitution. But we might also read the line as being reflective of unwanted success. Isabella delivers her meaning too well: Angelo is being a tyrant, and Claudio, a mere lover. But the resulting claim is untenable in a plea for mercy, so Isabella must retract them. That is to say, we might gloss the line not only as “What I mean to say was—“ but also as “That is not what I meant,”

(In the midst of argument, we say something, and our interlocutor offers a paraphrase of our own words, harsher but closer to truth in form. But it looks too grave, too terrible for us. We cannot be responsible for such a statement. So we disavow the paraphrase and along with it, our original statement, but the effect of them linger. This is how we say true and terrible things, by not saying them, by making our interlocutor say them, by appending “That is not what I meant.” We hear in return, “Yes, it is.”)

So Angelo accuses Isabella: “You seem’d to make the law a tyrant; / And rather proved the sliding of your brother / A merriment than a vice.” And so she disavows. Foucault might say that Angelo’s paraphrase, though accurate, cannot be admitted into the discourse of the plea. Isabella’s plea is predicated upon already determined truths: Claudio has broken the law. Claudio must die. Angelo enforces the law. Angelo must execute Claudio. Isabella introduces her plea into this legal discourse. She asks Angelo to have mercy and let Claudio live. All these notions can be entertained simultaneously. But if Angelo is a tyrant, and Claudio, a mere lover, the plea is meaningless. A tyrant has no mercy and a mere lover does not require one. There is no point of entry. And so Isabella retracts her words with “we speak not what we mean.”

We may care to notice that “we speak not what we mean” leaves ambiguous where the negative sticks. When “we speak no what we mean,” do we say what we do not mean, or do do we not say what we mean? Do our words take on meanings we did not fully intend, when they are released into a discourse, where they gather implications and history we were not fully aware of, or are we just being plain duplicitous? The ambiguous negative coupled with Isabella’s use of the first-person plural implicates Angelo, for he does not say what he means. He occludes his motive in verbiage. And it takes Isabella’s “Let me entreat you speak the former language” for Angelo to say, “Plainly conceive, I love you.” This may be why, Angelo does not reply “Yes, it is” to Isabella’s retraction, for in saying, “we speak not what we mean,” she has not only made a retraction but also an accusation, one that eludes Angelo’s paraphrase.

And it is here, in the implication of Angelo, in the doubling of retraction and accusation, that we might remember the line’s status as a metadiscursive act, one of participation and observation, and entreat it to Berger’s ethical concerns. What is the status of the accusation in relation to the retraction? How are they held together in the plea? Is Isabella responsible for the accusation as much as the retraction? What of her original statement and of Angelo’s paraphrase? How much of the conversation does she effect, and how much does she simply allow to happen? Does her self-conscious speech reflect an effort at self-representation? Does she hear herself, convince herself, that she is a chaste women as well as a good sister, that she has done everything she can for Claudio? Is her plea also an attempt to prepare herself for Claudio’s death after she has declined Angelo’s offer? How do we think about this scene in relation to her soliloquy, Berger’s privileged object of analysis, at the end of the scene?

Henry IV Part I Passsage: Jeewon

Act 1 Scene 2


I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness:

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That, when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,

By breaking through the foul and ugly mists

Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

If all the year were playing holidays,

To sport would be as tedious as to work;

But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come,

And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

So, when this loose behavior I throw off

And pay the debt I never promised,

By how much better than my word I am,

By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;

And like bright metal on a sullen ground,

My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,

Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes

Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;

Redeeming time when men think least I will.

Given the readings this week, I thought it might be worth thinking about how Shakespeare holds Hal together in Henry IV Part 1 in spite of the duplications of his character across many different contexts and forms. Hal with Falstaff and Hal with his father seem like two different characters. The form and texture of the language attest to this, moving from talking about animal parts in prose to glory in pentameter. There is also Hal as conveyed to Hotspur and Hal on the king’s mind—third-person descriptions a la Bal. If we are to think of Hal, not as a verisimilitude of a historical person but rather a “paper person,” as Mike Bal put it, and a body of text, what makes us think that his lines belong together? Why does it not feel incoherent?

In thinking about the question, I thought we may look at Hal’s soliloquy above. Here, Hal speaks alone, without the modulation of any other character. This is supposedly, his unadulterated self free from the bonds of having to banter with Falstaff or play prince to the king.  If we were to look anywhere for the true Hal, the one behind the mask that juggles the wide range of language he exhibits in the play, it would seem to be here.

So what do we have? We have Hal speaking, for the first time, in verse. The image is naturalistic and the lines are of a high style. We only need to compare with the register he adopts with Falstaff. It does seem that Hal merely “permit[s] the base contagious clouds,” such that “being wanted,” “he may please again to be himself” and “be more wonder’d at.” He seems to convince us that his lifestyle is a choice by showing us that he can speak in high pentameter as well as the textured prose of Falstaff.

Hal also displays a keen sense of theater. “If all the year were playing holidays / To sport would be as tedious as to work,” he tells us, arguing that “nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.” Here, Hal speaks in verse for the first time, and I do think it has the effect he describes within his soliloquy; it contrasts powerfully with what we have been provided with thus far. The same sense of presentation runs through the ruse he plays on Falstaff, leading Falstaff on to bolster his claims only to undercut him more effectively later.

Is this enough? It still seems to me that lines being grouped under “Prince Henry” contributes the greatest to letting us think of them under a single unit of character.

Which leads me to wonder also whether this passage or a passage at all is the correct moment for thinking about what makes Hal a distinctive character. Maybe this is not the right way to go about it, trying to identify a core aspect stripped of other devices, but rather, we may consider the devices in their total effect. That is to say, there is no character element to be dug up, but character is the effect of all these devices given together.

But that also seems a little atemporal. The tense shifts to the future within the soliloquy around the middle when Hal talks about expectations: “But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come, / And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents. /So, when this loose behavior I throw off /And pay the debt I never promised.” Hal is not only aware of the expectations placed upon him as a prince but also when he will have to deliver them the most, when he becomes king. Expectations project from one point to another. And throughout the play, Hal’s character can be thought of as a shift from frustration of expectations to their fulfillment, and thus requires “Redeeming time” to be considered fully. That is to say, perhaps the problem of Hal may not only be the coexistence of different kinds of stylistic registers but also the order in which they shift and why. For example, why then, is this soliloquy not more delayed for greater effect? More fundamentally, can we consider character apart from plot?



On a side note, during Richard II, we briefly discussed what rhetorical properties Richard and Bolingbroke had and how they were compatible for kingship and rule. In a play constantly concerned about roles, whether one is playing it correctly—whether the right person is performing it—Hotspur is entertained as Hal’s rival for fulfilling the role of a prince better, but perhaps the point of departure here may be that fulfilling one’s role well, fulfilling expectations, may not be what a good king or a character/actor does.