The Plot Thickens EVEN MORE

Back to Vienna…

When yesterday we left the plot of Measure for Measure: The lovable but weak Claudio was on death row, his fiancee pregnant, his sister Isabela shuttling between the convent and the court to plead for mercy. The Duke of Vienna was masquerading as a Franciscan, and the Duke’s deputy Angelo was poised to apply the death penalty to punish fornication for the first time in decades.

The “Lord Angelo” is thought by some of the Viennese citizens to be a paragon of austere virtue. Others regard him as frighteningly frigid. We overhear the following conversation about him on the street in Vienna:

“They say this Angelo was not made by man and woman after the downright way of creation. Is it true, think you? ”
“How should he be made, then?”
“Some report a sea-maid spawned him; some, that he was begot between two stock-fishes. But it is certain that when he makes water his urine is congealed ice; that I know to be true.”

The vice-grip of the plot of Measure for Measure tightens a bit more:

Isabela returns to Angelo’s court, hoping that she has convinced him to be merciful and spare her condemned brother’s life. We know that the stern Angelo is burning with desire for the beautiful aspiring nun.

Angelo stammeringly proposes to Isabela that she might save Claudio. How? By letting Lord Angelo have his way with her.

Isabela refuses–just as adamantly as Angelo has refused mercy to her brother. She threatens to expose Angelo’s hypocritical villainy, but he convinces her that she will never be believed. She runs off, desperate for someone to sympathize with her.

Meanwhile, the Duke masquerading as a priest has visited Claudio to help prepare him to meet his Maker. Claudio has resolved to make a holy death.

Isabela arrives to visit her brother in his cell. When she sees how courageously Claudio faces death, she divulges Angelo’s evil proposition. Claudio collapses and begs her to give in, so that he might live.

Angelo gives Isabela her choice...
Angelo gives Isabela her choice...
…In my book, this is the high point of the drama of this play. All the play’s themes have been stretched to a point of perfect tension:

Laxity breeds endemic vice. But severity masks hypocrisy. Without moral absolutes, no one can know what to do in the face of the evil in this world. But when the law requires perfection, it becomes a tyrant. Good hearts aspire to be noble and bigger than themselves. But they collapse under the weight of passion–especially fear.

With Claudio blubbering for his life and Isabela livid, all of these themes are hanging in the balance. Then the disguised Duke emerges from his hiding place in Claudio’s cell…

Stay tuned!

Explanation of First Corinthians 2-3

St. Paul preaching in the town square
St. Paul preaching in the town square

We are not born knowing how to live.  We do not have a built-in “philosophy of life.”  In order to learn how to think, how to judge situations, and how to make decisions, we listen to what other people say, and we try to find some kind of wisdom.


These days we can watch talkshows, or read newspaper columns, or surf the world-wide web in search of wisdom.  But in ancient times, people sought wisdom by listening to wandering teachers who went from town to town, speaking in public squares to anyone who would listen.  These teachers presented themselves as philosophers, and curious people came out to listen to what they had to say and to ask questions.


In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tries to explain the difference between the teachers of the Church and these philosophers.  The Apostles have not come to the city of Corinth to teach a “philosophy of life.”  They are not offering advice, tips to increase self-esteem, or dietary hints.


The Apostles have come, St. Paul insists, to bear witness to something that has happened, something that affects everyone on earth.  God has become man, and He has done what needs to be done for all sins to be forgiven.  The Son of God died on the Cross for us, and then He rose again from the dead.  This happened.  The Apostles came to tell everyone that this happened, and for no other reason.


This section of I Corinthians is very illuminating and encouraging for us, because we are up against the same problem.  We are surrounded by the suggestion that Catholicism is one “philosophy of life” among many; it is a “tradition” that is good for a lot of people, but not for everybody.  Christianity is one of mankind’s “great religions.”  The preachers and teachers of the Church must fit in; we must take our clerical place alongside all the preachers and teachers of all other religions, and Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Richard Simmons, and the yoga instructors of the world.


To this, St. Paul replies:  We do not offer yoga instruction, or self-help classes of any kind.  St. Paul insists:  I am not a philosopher; I have nothing whatsoever of my own to teach you.  I am not an expert of core-muscle toning or low-carb desserts.


I came to tell you that your Creator, the Almighty One Who made you out of nothing, died on the Cross for you, so that you can go to heaven.