The Significance of Barnadine in Measure for Measure

Essay by RobyngoodA-, December 2003

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Barnadine in the play Measure for Measure does not play a major part in the play yet, he is a significant figure that stands apart from the rest of the characters. Barnadine is a long-term prisoner and is merely a drunk. He is encountered in the play when he is sentenced to be executed with Claudio. Barnadine's attitude towards death is significantly different than how death is conceived in the play. He creates a situation which is laughable and quite ironic in the play also.

In the play the duke that is in disguise as a friar concocts a plan to save Angelo from his near execution. He decides to send the head of Barnadine, a prisoner who is scheduled to execution instead of Angelo's. Barnadine refuses to be executed although because he has a hangover and he cannot be bothered to think about it. The duke does not protest and even lets Barnadine go free.

This part of the play is significant because the duke wishes to make the laws enforced. He has put Angelo in charge to enforce the laws so when he returns he can follow them, yet he lets Barnadine go and does not enforce the law upon him. He does not enforce the newly-stated harsher rule that he claims he wants to now follow. This part of the play shows the duke as still being incompetent as a ruler and Barnadine's dismissal is creates a step backwards for him.

Barnadine is also a significant figure because he is put next to Claudio. Barnadine has no fear of death nor does not conceive it as an issue. Barnadine is not in despair about being a prisoner either. This is contrasted with Claudio whose only wish is to be free and not to die. The whole...