Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Critics have diverse views regarding the value of the play. Some consider it very good, filled with wisdom; others consider it one of Shakespeare's weakest plays, filled with unexciting characters. It is important to remember that Measure for Measure is an old story told over again. Shakespeare refashions the original tale, largely known by Elizabethan audiences, with a higher motive. The moral theme, which has traces of the old Morality plays, gives it a peculiar ethical interest. It carefully develops the theme of the need to temper justice with mercy. The entire play is meticulously constructed, and most characters illustrate certain human qualities, which have been chosen with careful references to the main theme. Thus, Isabella stands for saintly purity; Angelo stands for self- righteousness; the Duke represents a psychologically sound and enlightened ethic; Lucio represents indecent wit; and Pompey and Mistress Overdone symbolize professional immorality. Each character, therefore, illumines some facet of man's morality or immorality; and the play strives to define what is moral and just.
The entire atmosphere of the play is one of religious and critical morality. In the beginning of the play, Isabella is a novice at St. Clare. The Duke disguises himself as a Friar, exercising the divine privileges of this office towards Juliet, Barnardine, Claudio, and Pompey. In fact, the Central idea of Measure for Measure can easily be stated in Christian terms: "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Since Angelo is not a conscious hypocrite, it is easier to forgive even him. Self-deception and pride drive him. When desire for Isabella overcomes him, Angelo even struggles against it and prays to heaven. Since he is weak, the struggle is short-lived; Angelo soon gives in to his desires and becomes an utter scoundrel.
Some critics observe that Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure when he was bidding farewell to mirth and entering the period of writing his most well known tragedies. He chooses a good story, well known by his public, and makes it rich with characterization and Christian values. He balances the narrative structure with the poetic texture of the play, while carefully developing his them of mercy. The result is that Measure for Measure becomes a coherent intellectual comedy, rich with ideas and Christian imagery.