King of Swords - Angelo
Dramatis Personae: Angelo, Lord Deputy of Vienna.
Text & Context: Angelo is a would-be angel who, set up at a great height, falls headlong. When Duke Vincentio of Vienna assigns him Lord Deputy in his stead, Angelo becomes like an angel coin - a cold, hard icon of the state. His calling is to right the perceived dilemma of public morality, his manner is righteous, his method is resolutely letter of the law over spirit. The idea of vicarious judgment, where a magistrate metes out justice on God's behalf, is itself dubious. As vicar of God's Law in Christian Vienna, Angelo from the outset is as a Pharisee, in violation of Christ's doctrine (Mark 2:3–28, 3:1–6). As with the Arch fallen angel Lucifer, every heretic considers himself a reformer.
Angelo's self-righteousness becomes infused with a sense of invulnerability and utter inculpability under the mantle of state-sanctioned authority. Yet he is a gross hypocrite, unable to abide first by his own standards and then by the standards of common decency. That his great shortfall is a poverty of love is revealed by his breaking of the espousal de futuro with Mariana when her dowry is discovered to be less than formerly believed. Claudio and his pregnant Juliet, meanwhile, are betrothed de praesenti - the moral equivalent of married in Shakespeare's day - yet must pay mortally for not being married "by the book". Without love, Angelo's severity with others becomes for him "proof" of his own merit, a slight of hand adoration of ego, a carnal frisson of hate. In like kind, Justice alone will destroy much of the world, whereas Love alone will sustain it while doing what justice cannot: heal.
Angelo must be made to heal. The closest his mind comes to conceiving of love is hate-sex. Mariana loves and forgives him, as Isabella by rights and Shakespeare argues all of us must join in forgiving him, but Angelo, true to form, cannot forgive himself. For him to know love he must be shown love. While the moral plight of Vienna may by the end of Measure for Measure remain unchanged, Christian mercy has been shown and Christ's New Commandment kept - a spirit of love strikingly denied the maligned Jew, Shylock.