Study Guide

Measure for Measure

by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure Essay - Critical Essays

Criticism

Overview

Northrop Frye
[Frye uses the title of Measure for Measure to organize his essay around some fundamental components of the play: characterization, theme, and genre. He demonstrates, for example, how the play measures one character against another (such as Angelo versus Claudio) and one theme against another (such as justice versus mercy, or "a justice that includes equity and a justice that's a narrow legalism"). Frye also looks at the Duke's role as stage manager in the drama that occurs between Isabella, Angelo, and Mariana, and concludes by remarking on the ways in which Measure for Measure "proceeds upward" from potential tragedy to fulfill the requirements of comedy through marriage,...

(The entire section is 5953 words.)

Gender Roles and Sexuality

Engraving from Galerie des Personnages de Shakespeare (1844) Published by Gale Cengage

David Sundelson
[Sundelson focuses on the male characters' insecurity regarding their masculinity in Measure for Measure. Sundelson argues that in the play, there is the fear that loss of power can cause a man to lose his sexual identity. Thus the Duke protects his masculinity by working from the sidelines—allowing his stand-in Angelo rather than himself to be made a fool of publicly. Angelo, on the other hand, demonstrates his fear of women when he tries to force himself upon Isabella. Sundelson argues that in this case, Aneglo is afraid that a women's "pretty face and . . . confident tongue" can weaken and emasculate a man—a fear that is violently expressed against women in later plays of...

(The entire section is 10196 words.)

Justice and Mercy

Frank Corrado as the Duke Published by Gale Cengage

Linda Anderson
[In this excerpt from her study of the pervasiveness of revenge "as a useful social instrument in Shakespeare's comedies," Anderson reminds us that the Duke temporarily leaves Vienna in Angelo's hands not only to correct the city's excessive vices but also to test Angelo's ability to wield power fairly. Further, Anderson observes that as Isabella is forced to make decisions regarding her chastity, her brother's life, and Angelo's hypocrisy—and as the Duke himself steps in to draw the play to a close—the concept of revenge is intermingled with the concepts of justice and mercy to the extent that the three become "almost indistinguishable" from one another.]

None of...

(The entire section is 9428 words.)

Structure

Abhorson, Pompey, and Provost Published by Gale Cengage

Anthony Caputi
[Caputi argues against the idea that an "ethical pattern" or set of rival themes such as justice, mercy, or Christianity organizes Measure for Measure. Further, he does not believe that the play is organized around any particular character or characters. Instead, he asserts that the play is intentionally structured for dramatic effect around "long slowly developing scenes" which clearly resolve themselves in the last act into a positive view of civilization.]

Much of the best criticism of Measure for Measure has focused on what one critic has called the "ethical pattern of the play." Critics have by no means agreed on the nature of that pattern or its...

(The entire section is 10358 words.)

Angelo

Leo Kirschbaum
[Kirschbaum suggests that the change in the structure of Measure for Measure is the result of a change in the characterization of Angelo. At the beginning of the play, Kirschbaum notes, Angelo is cruel and inflexible, but this is tempered somewhat by the fact that he is also noble in his consistent adherence to the law. Kirschbaum contends that, in order to shift the play away from tragedy, Shakespeare is obliged to recreate Angelo for the final half of the play, turning him into a character who is no longer noble but who is instead "small-minded, mean, calculating (and) vindicitive."]

Not even Mary Lascelles' Shakespeare's Measure for Measure...

(The entire section is 2131 words.)

Duke Vincentio

The Published by Gale Cengage

William A. Freedman
[Freedman refutes the commonly held view of the Duke as inconsistent and inhuman, countering this viewpoint with the argument that Vincentio is in fact consistently "concerned with . . . his reputation and public image." Freedman remarks that reputation serves as an important theme in the play along wth mercy and justice, so that appropriately as the most powerful character in the play, the Duke brings these themes to the forefront at the close of Measure for Measure by displaying a human concern for his reputation and authority in Vienna even while he teaches his subjects the importance of tempering justice with mercy.]

Undoubtedly one of, if not the, most...

(The entire section is 6247 words.)

Isabella

Varrius, lords, Angelo, Escalus, Lucio, citizens, Peter, Mariana, and Provost Published by Gale Cengage

Amy Lechter-Siegel
[Lechter-Siegel observes that scholarly assessments of Isabella as morally rigid and therefore fortunate to have been "saved" from the convent through "moral education'' and by the Duke's marriage proposal are inaccurate because they stem from each critic's personal "value judgments" rather than from Renaissance history or the play itself. By contrast, Lechter-Siegel argues that Isabella does not in fact change her moral views, nor does she agree to marry the Duke. Instead, Lechter-Siegel asserts that Isabella's articulate speeches in the first half of the play threaten the Duke's absolutist control of the state and that the Duke himself represents...

(The entire section is 3992 words.)