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Shakespeare's Characters: Angelo (Measure for Measure)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 7. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co. (1901), Public Domain

Angelo is not so properly a hypocrite as a self -deceiver. For it is very considerable that he wishes to be, and sincerely thinks that he is what he affects and appears to be; as is plain from his consternation at the wickedness which opportunity awakens into conscious action within him. For a most searching and pregnant exposition of this type of character the reader may be referred to Bishop Butler's Sermon before the House of Lords on the 30th of January; where that great and good man, whose every sentence is an acorn of wisdom, speaks of a class of men who "try appearances upon themselves as well as upon the world, and with at least as much success; and choose to manage so as to make their own minds easy with their faults, which can scarce be done without management, rather than to mend them."

Thus Angelo for self-ends imitates sanctity, and gets taken in by his own imitation. His original fault lay in forgetting or ignoring his own frailty. As a natural consequence, his "darling sin is pride that apes humility" ; and his pride of virtue, his conceit of purity, "my gravity wherein (let no man hear me) I take pride," while it keeps him from certain vices, is itself a far greater vice than any it keeps him from; insomuch that Isabella's presence may almost be said to elevate him into lust. And perhaps the array of low and loathsome vices, which the Poet has clustered about him in the persons of Lucio, the Clown, and Mrs. Over-done, was necessary to make us feel how unspeakably worse than any or all of these is Angelo's pride of virtue. It can hardly be needful to add, that in Angelo this "mystery of iniquity" is depicted with a truth and sternness of pencil, that could scarce have been achieved but in an age fruitful in living examples of it.
Hudson: The Works of Shakespeare.


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