CA3 Review: To Catch a Thief

This supplementary review of our third CA on Act 2 Sc 1 in Measure has been much delayed by sickness but hopefully arrives in time for revision purposes.

The Term 2 Week 9 lecture already covered the key ideas for this particular passage-based question (PBQ), as well as some of the skills. Regarding the latter, I’m confident that most of us are fully aware of the need to analyse methods and effects, close analyse specific words for effects, discuss concerns, and evaluate links to elsewhere in a PBQ answer. The question that a typical student would (and should) have is really, ‘how do I do this?’ rather than ‘what must I do?’. If you do need to ask yourself the latter question, you may wish to acquire a guilty look not unlike the picture above before moving to the next paragraph.

This post seeks to demonstrate the aforementioned skills (with periodic reminders of what they are!) while also studying what I found to be a conceptually difficult part of the passage — Angelo’s ironic avowal on the ‘thievish’ traits of a jury or judge. We’ll have this on lockdown in no time, so let’s get to it.

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Analysis Part 1

I not deny,
The jury, passing on the prisoner’s life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try.

Faced with a lengthy dramatic or prose excerpt, our primary instinct is perhaps to understand and explain the text for what it means in our minds and on paper. Within this ‘expository mode’, one might say that Angelo in the above quote acknowledges Escalus’s point that the judicial system is far from morally righteous, and may even be ‘guiltier’ than those who are tried. Such a description of Angelo’s words is in a way necessary when it comes to responding to the text; the same statement can be credited too for its observation on the dynamics between Angelo and Escalus (the former acknowledges the latter’s views before refuting them). But this is ultimately a flat reading of the above quote that scraps what Angelo means but not how the writer creates this meaning.

The most straightforward (and I apologise for it being the most belaboured at this point) step towards close analysis is to tackle a character’s tone. Words are carried by attitudes and intentions, exist within contexts (e.g. in this case, one of judicial office) and ultimately have an effect on other characters and the audience. Even if we are analysing images and metaphors, these too are spoken by characters not as holy truth, but as perceived wisdom that is our literary duty to unpack. And thus we shall:

  • Tone: Angelo preserves his typical formality, but is now more conciliatory than in the opening four lines of the passage.
  • Motif: This is strongest in his introduction of the thief motif; the audience notes that Escalus referred to the possibility of Angelo having ‘Erred in this point’. The criminality and ‘guilt‘ associated with thievery is more reprehensible than that of forgivable ‘err(or)’ or ‘acting of.. blood’ and ‘affections’ Escalus alludes to.
  • Diction: The denotation of the number of thieves as ‘one or two‘ might signify an extension of Angelo’s conciliatory tone; Angelo grants not just the ‘guilt’ of the jury, but is also willing to accept the regularity of this guilt.
  • Diction: Thus, we see Angelo’s concession to Escalus in the use of words such as ‘not deny’ and ‘may’ which express acknowledgement without moving to actual approval.
  • Diction: An artful restraint lies in the use of the double negative, ‘not deny‘, which makes his conciliation ambiguous, questionable at best.

Field Notes for Analysis
Our analysis of the thief motif (2nd point) and diction (3rd and 4th points) generally converge on ‘conciliatory tone’ as the effect, whether in the attitude towards Escalus (may, not deny) or the references to error and guilt. I have also noted in italics the nuances of Angelo’s tone, which we can measure by (i) representativeness or commonness – typical; (ii) comparison – more, strongest; (iii) degree – extension, not just… also willingwithout moving to; (iv) actual intention – artful (i.e. cunning).

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Analysis Part 2

…What’s open made to justice,
That justice seizes: what know the laws
That thieves do pass on thieves? ‘Tis very pregnant,
The jewel that we find, we stoop and take’t
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon, and never think of it.

