English Literature
Measure for Measure (1603-1604)

Measure for Measure (1603-1604)

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Decoding Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure': A Complex Tale of Power and Corruption

Written by William Shakespeare in 1604, 'Measure for Measure' is a play that delves into the intricate concept of 'measure for measure' in a thought-provoking way. Known as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays', it presents a captivating narrative that continues to captivate audiences to this day.

Plot Summary

The story takes place in Vienna, focusing on Duke Vincentio's determination to combat corruption within the city. In order to do so, he devises an ambitious plan and appoints Angelo, a strict judge, as his deputy. Under the identity of Friar Lodowick, Vincentio closely monitors Angelo's actions.

The conflict intensifies when Claudio, a man sentenced to death for engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage, impregnates his fiancée Juliet. In a surprising offer, Angelo agrees to spare Claudio's life if his sister, Isabella, agrees to sleep with him. However, Isabella, who is preparing to become a nun, refuses. With the assistance of Vincentio and Angelo's ex-fiancée Mariana, they plot to deceive Angelo. But when the Duke returns, he exposes Angelo's corrupt actions, setting in motion a series of events that leads to a climactic and unresolved finale.

Analysis of the Play

'Measure for Measure' is often labeled as a 'problem play' because it combines elements of both comedy and tragedy, making it challenging to categorize. The moral dilemmas presented in the play are not entirely resolved, leaving the audience with a sense of ambiguity. This term was originally coined by Shakespeare scholar Frederick S. Boas to describe this particular play.

Genre Classification

In Shakespearean studies, 'Measure for Measure' is classified as a 'dark comedy', alongside other works such as 'All's Well That Ends Well' and 'Troilus and Cressida'. These plays have a cynical tone and address serious themes, making them difficult to define. In 'Measure for Measure', the juxtaposition of grave issues and comedic elements results in its classification as a 'problem play'.

Themes Explored

The play tackles the theme of power abuse, exemplified by the character of Angelo. Isabella's famous quote, "To have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant," highlights the issue of those in positions of authority using their power for personal gain. Another central theme is the concept of 'measure for measure', where individuals should face the same consequences they have inflicted on others. However, this ideal is not reflected in the play as those in power escape accountability for their actions, while ordinary citizens suffer severe punishment for the same offenses.

In conclusion, 'Measure for Measure' is a riveting play that challenges societal norms and raises ethical questions. Through its complex plot and well-crafted characters, Shakespeare offers a commentary on the corrupt justice system of his era, leaving the audience to ponder the true meaning of 'measure for measure' and the repercussions of abusing power.

The Power Struggle of Gender in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

About: Written in the early 1600s, Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare is a thought-provoking play that delves into complex themes of morality, justice, and gender dynamics.

The Story: Set in Vienna, the play centers around Claudio, who is sentenced to death by Angelo, the interim leader of the city. Claudio's crime? Getting his fiancee, Juliet, pregnant before their wedding. In a desperate attempt to save his life, Claudio turns to his sister Isabella, a novice nun. He begs her to lose her virginity to Angelo in exchange for his release from prison.

Controversial Characters: The play also introduces us to intriguing characters like Claudio's friend Lucio, who unapologetically leads a life of debauchery and turns to Isabella for help. However, Lucio's careless behavior backfires when he unknowingly insults the Duke, who then forces him to marry a prostitute he got pregnant as revenge.

A Story of Love and Manipulation: Another key character is Marianna, Angelo's former fiancee. Despite him breaking off their engagement when her dowry was lost, she still loves him. In a twisted turn of events, Marianna agrees to help Isabella and sleep with Angelo, hoping to finally marry him.

Impact on Society: Measure for Measure has been translated into numerous languages and remains relevant in modern times with its exploration of corruption, power dynamics, and religious themes. The play has also been adapted into various versions, including the 2004 musical Desperate Measures, set in the American Old West.

