Barnardine or Death as an Option

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Abstract

The aim of this article is to research the meaning of the presence in the play Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare of a character which apparently doesn’t fulfill any dramatic function. Although the drunkard Barnardine seems to be brought into the scene in order to make possible the salvation of Claudio, the brother of the main feminine character, through the dramatic mechanism of replacing one man sentenced to death with another, Shakespeare surprisingly quits this solution. Barnardine is spared because he has strongly drunk all night long and, as a consequence, he doesn’t feel prepared to die. In this manner, this minor character approaches, during only one page of text, some fundamental themes of Shakespearian writing: preparation for death, and sleep and inebriation as paradoxal states of the conscience. Barnardine floats in three dimensions: inebriation, dream, and reality. This state of chiaroscuro of the conscience reveals the negative of the being, it opens the gate to the realm of the shadow. In this state, Barnardine chooses not to die and the Duke, the demiurge of the play, spares his life. Barnardine exists in a dimension where the laws of the real loosen their rigidity and death can be an option, not a necessity.

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