A kindly father or a teasing sadist, a responsible human or a hopeless dupe? Harold Bloom and G. Wilson Knight’s critical assessments seem so far apart that it is hard to imagine that they are writing about the same play. Would a reader who did not know that the Duke is also called Vincentio in the dramatis personae even realise that these two statements are about the same character? Here is Shakespeare’s ‘double-written’ play exposed, two dukes appealing to two critical sensibilities, one so paternal he is almost touching divinity and may even be Christ, the other a cruel, obsessively nihilistic sexual sadist. It is worth pausing over these statements for a moment to reflect on how startling it is that they are so different. It is easy to blandly accept them as unremarkable instances of two different critics having different opinions (undergraduates might reasonably protest that they’ve never read two critics who shared the same opinion). But does anyone seriously argue that Lear is an understanding father, that Macbeth is a good host or that Falstaff is abstemious? How is Measure for Measure able to provoke such different and extreme interpretations of its main characters?
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