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Useful Resources

A Guide to Measure for Measure and Scheme of Work

Andrea Lewis | Wednesday August 03, 2011

Categories: Drama, Measure For Measure, Hot Entries, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Plays, EDEXCEL A Level English Literature, 6ET02, AQA A Level English Literature A, LITA3, LITA4, WJEC A Level English Literature, LT4, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, EDEXCEL A Level, WJEC A Level


Guide Navigation

  1. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 1 + Scheme of Work
  2. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 2
  3. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 3
  4. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 4
  5. A Guide to Measure for Measure | Act 5

Act 1 and Scheme of Work

Why teach ‘Measure for Measure’?

Measure for Measure is certainly not the easiest of Shakespeare’s dramas nor is it probably one of the most popular choices when teachers are thinking about AS and A2 level specifications; however, the degree of challenge involved in teaching it is easily matched by the degree of satisfaction in teaching it when you have got to grips with this intriguing play. Students really do enjoy reading this play!

Currently, the play is a choice for teaching on several AS specifications and as a choice for coursework on the AQA A2 LITA4 Extended Essay and Shakespeare Study unit – as well as a choice for the wider reading element of LITA3. It also appears as a core text on the WJEC specification partnered with The Duchess of Malfi.

In terms of relevance, Measure for Measure has it all – political intrigue and corruption, sexual harassment, religious extremism, STDs… and not to mention the perennial problems of crime, punishment and the debate as to what constitutes a just society.

Clearly, it is possible to introduce the play to a class through a discussion of current affairs. Inevitably, news of political scandals abounds in the newspaper and as this guide is being written, the headline news is a continuing saga of tyrannical dictators, of their desire to remain in power and of their eventual fall from grace. To this can be added news of overcrowded prisons in Britain and of death row in the States – all issues illuminated by a reading of Measure for Measure. It can be useful to encourage a class discussion on some of these before a first reading or a first viewing of a performance or film version.

Teaching the Play

Ideally, there is nothing quite as effective as seeing a performance of the play – after all plays are written for the stage not the page. If this isn’t possible, there are three film and DVD versions available, two of them in modern costume and also the BBC’s perhaps slightly dated but also usefully traditional and very faithful performance.

Of course, the play still has to be read and studied in class and as with all Shakespeare, its language and style will prove difficult. A level students often do like to read out loud but perhaps small doses are a good idea. The parts with very long speeches will likely need to be tackled by the teacher and it’s worth putting clips from the films on the computer so students can access them and get used to hearing the language read as it should be. A key technique that really helps is to stop students reading the text as if it was a monotone.  A little voice coaching can produce wonders and release all the vital intonations within the speeches that reveal so much meaning and feeling.

  • A truly excellent way to get to grips with the play’s often subtle and complex meanings is for students to watch and read the play at home using a DVD of their own and watched either alone or with a friend. The secret is to watch and read simultaneously, pausing or rewinding after each scene where needed, reflecting on the text and its meanings, and making annotations in their texts as they go.
  • Students will likely need to reminded, too, that the play was written for an audience – so often the words ‘book’ or ‘story’ rather than ‘play’ appears in students’ essays; thus their analysis and discussion – at least in part and initially – is best from the perspective of the audience, thinking about what has been seen so far and what effect this has had in preparing the audience for what is to come – thinking about aspects of form, structure and language as they apply to aspects both of plot and theme.

A Scheme of Work

The following SOW is based on a shared class spending 2-2½ hours per week on the play for 14 weeks but is obviously adaptable for other scenarios. The teacher’s knowledge of the group will inform the decision as to when to show the film version if a live performance is not possible. Sometimes, studying an act of the play and then showing the film works best even at the risk of making the film and the play seem rather ‘bitty’ at first. Obviously, there is no one ideal way to present the material!

  • Measure for Measure | A Suggested Scheme of Work.doc

Useful Resources

AS/A-level English Literature: Teacher Resource Pack: ‘Measure for Measure’ (As/A-Level Photocopiable Teacher Resource Packs) by Marian Cox. Philip Allan; Loose-leaf edition (24 Oct 2005)
ISBN-10: 1844893030

Measure for Measure’: Student Text Guide (Student Text Guides) by Marian Cox
Publisher: Philip Allan (30 Aug 2005) ISBN-10: 1844892166

Measure for Measure’, William Shakespeare (Critical Essays) by Linda Cookson and Bryan Loughrey (Paperback - 8 Sep 1992). Only available second-hand.

