Measure for Measure

The Portrayal of Women in Measure for Measure 12th Grade

‘Measure for Measure’ features female characters from various backgrounds, representing the whole of Viennese society. Women from the upper-classes, such as Isabella, are featured alongside their lower class compatriots, such as brothel keeper Mistress Overdone. However, all of them have one thing in common; in male-dominated Vienna, women are portrayed, first and foremost, in terms of their sexuality.

One of the ways in which Shakespeare presents women is through dialogue, or lack thereof. In the play, Isabella is the main female character, and the one to whom the most lines are given .However, she speaks entirely of her own volition in only two scenes- that of her second meeting with Angelo and her chastisement of Claudio. She uses strong language and fiery rhetoric in order to express her emotions and reject the attempts of both men to make her give up her maidenhead (which, in her ‘measure’, weighs more than Claudio’s head). In every other scene she is encouraged by Lucio or has her words scripted by the Duke, making her a mere conduit for someone else’s words. As soon as the Duke takes over, Isabella’s speech gradually fades away. Her words are taken over by the Duke, as she submits to his control (“Show me how, good...

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