Minor characters in “Measure for Measure” (Abigail Scutts)

Having studied Measure for Measure this term and having watched it in performance at the Young Vic last month, I was fairly confident that I knew this play reasonably well when I arrived at this week’s reading. However, during the reading, it quickly became apparent that I had almost completely forgotten about certain minor characters. During the reading experience, it also occurred to me that it is the minor characters – the characters who represent the sexual underworld of the play that Angelo is trying so hard to rid the city of – that gain the most laughs from audiences of Measure for Measure (1.2, to name just one example). I would argue, though, that the very fact that these characters are comic and represent the common people is rather disturbing and problematic; after all, it is characters such as Mistress Overdone and Pompey that will be most affected when ‘all houses in the suburbs of Vienna [are] plucked down’ (1.2.80). I would invite readers, listeners and spectators of Measure for Measure, then, to consider the implication of finding comedy in scenes that include lines such as Mistress Overdone’s ‘What shall become of me?’ (1.2.88). By laughing, are we not agreeing with Angelo’s attempt at oppressing the common people in the play? Isn’t what we are finding funny the fact that these characters’ livelihoods are going to be destroyed?


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