- Measure for Measure
By William Shakespeare,
Setting: Vienna, Austria. No specific time
period is indicated
Measure for Measure
takes place in the city of Vienna , where the ruler,
Duke Vincentio, has become concerned about the spread of lawlessness
and immorality in the city. Blaming his own leniency, the
Duke decides to temporarily abdicate his throne, naming Angelo,
a “man of stricture and firm abstinence,” as his deputy. The
Duke pretends to be going on a diplomatic mission to Hungary
, but will instead disguise himself and remain in the city
to secretly observe the results of Angelo's rule.
Among the first acts
of Angelo's reign is the imprisonment of a young nobleman,
Claudio, for vice. Claudio's offense seems relatively minor—
he has impregnated his fiancée, Juliet, prior to their
wedding night— but Angelo wishes to make an example of him.
Although Claudio is deeply in love with Juliet and more than
willing to marry her, Angelo insists that he be put to death
according to the “strict statutes” of Vienna which permit
a death sentence for illicit sex. His advisors urge him to
rethink the sentence, but Angelo is unswayed.
Claudio's sister, Isabella,
a young woman about to make her vows as a nun, goes to Angelo
to plead for clemency for her brother. Angelo, overwhelmed
by desire for Isabella, explains to her that he will spare
her brother's life only if she consents to sleep with him.
Horrified and repulsed, Isabella threatens to expose him,
but Angelo reminds her that his reputation and authority will
outweigh any allegations that she makes. Isabella, believing
that Claudio will refuse to let her trade her virginity for
his life, goes to visit her brother in prison and prepare
him for death.
Meanwhile, the Duke,
disguised as a friar, visits both Juliet and Claudio to offer
religious consolation (and to gain more information about
Angelo's conduct). While at the prison, he overhears the conversation
between Claudio and Isabella. Although Claudio's first reaction
is also horror at Angelo's manipulation of his sister, he
pleads with Isabella to give in to Angelo and save his life,
enraging her. The disguised Duke intercedes between the siblings.
After sending Claudio out of the room, he tells Isabella that
he has a plan to save both her and her brother, and to undo
Angelo's abuse of power. He tells her of Mariana, Angelo's
former fiancée, whom Angelo abandoned. The “friar”
instructs Isabella to tell Angelo she will consent, while
he visits the heartbroken Mariana and enlists her in their
They arrange for Mariana
to meet Angelo and, disguised as Isabella, consummate their
contracted marriage. Meanwhile the Duke returns to the prison
to ensure that Angelo's pardon of Claudio is delivered. He
is taken aback when instead an order arrives mandating that
Claudio be put to death, and his head delivered to Angelo,
by four o'clock. The “friar” persuades the prison keeper to
substitute the head of another condemned man, sparing Claudio
for the time being.
Meeting Isabella again,
the “friar” tells her only that Angelo has betrayed her by
executing her brother and that she must wait for the Duke's
return for justice to be done. Finally, he sends word to Angelo
of his imminent return to the city.
As the Duke's ceremonial
entry into the city begins, Isabella and Mariana interrupt
the procession with their story of Angelo's illicit activities.
According to the women, with the assistance of a friar, “Lodowick,”
they were able to substitute Mariana for Isabella, so that
Angelo has in fact committed the same act for which he had
condemned Claudio to death. Angelo scoffs at their story and
insists that it is a scheme by the mysterious “Friar Lodowick”
to slander him. When “Friar Lodowick” is revealed to be the
Duke, however, Angelo has no choice but to confess.
Still pretending that Claudio was put to death, the Duke sentences
Angelo to death according to the law by which he had condemned
Claudio—“measure still for measure.” Mariana kneels to plead
for mercy for Angelo, whom she still loves, and at her plea,
Isabella places herself on the side of forgiveness as well.
Shamed and humbled by this, Angelo admits that he deserves death
even as the Duke reveals the living Claudio. The Duke pardons
both Claudio and Angelo, warning both men to be good husbands
to Juliet and Mariana, respectively, and offers Isabella his
own hand in marriage.
the Duke of Vienna, he disguises himself as a monk, “Friar
Lodowick,” for most of the play
Angelo – the
duke's deputy, a nobleman with a reputation as an extremely
austere and severely moral individual
Escalus – an
older lord and advisor to the Duke
Claudio – a
young gentleman who is arrested for having premarital sex
Isabella – Claudio's
sister, who is about to take vows as a nun
Lucio – Claudio's
friend, a witty and insolent gentleman
Mariana – Angelo's
former fiancée, whom he spurned after she lost her
Juliet – Claudio's
fiancée, whom he has impregnated
Provost – the
keeper of the prison in Vienna
Elbow – a simple-minded
constable, charged with enforcing the law
Pompey – a pimp
who accepts a reduced sentence in exchange for working in
– a brothel-keeper
Abhorson – the executioner
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