Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure Summary and Analysis of Act 5

Act V Scene 1 Summary:

The Duke returns, greeting Angelo and Escalus by saying he has heard that they have done an outstanding job, and that Angelo should be praised for his good work. He calls for Escalus and Angelo to walk with him, as he greets the people of the city.

Isabella then kneels before the Duke, and asks to be heard so that she can claim justice. The Duke urges her to speak, and to address Angelo with her grievance, since he is one that can give justice to her. Angelo warns the Duke that he fears her wits are not about her; but, Isabella accuses Angelo anyway, of being "an hypocrite, a virgin-violator" before the Duke and his company. She says that he appears good, but is not‹and that her claims must not be dismissed, but heeded with all possible caution.

Isabella is allowed to speak her tale, and tells of how she went to Angelo to plead for her brother's life, and had to sleep with Angelo to get him released, although he was executed anyway. The Duke, of course, along with Friar Peter, make a show of not believing her, and say that Angelo is too good by reputation for these allegations to have any weight with them. Friar Peter has Mariana come forward, as the Duke urges Angelo to be judge of his own case.

Mariana says she will not show her face until her husband bids her to do so; she says she is not a maid, a widow, or a wife, and then tells them that she has slept with her husband, whom Isabella is accusing. She tells the story of the contract between herself and Angelo, and that she slept with him in place of Isabella. Angelo admits that he broke off a marriage contract with her, but was justified in doing so; Mariana begs the Duke for mercy, but Angelo says that he thinks these women are being manipulated, and should be punished for their testimony. Angelo decides that he wants to figure out the whole truth of what is going on; Friar Peter is sent to fetch "Friar Ludovico," the Duke in disguise, as he will be the key witness to what actually went on with Angelo and the two women.

The Duke leaves, to change into his old disguise. The Provost and Isabella come with him, as he starts to testify as to his part in the whole matter. The Duke acts rather scurrilous as the friar, so much so that he is almost dragged off to prison before he can give any kind of testimony at all. Lucio gets angry at him for accusing him of saying bad things about the Duke, which in turn Lucio accuses the friar of; then, Lucio pulls off the 'Friar's' disguise and finds that it really is the Duke after all.

Angelo then knows that he is undone; he says he will confess what he has done, and forego a trial of his wrongdoing. The Duke says that for now, he will just have to marry Mariana; they go offstage with a friar, and when they reappear, they are married. The Duke still maintains that Claudio is dead, much to Isabella's grief. But, the Duke proclaims that Angelo must die for committing the same sin as Claudio; Mariana protests this decision, and Isabella's intervention, to ask that Angelo be allowed the mercy her brother did not get, then causes the Duke to let Angelo go. Claudio is fetched from the prison, and the fact that he is alive is revealed to all. Immediately after his appearance, the Duke proposes marriage to Isabella, perhaps using her flood of happiness at seeing her brother to secure her quick consent. Lucio is then sentenced to marrying the prostitute he got pregnant, as punishment for slandering the Duke.

The Duke then says for Claudio to be reunited with Juliet, and for Mariana and Angelo to live happily. He calls Isabella to him, since they are to be joined, and calls the play to a close on a 'happy' note.


The Duke speaks in a grand, declarative tone when he re-enters the city; he has put on his public language and persona here, speaking formally, and glossing over what he knows to be the truth about Angelo's behavior. The Duke's entering speech is laden with dramatic irony, since the audience knows that the Duke never left the city, knows everything that went on, and knows about Angelo's transgression; yet, as far as the citizens of the city know, Angelo has done a good job, and no one other than the Duke and his compatriots know otherwise at this point. The Duke's statement that Angelo's "desert speaks loud," and should have "a forted residence 'gainst the tooth of time" is especially ironic; for Angelo's desert is non-existent, and has already been corrupted, not by time but by lust.

This scene works almost as a play-within-a-play. The Duke plays his part, acting like he is ignorant of the recent goings-on in the town; Isabella plays the part of a wronged woman with great dramatic skill. All that has been pre-arranged and staged by the Duke is being executed before his eyes; his manipulations are being acted out in a public place, to the end results that the Duke wants‹justice, and Angelo's exposure.

