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Love Through The Ages | Measure for Measure

Ruth Owen | Wednesday October 12, 2011



Guide Navigation

  1. Studying For The Exam
  2. Examples From Literature
  3. About The Exam
  4. Further Reading
  5. The Examination
  6. Symptoms of Love, Graves
  7. On Chesil Beach
  8. The First Tooth, Lamb
  9. The Deserter
  10. The Soldier, Brooke
  11. A Lady of Letters
  12. Sonnet 130, Shakespeare
  13. Hamlet
  14. Othello
  15. King Lear
  16. Equus
  17. Great Expectations
  18. Enduring Love
  19. Mid-Term Break, Heaney
  20. Your Last Drive
  21. The Going
  22. The Waste Land, Elliot

Measure for Measure

William Shakespeare 1564-1616

The play Measure for Measure deals with the love between siblings. An old law has been reinstated which states that the penalty for pre-marital sex is death. Claudio has made his girlfriend pregnant and has been arrested and sentenced to death. He has a sister, Isabella, who is about to become a nun, whom he asks to plead for his life to the new ruler, Angelo. She agrees to do this for the brother she loves.

Angelo becomes infatuated with Isabella and despite his strict reputation propositions Isabella and promises her that if she sleeps with him he will free her brother. Modern audiences might think that Isabella makes too much of a fuss about why she should not give up her virginity, but, as ever, the context has to be taken into account and in Shakespearian times, we must presume that attitudes (if not realities – history shows that many children were born within months of the marriage) were different from today.

There is no doubt that Isabella loves her brother, but her conclusion to this serious dilemma is that ‘More than our brother is our chastity’. She tells her brother that, ‘Were it but my life, I’d throw it down for your deliverance as frankly as a pin.’ In this extract, Claudio states his fear of death. No doubt the fear is presented as being real, but the speech may be used as a persuasive tool for Isabella to give up her virginity in order to save his life.


Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm...

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