In Measure for Measure (2.4.95), Angelo, the classic sexual harasser, adopts a method of sexual extortion similar to King Edward’s in Henry VI Part 3 (3.2.36). Both men begin with oblique insinuations about their desires, which can be innocently misread. When the women, Isabella in Measure for Measure and Lady Grey in Henry VI, do not take the bait, both men persist until each becomes explicit Edward with, “To tell thee plain, I aim to lie with thee,” and Angelo with, “Plainly conceive I love you.” Both men give the women a choice, in Lady Grey’s case, sex in exchange for returning her husband’s lands, and in Isabella’s case, sex in exchange for saving her brother’s life. And both men place the responsibility and the consequent guilt on the women for the choices they make.
Another striking similarity is that each man’s lust is stirred paradoxically by each woman’s modesty. Edward muses to himself:
“Her looks doth argue her replete with modesty;
Her words doth show her wit incomparable;
All her perfections challenge sovereignty.
One way or other, she is for a king,”
Likewise, Angelo in an earlier scene (Measure 2.2.197) asks himself:
“Can it be
That modesty may more betray our sense
Than woman’s lightness?
…Dost thou desire her foully for those things
That make her good?”
And he concludes his musings with:
“Never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigor art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.”
In Shakespeare’s characterizations of these two men, their motivations are not that the women were asking for it. Instead, both men claim that the women’s very innocence and virtue made them targets.
Tone, however, does differ between these two scenes. In Henry VI (3.2.36), the tone is characterized by flirtatiousness in which Edward and Lady Grey playfully echo other’s lines. Shakespeare employs classical figures of speech such as alliosisPresenting alternatives in a balanced and parallel structure, anadiplosisRepetition of a word or phrase that ends one clause at the beginning of the next, anaphoraRepetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, antithesisJuxtaposition of contrasting of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction, epistropheRepetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses, lines, or sentences and parallelismSimilarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses, all various forms of repetition, to create this tone. Not so in Measure for Measure. Though some of those figures of repetition occur, they are not used by either Angelo or Isabella to flirtatiously repeat something the other said. Instead, the tone is serious and formal, almost disputatious. These characters are self-rightious, moralistic and rigid in their rectitude. They don’t flirt.