The Struggle of Female Agency and Power in Measure for Measure

In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, the character Mariana is a prime example of the lack of agency and power women had in this society. In the past, she was abandoned by Angelo and unable to stop him. It is only through the guidance and manipulation of the Duke, another man, that she is able to reclaim Angelo and exert any influence. This further highlights the dependence of women on men in this society.

In the final scene of the play, the Duke reveals his true intentions by asking Isabella to marry him. Although she does not reply, it can be assumed that she has no choice in the matter. As the most powerful man in Vienna, the Duke holds control over Isabella's fate - and her virginity, which is of utmost importance to her, will be taken away regardless of her wishes.

The ending of Measure for Measure is open to interpretation, depending on the portrayal of the final scene. Some productions depict Isabella's silence as a sign of her powerlessness, while others see it as a display of her strength in the face of oppression. This raises the question of whether her silence represents her lack of agency or her resilience in the face of oppression.

Isabella's statement, "I sometimes do excuse the thing I hate, For his advantage that I dearly love," reveals her conflicting beliefs. While she despises Angelo's actions, she also believes in the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. This ties in with the play's exploration of the religious concept of "measure for measure," in which the old law of retribution is challenged by Christian values of mercy and forgiveness.

The characters in the play also embody these themes. Angelo, obsessed with morality, shows no mercy to anyone, not even himself. In contrast, the Duke, who represents the idea of "measure for measure," judges and punishes his citizens accordingly, but also manipulates situations for his personal gain. Isabella, who values her chastity above all, ultimately chooses to show mercy and forgiveness towards Angelo, representing the Christian values of compassion and forgiveness.

The three main characters in Measure for Measure - Duke Vincentio, Angelo, and Isabella - all have different traits and motivations. The Duke presents himself as a wise and just ruler, but also proves to be a cunning manipulator. Angelo, a strict judge, is consumed by his own sense of morality and lacks empathy for others. Isabella, a novice nun, grapples with her inner conflicts and ultimately chooses to show compassion towards those who have wronged her. While Claudio, Isabella's brother, serves as a catalyst for the events of the play, he ultimately remains a minor character in the grand scheme of things.

In conclusion, Measure for Measure remains timeless due to its examination of corruption, power dynamics, and religious themes. It raises crucial questions about the balance of power between men and women and the significance of forgiveness and mercy in a society plagued by moral decay.

Discovering the Complexities of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure is a renowned play by William Shakespeare, often referred to as a "problem play" due to its deviation from traditional comedy or tragedy genres. Its exploration of profound themes such as law, justice, power dynamics, gender, sexuality, and forgiveness makes it a timeless masterpiece that continues to intrigue and inspire audiences.

  • Challenging Conventions: Measure for Measure doesn't fit into the conventional categories of comedy or tragedy, but rather presents a unique blend of both. This is one of the reasons it is often considered a "problem play," as it challenges traditional storytelling conventions.
  • A Study of Power Dynamics: The play also delves into the intricate web of power dynamics, exploring how individuals in positions of power can manipulate and abuse it for their own gain. This remains a relevant theme that resonates with modern-day audiences.
  • Probing Gender and Sexuality: Shakespeare also delves into the complexities of gender and sexuality in Measure for Measure, raising thought-provoking questions about societal norms and expectations. The play's characters and their struggles with these issues continue to be relevant and relatable today.
  • The Significance of Forgiveness: At the heart of Measure for Measure lies a powerful message about forgiveness and mercy. The play reminds us not to judge others for their actions, as we may be guilty of the same. This timeless lesson provides a poignant reflection on the human condition.

References: "Measure for Measure." Oxford Reference, 2022.

In Conclusion

Despite being written centuries ago, Measure for Measure remains a thought-provoking and relevant work that challenges our perceptions and understanding of society. Its complex themes and characters continue to captivate audiences and inspire new interpretations, solidifying its status as a timeless masterpiece in the world of literature.

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