Manual Measure for Measure (Annotated with Biography and Critical Essay)

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He refuses, but suggests that there might be some way to change his mind. When he propositions her, saying that he will let Claudio live if she agrees to have sexual intercourse with him, she is shocked and immediately refuses. Her brother agrees at first but then changes his mind. Isabella is left to contemplate a very important decision. Isabella is, in a way, let off the hook when the Duke, dressed as a friar, intervenes. He tells her that Angelo's former lover, Mariana, was engaged to be married to him, but he abandoned her when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck.

The Duke forms a plan by which Isabella will agree to have sex with the Angelo, but then Mariana will go in her place. The next morning, Angelo will pardon Claudio and be forced to marry Mariana according to the law. Everything goes according to plan, except that Angelo does not pardon Claudio, fearing revenge.

Recommended Shakespeare Editions: Arden, Oxford, and Cambridge

The provost and the Duke send him the head of a dead pirate, claiming that it belonged to Claudio, and Angelo believes that his orders were carried out. Isabella is told that her brother is dead, and that she should submit a complaint to the Duke, who is due to arrive shortly, accusing Angelo of immoral acts. The Duke returns in his usual clothes, saying that he will hear all grievances immediately. Isabella tells her story, and the Duke pretends not to believe her. Eventually, the Duke reveals his dual identity, and everyone is forced to be honest.

Angelo confesses to his misdeeds, Claudio is pardoned, and the Duke asks Isabella to marry him. Although the Duke insists he must hasten away from the town, he actually stays in secret; and although he claims to be leaving Angelo in temporary control of the city, we see by the end of the play that this is some kind of test of his character.

3 Minute Shakespeare: Measure for Measure

Why is the Duke proclaiming his intent to do one thing, and then deliberately doing something else? Why the divide between what he says he will do, and what he actually does? The Duke's motivations are shady, and completely unexplained by the play: why must he test Angelo?

Why does he bother to conceive of this scenario?

Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature

Why does he announce that the laws need to be better enforced, and then run away at the crucial moment? The Duke claims not to like the people's "loud applause and aves vehement"; yet, considering his immaculately timed appearance at the end of the play, he is probably setting himself up for this purpose, to gain more acclaim. Indeed, the Duke gains in stature through Angelo's rule, as many wish to have him back, and recognize how good they had it; once the Duke is back, people have finally learned to appreciate his permissiveness, which they had not before.

Lucio , an indulgent man of Vienna, is jesting with two gentlemen of the city; they speak of their vices and transgressions, especially of frequenting whorehouses.

Mistress Overdone , who runs one of these whorehouses, enters; then the men discuss what kind of venereal diseases they might have, making references to syphilis and the like. In addition, all the brothels outside the city are to be shut down, though the ones inside are allowed to stay. Claudio is led in by officers, and says that he is being punished for taking too many liberties, although the woman he got pregnant, Juliet , was his wife in all but the legal sense. He asks Lucio to go to Claudio's sister, Isabella , who is in a convent, and let her know of what has befallen him.

He hopes that she will be able to use her wit and influence with Angelo, so that he can be released. This scene introduces us to the kind of indulgent, sinful people that make up much of Vienna. Lucio speaks of one of the gentleman's bones, which he says "sound as things that are hollow"; this metaphor can be applied to Vienna as a whole, as the town might appear to be sound and orderly, but corruption lies beneath the surface. This is a theme reappearing in the work; some things might appear to be good or bad, but these appearances belie the true essence of the thing.

Of course, the town is not wicked, by any stretch; it is just that "impiety has made a feast" of it, and the people have had too much indulgence in their vices. The city itself is a symbol of sin and lack of moderation, and as the Duke will find, the city cannot easily be separated from its inherent vices. The entrance of Mistress Overdone introduces another theme of the work, which is vice vs. Many figures in the play are subject to excesses of either one or the other; Lucio and Mistress Overdone are symbols of excess, and Isabella and Angelo as he first appears to be are symbols of restraint.

Measure for Measure

The play makes it clear by the end that those who fall to either pole are unnatural, as human nature is a balance of both excess and restraint, and everyone is subject to temptation. Claudio's offense seems slight from a modern prospective, but it was not uncommon for couples who conceived out of wedlock to be punished during Shakespeare's era.

The punishment was, of course, more moderate than the death sentence that Claudio has been condemned to; but the offense is one that was relevant to the time, and surely many other young men found themselves in Claudio's unenviable position. Claudio says that his "restraint," or arrest, comes "from too much liberty.

Claudio knows, though, that "our natures do pursue, like rats that ravin down their proper bane, a thirsty evil, and when we drink we die.

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Temptation and the resistance of it is a theme which will come up again in the play. Of course, there is a great irony at work in Claudio's situation. He is being punished for a consensual liaison with a woman who he was contracted to marry; of all the vices going on in Vienna, this is surely a lesser crime than most, yet it is Claudio who stands to be made an example of.

He is well aware of this, as "the body public be a horse whereon the governor may ride," and he "lets it straight feel the spur.

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The Duke asks a friar in the town, Friar Thomas, to give him refuge; the Duke does not intend to leave town, but rather he intends to stay and observe Angelo at work. He says that he gave Angelo power because he knew the city had to be cleaned up, but thought that he would be a bad man to do that job, and the friar agrees with this assessment.


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But then, he adds that Angelo appears to be a man invulnerable to temptation, and almost inhuman in this regard; he doubts that Angelo is actually as steely as he seems, and intends to see if this appearance is indeed false. In this scene, the Duke voices one of the main themes of the play: "for terror, not to use, in time the rod becomes more mocked than feared. He is tired of seeing the city become "like an o'ergrown lion in a cage," as his simile states, and thinks somehow that Angelo will return the city to order.

He no longer wants "the baby to beat the nurse"; the baby symbolizes the people of the city, who know no better than they do, and the nurse symbolizes the governing powers, which are needed to teach the people and keep them from going astray.