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Measure for Measure and Advanced Forgiveness

By October 3, 2021September 16th, 2022No Comments

Like Borges, Shakespeare knew that this world is an illusion. He also knew the power of advanced forgiveness, which he wrote about in Measure for Measure. The Duke of Vienna pretends to leave on a diplomatic mission and appoints Antonio, a deeply confused and conflicted man, to serve in his stead. Working deftly behind the scenes, the Duke engineers it so that Antonio, intending to commit a number of terrible crimes in the Duke’s absence, including extortion and murder, has failed while appearing to succeed. When the Duke returns, he confronts Antonio, who, still believing his crimes accomplished, utters lines that still bring tears to my eyes:

“O my dread lord,
I should be guiltier than my guiltiness,
To think I can be undiscernible,
When I perceive your grace, like power divine,
Hath look’d upon my passes. Then, good prince,
No longer session hold upon my shame,
But let my trial be mine own confession:
Immediate sentence then and sequent death
Is all the grace I beg.”

Antonio begs for death, but the Duke will hear none of it. Antonio’s imagined crimes never happened, and the play ends in a double marriage and festivities. There is no clearer expression of the principles of advanced forgiveness in literature. Our crimes against each other were a fever dream. We join in love and know we never left our source.