Critical Essays Subplot in Measure for Measure


The characters and action of the subplot parallel to some extent those of the plot. Pompey and Mistress Overdone suffer from the sudden enforcement of Vienna's morality laws, as does Claudio. Elbow, the simple-minded constable, enforces the laws in the subplot as Angelo does in the main plot. The subplot, however, is not developed to the extent that it might stand alone, as is frequently the case in Shakespeare's plays. The low characters provide more of an undercurrent than a minor plot. Their chief role is to provide comic relief from the tragedy which pervades the plot, for while the play is a comedy, much of its action is of a tragic nature.

The minor characters are earthy, lively, and amusing. Although some critics see them as vulgar and obscene representatives of a society rotten with moral corruption, the humor they invoke and the sympathy they command lend weight to the argument that their creator is pleased with them. A director might manipulate his actors to make the low characters either funny or disgusting, but the harmlessness of their wit seems to indicate that Shakespeare meant them to be amusing.

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