MediaEdu’s M4M Guide Files

  • 1a) M4M - Act3 Sc 2 Questions.doc
  • 1b) M4M - Biblical Allusions.doc
  • 1c) M4M - Themes and Approaches.doc
  • 1d) M4M - A Problem Play.doc
  • 1e) M4M - Group Work.doc
  • 1f) M4M - Role of Duke Questions.doc
  • 1g) M4M Role of Duke Essays.doc
  • 1h) M4M - Question of Balance.doc
  • 1i) M4M - Overview.ppt
  • 1j) M4M - Past Exam Questions.doc
  • 1k) M4M - Coursework Questions.doc

Notes for working through the text

The notes which follow are certainly not intended to be comprehensive. They do not cover or paraphrase events in every scene as plot summaries can be found easily in many other places on the internet. They can be used alongside the above scheme of work or ignored as the reader wishes. The line references refer to the Arden Shakespeare edition which has excellent notes – but students would probably be happier with the Cambridge School Shakespeare text or similar.

Act 1

Scene 1


1 ‘Of government the properties to unfold’ – central theme of play, how to govern justly (AO1).

16 ‘What figure of us…’ – introduction of coin imagery (AO2).

22 Angelo described by Escalus as worthy of ‘such ample grace and hour’, a clear indication of Angelo’s reputation.

44 ‘Mortality and mercy’ – key elements of government and of the power to be invested in Angelo.

49 Coin imagery again –

‘Let there be some more test made of my metal
Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamp’d upon it’

Scene 2

Introduction of Lucio and various low-life characters. N.B. there appears to be two distinct and very different groups in the play, the main plot (high life characters) and the sub-plot (low life). This is not so as the development of the play reveals.

Lucio and the soldiers discuss the war but at home society is also in turmoil as the new regime under Angelo is revealed. Mistress Overdone, who runs a brothel, is worried about her livelihood as all ‘the houses of resort’, line 93, are to be pulled down, and even more shocking, Claudio is being taken to prison for getting his fiancée pregnant.

Lines 133 -160

Two important speeches by Claudio – the nature of his ‘offence’ and also his comments on Angelo. Claudio also refers to and thus introduces his sister, Isabella, who is in the process of becoming a nun.

Scene 3 | Duke and Friar Thomas

Duke reveals his motives for relinquishing his power and his doubts concerning Angelo, ‘A man of stricture and firm abstinence’.

Lines 19-31

Duke’s admission of his own weakness in ruling. Public law enforcement is paralleled with family discipline. The result of a lack of discipline is a lack of order in society.

‘And Liberty plucks Justice by the nose,
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum’

His secondary motive is the testing of Angelo who (line 51)

‘scarce confesses
That his blood flows; or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone.’

The Duke is considering a kind of experiment to see if Angelo is what he appears to be or if power will corrupt him:

‘hence shall we see
If power change purpose what our seemers be’.

Note the idea of seeming, one beloved of Shakespeare in so many of his plays (AO1 and AO2)

Plot device (AO1) – the Duke will return to Vienna in the disguise of a Friar thus effectively linking secular and spiritual power in the play and the importance of Christian concepts as part of the exploration of ideas.

Scene 4 | Setting – The Nunnery

Character of Isabella is revealed in the opening lines of the scene where she is asking the nun about ‘privileges’ in the nunnery.

‘I speak not as desiring more
But rather wishing a more strict restraint
Upon the sisters’. (my italics)

Note the possible parallels between Isabella and Angelo in their religious fervour and discipline (AO2 -  structure).

Isabella’s reaction to the news about her brother confirms that it can hardly be considered a crime ‘O let him marry her!’ line 49.

Lines 57-61

Lucio’s comment on Angelo is also revealing,

‘a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind, study and fast’

By the end of Act 1, the position of the Duke and Angelo have been established, also the roles of Claudio, Isabella and of the low-life characters.

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