Measure for Measure

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: “’Tis surely for a name.” College

One possible analysis of Shakespeare’s Measure of Measure follows a natural progression of criminal justice over the course of the play. Angelo’s hardline punishments in Act One reflect the eye for an eye, measure for measure justice of the Old Testament. By Act Two, his personal corruption and constant criticism from secondary characters undermines the legitimacy of his justice. An alternative system aligned with New Testament mercy is represented by Isabella, and exemplified by her begging to save Angelo’s life in the final act. The Duke represents a shift to more moderate power as he doles out punishments in the form of forced marriages rather than executions. This reading of the play fulfills the audience’s desire for progress and reconciliation. Unfortunately, this reading disregards several philosophical and plot problems left unresolved in the rushed reestablishment of the Duke’s rule. Measure for Measure does not, in the end, promote any one ideal justice system. The theme of ideal justice is suppressed by a constant, less explicit motivator: the protection of one’s reputation. While both Angelo and Isabella act to protect their reputations, the Duke’s actions best show how this motivator underlies disparate criminal...

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