Measure for Measure

The Underworld Community of Measure for Measure College

In virtually all of Shakespeare’s plays, members of both high and low society are represented, and often the interplay between these two classes offers some kind of moral commentary on an issue. This common set up is found in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, where the issue on every character’s mind is sex, and the classes collide over the morality of carnal pleasures. In the play, when the historically liberal Duke of Vienna “travels abroad” and leaves Angelo, a strict temporary ruler, to govern in his stead, the city is faced with new punishments for the sexual freedoms that its citizens have always enjoyed. While the brunt of this regime’s disciplinary actions falls on Claudio, the play’s main fornicator and arguably its leading male, the treatment of the play’s low class characters is far more interesting. Shakespeare offers a complicated view of these men and women, members of an underworld community that deal in illegal activities such as prostitution for business, pleasure, or both. Through interaction with their social superiors and communion with their peers, underworld characters such as Mistress Overdone and Pompey are often presented as sympathetic individuals who are condemned by a ruling class that is just as...

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