  • Tone: The ambiguity of the previous lines gives way to an unapologetic, bold tone, indicated  the shift from the personal ‘I’  back to the royal ‘we’.
  • Motif: Angelo now amplifies the concept of thievery, for now all judges are ‘thieves‘ who pass laws on common ‘thieves’; moral liability and corruption is now balanced across both parties by his words. Yet, this is very much secondary to the execution of justice in Angelo’s eyes.
  • Syntax: The primacy of justice can be seen in the rhetorical question, ‘what know the laws… thieves?’ The system of ‘laws‘, placed as the subject of the rhetorical question, disregards the morality of its actors (i.e. judges and juries) and objects (i.e. criminals).
  • Diction: Angelo uses the metaphor of a ‘jewel‘ to uphold the sheer importance of applying these laws regardless of its actor’s moral virtue.  Its significance is underscored by the use of ‘very pregnant’ and the short, urgent sentences used.
  • Diction: The delivery of justice for Angelo must be swift and forceful, evinced in verbs like ‘seizes‘ and ‘stoop and take‘t’. The use of ‘stoop’ curiously repeats the criminality of the thief motif, as if to suggest that the law and its agents are obliged to lower themselves like thieves to retrieve the notion of justice (the ‘jewel’). For a questioning audience, the jewel metaphor too is morally nebulous, because to violently ‘seize’ it posits an illicit act that itself is punishable by law.

Field Notes for Analysis
We’ll retread the importance of patterns and closely analysing / close-reading selected word(s) within these patterns here. Angelo’s dialogue here is not exactly friendly to these purposes, moving quickly from one image to another; the thief motif and its compatible verbs (‘find’, ‘see’, ‘stoop’, ‘take’) should not however escape your vision. Do always look out for patterns, and try not to analyse line by line / sentence by sentence / word by word; efficiency matters! Depth also matters, which is why we often pick 1-2 key words (e.g. ‘stoop’) and explain in detail its effect. Just do this consistently (though try to vary the ‘formula’ from paragraph to paragraph) and your answer should be as shiny as a… sorry.

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The “development of inferences” seemed to be the most common feedback given in CA3, and I take it to generally mean that quite a few essays had the potential to make more of their observations on law and justice, as presented in the passage and the entire text. At the A-level standard, we want to commit to growing a response beyond sensible but dull one-sentence observations about concerns. Of course, anything is better than “This passage presents law and justice”, so what we are exploring next is a range of thinking moves and questions you can employ on any concern.

  • Connection to other ideas / concerns
    – How does Angelo’s belief in the “seizing” of wrongdoing support his earlier suggestion that the law should inspire terror?
    – Angelo discounts the importance of a guilty jury or judge. How does this cohere with his strict, to-the-letter adherence to the law?
  • Similarity, Contrast, Agreement, Refutation
    – Is “human error” a valid reason for mercy in Angelo’s view?
    – Does Angelo convincingly refute Escalus’s argument for mercy?
  • Expectations and Reality
    – Does the reader expect the judge to be “strait in virtue”? In what ways do Angelo’s assertions about the “thievish” nature of judgement / punishment alter these expectations?
  • Appearance and Reality
    – What is the apparent purpose of justice? What does Angelo here believe to be the true purpose of justice? Is it to reform, if we were to examine his claims about ignoring what one doesn’t see, and seizing what one does see?
  • Links to elsewhere – earlier and later
    – Earlier in the play, we have no reason to doubt that Angelo is indeed ‘most strait in virtue’ but his “own affections” and guilt will come to the fore in Act 2. How does Angelo’s admissions here set up the audience’s discovery of his “guilt” later?
    – In 5.1, Angelo’s indiscretions and impulses become “open” to the workings of justice. How does Angelo’s confession in 5.1 reinforce the need to apply the laws without mercy?

Field Notes for Response
The questions above are specific to “law and justice” in 2.1 obviously, but the italicised tags are generic. You want to connect characters and concerns to other ideas and concerns, find similarity and contrast between them, question what is on the surface and what one typically expects, and last but not least, trace the development of these ideas in the text – from “earlier” to “here”, or from “here” to “later”. Do come back to these thinking moves whenever you are stuck, and let me know if they work for you! See you in the next CA review (in a day or so).

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