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MonkeyNotes-Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
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THE TITLE

Generally, the title of any work is reflective of the central theme and/or plot of the piece of literature. The title Measure for Measure is truly an explication of the play's theme. The word measure means to judge, and throughout the play, judgment is being made; sometimes mercifully and sometimes unmercifully. Sometimes the judgment is made of others; sometimes the character looks inside and judges his/her own heart.

It is an irony of fate that Isabella sought justice from Angelo, and got the opposite. Subsequently, she demanded justice from the Duke, and received it "measure for measure." The Duke appears to be an exponent of the Mosaic law of justice "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', and that is precisely why he says "An Angelo for Claudio, death for death." He dispenses his justice measure by measure. That is why, in the end, he is able to pardon Claudio, Lucio, and even Angelo and mercifully fit their punishments measure for measure to their crimes. Only Angelo seems to get off very light; but the Duke explains that a measure of repentance is met with a measure of pardon. At the end of the play, Angelo does acknowledge his misdeeds and begs for forgiveness. The title Measure for Measure is certainly an appropriate one for this play.

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BAWDINESS IN MEASURE FOR MEASURE

The minor characters in this play use a great deal of vulgarism, since they come from the lower strata of society and vie with each other in obscenities. They joke about sexuality and speak in vulgarity. Even in the presence of pious Isabella, Lucio says, "He hath got his friend with child," shocking words to be spoke to a Lady of Elizabethan times. The bed-trick is also an example of bawdiness. The concept of switching Marina into Isabella's place in Angelo's bed is revolting and vulgar. While speaking about Angelo, Lucio vulgarly questions his background, saying "some report, a sea-maid spawned him. Some that he was begot between two stock fishes". Even in the exalted presence of the Duke, Lucio does not curb his tongue. When the Duke asks Angelo if he knew Mariana, Lucio intervenes and says, "Carnally, she says." Fortunately, bawdiness is not the last word in the play. Instead, the bawdy characters are treated mercifully and forgiven.

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THE BED TRICK

A great deal of significance has been given to the switching of bed- partners. First and foremost, the Duke has been severely criticized for having thought out such a plan. Isabella too is reprimanded for her willingness to allow Mariana to take her place, especially in light of her pious and Puritanical beliefs. Mariana has also been criticized for her willingness to accept the Duke's foolish plan; but Mariana, portrayed as unintelligent, seems to be a person who prefers others to make the decisions in her life. Though earlier betrothed to Angelo, conventionally speaking, it does not absolve her of the sin of sleeping with him. Yet at the Duke's insistence and with his persuasive powers, she enters the plot willingly.

At the same time, one must be aware of the conventions of Shakespeare's times, when an engagement was considered as legal as a wedding, and which included all the conjugal vows too. Therefore, Angelo and Mariana were almost married, and so their sleeping together is not considered a cardinal sin. However, Claudio and Juliet, though very much in love with one another, were not engaged. Hence, ironically, their relationship was a much more sinful one in the eyes of society.

The bed trick is more tomfoolery than anything else. Shakespeare used it intentionally. He knew his audiences, and they loved a bit of trickery, especially involving a man who goes to bed with a woman other than the one he is expecting. In Elizabethan times, it was humor in the highest degree. It was also a way to keep Isabella's virtue intact, while unmasking the true nature of Angelo.

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