Note   |   Last updated   February 8th, 2019

Tempter or Tempted?

In Measure for Measure (2.2.197), Angelo confronts, possibly for the first time in his life, the temptation of lust. And since this is new to him and because he is highly moralistic, he is troubled and confused. He reacts by asking himself a series of questions for which he has no answers.

What’s this? What’s this? Is this her fault, or mine?
The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most, ha?…
… Can it be
That modesty may more betray our sense
Than woman’s lightness? Having waste ground enough,
Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary
And pitch our evils there? O fie, fie, fie!
What dost thou? Or what art thou, Angelo?

In rhetoric, this device is called quaesitio. Further, because he is tempted not by a strumpet but by a saint, his questions employ yet another rhetorical figure, ironyTwo scenes later, Angelo succumbs to his temptation. But because Isabella is virtuous, he resorts to extorting sex from her with the promise of sparing her brother's life. That scene is similar to the scene of sexual harassment in Henry VI Part 3 (3.2.36) in which Henry attempts to extort sex from Lady Grey by promising her the restoration of her dead husband's lands. Each of these three scenes employs somewhat different figurative language that is appropriate to the nature of the characters and their circumstances.

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