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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~


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MISTRESS OVERDONE & POMPEY in
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
by Hannah Tompkins
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Mistress Overdone Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins

 

This play runs the tightest orbit around the theme of Legality vs. Morality. It's circuit is divided in two. There's no mistaking those who inhabit the over-world and those of the under-world. There is also no mistaking in which part truth and honesty have a chance of survival and it is not in the upper half, whose dwellers have a peculiar talent for kneading morality to their own ends.

Those in the under-world, the bawds, thieves and pick-pockets, make no pretenses about what they are, and are therefore more honest. Because they are poor, hungry and oppressed, they have nothing to lose and can afford to be more generous; not so much with material things as with friendship, loyalty and general kindness.

Mistress Overdone, who manages a 'tavern', makes a salty comment on a recent proclamation that fornication will be punishable by death:
"What with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with the poverty, I am custom-shrunk." (customer-shrunk)
As for clear and simple truth, that says it! For all the disrepute of her profession, it is she who gives maternal protection to a whore's child. 

All the "houses of resort" are being torn down, including hers. She laments to Pompey, her helper, "What shall become of me?"
And he, bawd though he is, has all the chivalry of a knight:
"Come; fear not you.. though you change your place you need not change your trade; I'll be your tapster still. Courage."
How's that for caring and loyalty? But the law is the law. Pompey is arrested by one Constable Elbow, a worthy comic who mangles the dialog with unintentional truths by his misuse of the language.  (Act II sc.i)

Through all the charges Pompey defends his integrity with some sharp answers to the Lord Escalus, in charge:
"Why: very well; I hope here be truths."
and a few lines later, repeats the phrase which emphasizes his status as a truth-teller. In prison, he makes a telling comparison of the jail system to the outside world. In the meantime, Mistress Overdone has also been arrested. Their penalties may satisfy the over-righteous, but not before they have scattered their truths like broken glass on the road of corruption.


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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