Isabella presents the theme of appearance vs. reality to the assembled party; she makes the good point that anyone can appear to be just, but can be completely corrupt within, as Angelo is. The theme of justice is also apparent, as Angelo will have to judge his own guilt here, as the Duke says he should. However, Angelo has become no more just than he ever was, and has not learned of moderation in justice either; he tries to cover up his wrongs by trying to silence justice, which luckily, he does not get away with. One ironic note, though, is that Angelo senses that the two women are "but instruments of some more mightier member"; in fact, they are playing the parts the Duke has set out for them, and this will soon be revealed to all.

Angelo's repentance seems a bit abrupt, especially his statement that he deserves to die for what he has done. Never before in the play has Angelo thought that the rules that apply to others, like Claudio, should apply to him as well. That he would condemn himself to the same, admittedly over-harsh, punishment that Claudio was sentenced to seems a little extreme in the context of his character.

The Duke is still coming off a little like Prospero, making himself seem a benevolent advocate for Isabella, and one who used his power rightly, even when he was in disguise. But, though the Duke says he did "not [change] heart with habit," he did abuse his disguise as a priest to get people to trust him and believe in his unproven honor. His intent may have been the same in the disguise and out of it, but certainly, he manipulated people even more shamelessly by abusing the privileges of his disguise.

And here, he also abuses the privilege of his knowledge, telling Isabella again that her brother is dead, and having her be sorrowful in front of the crowd. He does this for no reason other to have her be very happy, and perhaps look even more just and heroic, when it is revealed that he actually saved Claudio's life. The Duke did his duty as a ruler, seeing to it that justice was kept and no undue sentence performed; however, through this public performance of accusation, repentance, and grief, he shows the extent of his power, and makes himself look even more just, important, and beneficent since he appears to have single-handedly acquired justice for everyone.

When the Duke attempts to sentence Claudio, he violates his own firm policy of moderation, merely by pronouncement of the sentence. This seems to be another machination to make Claudio's reappearance, and Angelo's release from this harsh sentence, reflect better upon the Duke. He is a consummate actor and director, drawing the appropriate performances and reactions from everyone. But, it must be remembered that he does much of this in order to bolster himself and secure what he wants, notably, Isabella's hand in marriage.

This is supposed to be a happy ending, and perhaps upon first glance, it is. However, the Duke's over-use of his power, and the fact that he proposes to Isabella at such a vulnerable, emotional time for her casts more doubt upon his character. Also, that he even suggests that she should repay the services he did her freely and willingly through marriage seems tantamount to the blackmail attempt that Angelo pulled. Isabella's wishes are not even considered, as she does not even answer the Duke, but her consent is implied by the end; knowing Isabella, and how strong willed she is, this seems out of character. Would the strict, chaste Isabella suddenly commit herself to marriage, to a man she hasn't shown any love or inclination toward? This seems like a weak, hasty attempt to balance out her extreme views about her chastity, but it does almost as much wrong to her as Angelo's initial proposition.

Also, the Duke sentences Lucio to marry the prostitute that he got pregnant, not because it is the right thing, but because Lucio "slander[ed] a prince". This seems like punishment to allay the Duke's ego, and indeed, he orders Lucio taken off to prison to appease him, rather than for the sake of justice. If the Duke were purely a just man, he would not have concealed Claudio's survival so needlessly from Isabella, bothered to pronounce a death sentence for Angelo, or said that Isabella should marry him for saving her brother, which he should have done anyway. Dramatically, his actions may be impressive; but, again, much of this seems designed for the purpose of allowing this egotistical character to show as much power as he can, make himself seem impressive and fair, and to gain a wife for himself.

Is Measure for Measure a good example of Shakespearean comedy in general? It has a fairly happy ending, and a few comic scenes‹other than that, the play deals so heavily with issues of sin and mortality that to attempt to be amusing is almost to betray the subject matter. It is not a wholly satisfying play, because of the dubious morals and motivations of the Duke, and the fact that the play is remarkably misogynist against both Isabella and Mariana. However, some of the more dramatic elements of the play, and its discussions of mortality are quite worthwhile, and if the play as a whole is flawed, it is at least well-paced and interesting.