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Measure for Measure: Essay Questions

Ben Coulthard | Tuesday July 21, 2009

Categories: Drama, Measure For Measure, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Plays, Writing, Drama Analysis, Essays


1.Measure for Measure’ has plenty of examples of comedic character, plot and action - but the elements that lead to this are precisely those aspects of the play that gesture towards the important questions of judgement. The Duke’s cleverness is what elicits the comic procession of people kneeling to be forgiven at the end, and yet this scene is pathetic as well as comedic, because it reflects the sinful nature of all of the characters hitherto involved. Isabella’s decision to ‘side’ with Mariana in pleading for Angelo’s life can be played as a humorously reluctant decision, and yet it is desperately serious because it also represents the taking of one’s ‘own medicine’ just as she has advised Angelo to do.

Any audience will find all the elements of the play that are staples of Shakespearean comedy are at exactly the same time gruesome or even tiresome. The bed trick is standard fare, but it raises truly unpleasant questions about the fact that Isabella is willing to allow another person to be defiled, according to her own values. This expedient decision runs in the face of the morality she has espoused earlier in protecting her own dignity.

The variety of approaches to the Duke can seem as disturbing as they are entertaining; many productions have presented him as a dissolute bawd rather like Lucio. It is Lucio who describes Friar Lodowich as ‘honest in nothing but his clothes’, drawing on the irony of the fact that unknown to Lucio, Friar Lodowick’s clothes are indeed not honest at all. As the audience are entertained by his machinations and cleverness in resolving elements of the plot, they are also well aware that his (possible) history as the ‘Duke of dark corners’ might mean that there is more than benevolence in his motivation: ultimately his positioning of Angelo in the plot could be seen as a Machiavellian stroke of genius, allowing him the opportunity to regain his reputation at Angelo’s...

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