How is Measure for Measure a problem play?
Measure for Measure has been called a problem play because, while it is a comedy (meaning it has a happy ending), it is so bleak in its outlook on human nature that it veers toward tragedy. In the play, the Duke of Vienna becomes aware that people no longer fear his authority, so he takes a trip and puts his advisor Angelo in charge, asking him to restore law and order. Angelo proves to be a cruel hypocrite, who is willing to execute a man named Claudio. Claudio technically broke the law against extramarital affairs by getting his fiance pregnant, but this was not to take advantage of the woman: Claudio and the fiance are deeply in love and planning to marry. Angelo reveals his hypocrisy when he offers to trade Claudio's life for sex with Claudio's sister Isabella. How can Angelo execute one man for premarital sex and then propose to secretly engage in it himself? We also discover that Angelo jilted his fiancee Mariana when he realized that her money was gone.
Characters in the play display hypocrisy, cruelty, abuse of power, and cowardice. As in Hamlet, Shakespeare examines a world of corruption, where appearances can't be trusted, seemingly good people are evil, people use other people ruthlessly to advance their own goals, and a legal system can be run inhumanely. These are grim themes for a comic play.