William Shakespeare's Play "Measure for Measure." Essay Example

Published: 2023-07-30
William Shakespeare's Play "Measure for Measure." Essay Example
Essay type:  Book review
Categories:  Analysis Relationship Shakespeare Dramatic literature
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 987 words
9 min read

"Measure for Measure," no doubt, is another enigma play from Shakespeare. Many critics, over time, have cultivated an imbued perception of it as Shakespeare's most controversial play. They argue that it failed to bring out the comic intention since it is saturated by too many moral issues that fail to qualify it as a play. This paper will look at play's themes of religion, sex, law, and power, among others.

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Sex is a quite profound theme throughout the play. In Vienna, prostitution and illicit sex are common problems in society, leading to the birth of illegitimate children and the spread of diseases. The Duke then orders strict enforcement of all laws that ban prostitution and marital sex. The plaque of syphilis devours all classes of the Viennese population. During the 16th century, the plaque of syphilis had spread from Italy across Europe, which was mainly as a result of prostitution. Claudio is given a death sentence by beheading for making his fiancee pregnant. Isabella is told the way that she can save her brother is by having sexual relations with Angelo, but she puts either her spiritual or reputational death on the line. Hence, the play examines if it is appropriate for the government to make legislation or sexual matters in our societies, (Cifranic, Jaclyn Christine, 5)


Shakespeare portrayed marriage as a way of reclaiming the social norm. His comedies frequently celebrate a marriage and seen as a happy ending. However, "Measure for Measure," uses marriage in an ironic way as regulation and punishment of unbecoming behavior: Angelo is compelled to be in a marriage with Mariana while Lucio is compelled to marry Mistress Overdone. This cynical perceptive of marriage is rare in comedies. More so, marriage reinforces the reputation of women and uplifts them to a position that the contrary they wouldn't have. For Mariana, Juliet, and Miss Overdone, this is the best position. Mass marriage provides the comedic relief of the play. The play aims at turning fornication to a fruitful marriage. The play informs us that indeed the world is normal since each of the characters got what they deserved and that monogamy has a vital role in preserving social order. However, the play contradicts the theme of marriage since it fails to offer mediation between unbridled lust and abstinence. Marriage is a symbol of unity which is fundamental to societies, (Shakespeare, William, 5)


Chastity was viewed as the sole source of female power during the era of Elizabethan - Jacobean. For instance, Isabella was a tragic heroine, demoralized by Duke, and the patriarchic system of governance. When Isabella losses power, it results in deprivation of moral justice. Women are portrayed as sex objects in patriarchal systems, and this occurs when Isabella is sexually subjugated, and this leads to slow power loss. Towards the end, we see Duke Vincentio initiating a marriage proposal to Isabella, who is a novice nun. The play does not clarify whether she accepts or declines the proposal. However, Isabella's resistance to letting go off her virginity to Angelo to rescue her brother from execution is so severe that critical examinations do not accept that she would voluntarily agree to Duke's marriage Duke is a strange and malicious authoritarian queered on robbing Isabella's purity. The play is profound by patriarchal systems dominated by men. Isabella is demoralized because she has fewer alternatives that Angelo and Duke. She also lacks power in socio-political settings. The play paints a disturbing picture of female powerlessness. Men can resist the Duke while women are obliged to receive orders, directives, rules, and advice from him, (Shakespeare, William,3)


The title of the play is drawn from the New Testament of the Bible: Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the same measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). The Duke can be viewed as the "Messiah" figure that represents political liberation. The marriage between Duke and Isabella can be viewed as divine since they both personify chastity; Duke is justice while Isabella is truth. The key pillar of Elizabethan order was the patriarchic system, which imposed that the interests of women be placed under those of their husbands and fathers. Marriage rendered women as subjects who are supposed to be submissive to men. Marriage was considered a primary societal unit. It was proclaimed by both the government and church as a unit of socializing and civilizing since the era of feudalism. It turned out to be a new norm that Englishmen explained their sexual roles and structured their spiritual and material aspirations, (Shakespeare, William,2)


The theme of power is also common in the play. The play begins when the Duke hands over power to Angelo temporarily, which has quite a good reputation. The Duke is portrayed as an ineffective leader. The country has been unlawful since the Duke could enforce the laws, so he hands over power to Angelo, who he bids as the law enforcer on his behalf. Angelo accepts reluctantly and amends sexual laws and finds Claudio guilty of fornication he sentences to execution in order to set an example. This is where Isabella tries to convince Angelo to release Claudio, but she cannot give in to his demands; this portrays women as powerful. Duke then returns and saves Claudio and forces Isabella, a nun-to-be, to marry him. There is a lot of misuse of power, especially by the Duke and Angelo. The play shows how the people in power have utilized their position for cynical gains, (Connors, Rich, 427)

Works Cited

Connors, Rich. "Measure for measure: social and legal thought in early modern England." Huntington Library Quarterly 81.3 (2018): 425-441.

Shakespeare, William. Measure For Measure: Third Series. Arden Shakespeare, 2020.

Cifranic, Jaclyn Christine. Sexual Politics: A Modern Adaptation of William Shakespeare's" Measure for Measure." Diss. Cleveland State University, 2017.

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