8 of Crowns - Vincentio
Dramatis Personae [in order of appearance] : Pompey; Mistress Overdone; Provost; Claudio; Duke Vincentio as Ludovico; Juliet; Barnardine; Lucio; Mariana.
Text & Context: As Measure for Measure begins, Duke Vincentio entrusts his rôle as sovereign to an understudy that he, incognito, may better observe his subjects. The stage set, he returns playing the part of a monk, Ludovico, whose name in Latin means "hamlet of play". He is a kind of male shadow to Isabella's pious, would-be nun. After delivering a speech to the condemned Claudio which describes life as a series of falsehoods relieved by an eschatology of nothingness, Ludovico slips even further out of character by stage-managing the performances of every other character in the play. Indeed, he resembles no one so much as the author himself assuming human form and improvising the script on stage in real time before the audience's eyes. And while his acting chops may leave something to be desired, he certainly evinces delight in playing puppeteer.
In this, the "fantastical Duke of dark corners" is very like The Tempest's Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, who like Vincentio spent his reign less concerned with the functioning of his Dukedom than with personal, scholastic pursuits. Here, rather than using magic to set each scene, Ludovico physically choreographs the players. The action becomes a discordant minuet. Kindred to Prospero's failure to evoke repentance from his antagonists, Vincentio must impose it from on high. But before this matrimonium ex machina, the Duke cannot be faulted for lack of trying.
Happy as the ending may ostensibly seem, many questions lurk unseen - perhaps more by the work's end than the play began with. Quandaries over how to mete justice remain unchanged; Isabella's spiritual marriage to Christ has been misappropriated by the Duke for his own ends; and the short-term solution of marriage is a long-term can of worms. The efforts so arduously applied by Vincentio - part artisan, part cleric - have really just begun, if the rewards they promise are to be won.