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Critical Essay on Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure

Measure for Measure is one of the most unusual plays of Shakespeare. It was originally considered to be a comedy. However, the text is so cynical and gloomy that it is often referred to as a problem play or a “black comedy”.

The play mostly deals with the points of mercy, justice and truth, and their relationship to pride and
humility. Ideologically the play investigates the issue of the absolute power and its influence on the society: a person who gets the power, becomes a tyrant. If the tyrant is seduced, even the strongest church-goer can be found sinful. The main character Angelo is known to be a hard-liner in the issues of sexual immorality and tries hard to control the private sexual life of the citizens. However, he turns out to be a hypocrite, who harbors lustful thoughts on a novice nun Isabella. The girl is made to choose: she can save her brother’s life if she yields Angelo her virginity or they will both die. The girl chooses to die together with her brother, rather than to sacrifice her immortal soul. Being more a tragedy in the beginning, the play turns into a happy end story, as the Duke of the city finds out about Angelo’s cruel plans and helps the sufferers to prove trustful.

The title of the story is usually considered to be the interpretation of a famous biblical quote “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”, which can actually be used to describe the whole idea of the play, so successfully dealing with the themes of honesty, hypocrisy and true virtues.


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