A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'll Be Your Tapster Still


Claudio, for his minor lapse in judgment, is to be hanged as part of the morals campaign that Angelo feels is required following a 14-year period of laxity under the Duke's rule. Shakespeare is careful to draw a contrast between the relative innocence of Claudio and Julietta's union, and the more illicit unions, or rather couplings, that have been occurring in the bawdy houses of Vienna, which Angelo is also shutting down, even if none of their occupants are being executed. Pompey, Mistress Overdone's servant, explains this while offering comfort to his aptly-named mistress:

Mistress O: "What proclamation, man?"

Pom: "All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down."
Miss. O: "O, Why, here's a change indeed in the commonwealth!
What shall become of me?"

Pom: "Come; fear not you: good counselors lack no clients; though you change your place, you need not change your trade; I'll be your tapster still; courage, there will be pity taken on you; you that have worn your eyes almost out in the service, you will be considered."

As with marriage, we rarely if ever hear discussion of the actual, useful purpose of making prostitution illegal. Criminalizing prostitution increases the value of chaste, or at least of non-promiscuous women. When the men of a society have easy and affordable access to an entire class of promiscuous women, those good female counselors will lack no clients. The obvious result will be that much less motivation for men to marry, not so long as they're getting the milk for a manageable price, and if not from their preferred cow than at least from a borrowed one.

Of course, there will always be true love, occasionally, but Claudio and Julietta prove that true lovers will be lax on formalities. As with marriage, the key is to capture excess male desire in order to secure social stability, a goal that benefits all, but is achieved only if each will sacrifice for it. Claudio himself appears to acquiesce in this rough justice as he questions his arresting officer, the Provost:

Cla: "Fellow, why dost thou show me thus to th'world?
Bear me to prison, where I am committed."

Pro: "I do it not in evil disposition,
But from Lord Angelo by special charge."

Cla: "Thus can the demi-god, Authority,
Make us pay down for our offence by weight.
The words of heaven; on whom it will, it will;
On whom it will not, so; yet still 'tis just."

More later…

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