Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo.
Claudio, a young nobleman, is betrothed/unofficially married to Juliet. At the time, marriages were supposed to be announced by banns in advance. Due to lack of money, Claudio and Juliet did not observe all the technicalities. This did not make them unique however; at the time most people (including the Church) would have considered them married. Technically, however, all the formalities for a civil marriage had not been followed and so a strict judge might rule that they were not legally married. Angelo, as the personification of the law, decides to enforce the ruling that fornication is punishable by death, and since he does not accept the validity of the marriage, Claudio is sentenced to be executed. Claudio's friend, Lucio, visits Claudio's sister, Isabella, a novice nun, and asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf.
Isabella obtains an audience with Angelo, and pleads for mercy for Claudio. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo and Isabella, it becomes clear that he harbours lustful thoughts about her, and he eventually offers her a deal: Angelo will spare Claudio's life if Isabella yields him her virginity. Isabella refuses, but she also realises that (due to Angelo's austere reputation) she will not be believed if she makes a public accusation against him. Instead she visits her brother in prison and counsels him to prepare himself for death. Claudio vehemently begs Isabella to save his life, but Isabella refuses. As a novice nun, she feels that she cannot sacrifice her own immortal soul (and that of Claudio's, if he causes her to lose her virtue) to save Claudio's transient earthly life.
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About the Author
Widely esteemed as the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an actor and theatrical producer in addition to writing plays and sonnets. Dubbed "The Bard of Avon," Shakespeare oversaw the building of the Globe Theatre in London, where a number of his plays were staged, the best-known of which include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth. The First Folio, a printed book of 36 of his comedies, tragedies, and history plays, was published in 1623.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I believe that MEASURE FOR MEASURE is one of Shakespeare's best plays. And it screams attention. Dealing with the problems of today, it finds itself wrapped up in the same sin and pride that makes this plot line where we are today. It all started when Eve ate that apple. The laws were set, and the laws were broken in this play. There were no limits. And Shakespeare wrote it with beauty and truth. The laws were given to show that we could not keep them. And this story proves it.
Measure for Measure is seldom read, and not often performed in the United States. Why? Although many of Shakespeare¿s plays deal bluntly with sexual issues, Measure for Measure does so in an unusually ugly and disgusting way for Shakespeare. This play is probably best suited for adults, as a result. I see Measure for Measure as closest to The Merchant of Venice in its themes. Of the two plays, I prefer Measure for Measure for its unremitting look at the arbitrariness of laws, public hypocrisy and private venality, support for virtue, and encouragement of tempering public justice with common sense and mercy. The play opens with Duke Vincentio turning over his authority to his deputy, Angelo. But while the duke says he is leaving for Poland, he in fact remains in Vienna posing as a friar. Angelo begins meting out justice according to the letter of the law. His first act is to condemn Claudio to death for impregnating Juliet. The two are willing to marry, but Angelo is not interested in finding a solution. In despair, Claudio gets word to his sister, the beautiful Isabella, that he is to be executed and prays that she will beg for mercy. Despite knowing that Isabella is a virgin novice who is about to take her vows, Angelo cruelly offers to release Claudio of Isabella will make herself sexually available to Angelo. The Duke works his influence behind the scenes to help create justice. Although this play is a ¿comedy¿ in Shakespearean terms, the tension throughout is much more like a tragedy. In fact, there are powerful scenes where Shakespeare draws on foolish servants of the law to make his points clear. These serve a similar role of lessening the darkness to that of the gravediggers in Hamlet. One of the things I like best about Measure for Measure is that the resolution is kept hidden better than in most of the comedies. As a result, the heavy and rising tension is only relieved right at the end. The relief you will feel at the end of act five will be very great, if you are like me. After you read this play, I suggest that you compare Isabella and Portia. Why did Shakespeare choose two such strong women to be placed at the center of establishing justice? Could it have anything to do with wanting to establish the rightness of the heart? If you think so, reflect that both Isabella and Portia are tough in demanding that what is right be done. After you finish thinking about those two characters, you may also enjoy comparing King Lear and Claudio. What was their fault? What was their salvation? Why? What point is Shakespeare making? Finally, think about Angelo. Is he the norm or the exception in society? What makes someone act like Angelo does here? What is a person naturally going to do in his situation? Look for fairness in all that you say and do! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution