“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall…”
Measure for Measure soars just as it should into that uniquely Shakespearean plane where absolutely opposing philosophies are given equally compelling expression.
It includes some of the finest moral argumentation in the canon: thrilling back-and-forths between well-matched antagonists with a great deal on the line.
Among the most passionately debated of Shakespeare’s plays, a duke temporarily removes himself from governing his city-state, deputizing a member of his administration, Angelo, to enforce the laws more rigorously.
The sanctimonious Angelo soon targets Claudio for execution-–for the crime of “fornication”.
Claudio’s sister Isabella, (who is entering a convent), pleads for her brother’s life.
Angelo himself attempts to blackmail Claudio’s sister Isabella—a nun, mind you—into sex by offering to spare him if she consents, but Isabella preserves her chastity.
The duke, in disguise, eavesdrops as she tells her brother about Angelo’s behavior, then offers to ally himself with her against Angelo.
Shakespeare focuses on justice overall, the final scene illustrating that the work is intended for moral justice to temper civil justice: a number of the characters receive understanding and leniency, instead of the unforgiving mistreatment to which they could have been sentenced.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616) was an English playwright poet, and actor, regarded as the world's pre-eminent dramatist, and the greatest writer in the English language. Author of such timeless works as Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet and King Lear, he is often called the “Bard of Avon,” England's national poet.