The character of the Duke is portrayed by Shakespeare as a very complex, hypocritical and contradictory character. To many critics, he is conveyed as a Machiavellian Prince, using others for his own political ends, and to some critics, a God-like figure, testing the pathology of power in Vienna. Despite these two polar opposites the character is nethertheless a character of ambivalence. Contradiction is one of the main themes of the play, as is appearance versus reality, law versus grace and justice versus mercy. The Duke never lets go of the puppet strings, pulling events and manipulating other characters in the play. Vincentio's motives for influencing the events are controversial; it has been argued that the Duke enjoys watching others fall, and also uses others to do his 'dirty work' for him. He has also been called a moral coward, and this essay will examine his different personas in order to find out how Shakespeare conveys the complexity of the Duke through his language choices.
Firstly, the character of the Duke can be divided into three different personas; the public duke, the politician; the Friar Lodowick, and the private Duke. The private Duke appears to the audience in Act one, scene one, when he seems tentative, in his convoluted language, abdicating his power to Angelo. This captious vocabulary pertaining to the legal discourse is used to assert the Duke's position of authority and office when he asks Escalus of Angelo 'what figure of us think you he will bear?' The use of the word 'bear' shows the audience that he recognises the responsibilities of being the ruler, and Angelo will have to endure these responsibilities for Vincentio. The use of the word 'figure' shows us that the Duke may also be disconcerted by the possibility that Angelo will discredit the judiciary.