Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare

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Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare

Play - ISBN: 0198320108

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Review of "Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare"

published 15/08/2007 | damob123
Member since : 03/07/2007
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"One of Shakespheres best"

Another A-Level English Book!

Measure for Measure was written in 1603 or 1604. The play was first published in 1623 in the First Folio.

The earliest recorded performance of Measure for Measure took place on "St. Steven's night", December 26, 1604. During the Restoration, Measure was one of many Shakespearean plays adapted to the tastes of a new audience. Sir William Davenant inserted Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing into his adaptation, called The Law Against Lovers. Samuel Pepys saw the hybrid play on 18 February 1662; he describes it in his Diary as "a good play, and well performed"—he was especially impressed by the singing and dancing of the young actress who played Viola, Beatrice's sister (Davenant's creation, not Shakespeare's). John Rich presented a version closer to Shakespeare's original in 1720.

Notable recent productions of Measure for Measure are Peter Brook's 1950 staging at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with John Gielgud as Angelo, Charles Laughton as Angelo at the Old Vic Theatre in 1933, and a 1976 New York Shakespeare Festival production featuring Meryl Streep as Isabella and John Cazale as Angelo. The play has only been produced on Broadway once, in a 1973 production that featured David Ogden Stiers as Vincentio and Kevin Kline in the small role of Friar Peter.


Isabella, a novice nun, is a virtuous and chaste young woman who faces a difficult decision when her brother is sentenced to death for fornication. Isabella does not approve of her brother's actions, but she pleads for his life out of loyalty and sisterly devotion. It could be noted that many of her decisions during the play go against the morality she claims to believe in, and she is very unpredictable. Ultimately she would rather her brother die and go to heaven, than she herself live a life of hell. "more than our brother is our chastity".

The Duke The other central figure is the Duke, who spends most of his time dressed as a friar, Lodovic, in order to observe what is happening in his absence. He is seemingly unfailingly virtuous, good, and kind-hearted. He has tended to rule a little softly, which is why he has enlisted Angelo's help. In the First Folio, The Duke is listed in the Dramatis Personae as "Vincentio," but this name appears nowhere else in the play.

Claudio is Isabella's brother, a young man sentenced to death for impregnating an unmarried woman. He was engaged to her by a common-law agreement, but they had sexual intercourse before the legal marriage took place.

Angelo is the villain of the play, a man who rules strictly and without mercy. He has his own weaknesses, however, and he is loathsome more for his hypocrisy than for anything else. He presents Isabella with a difficult proposition, to sleep with him in exchange for her brother's life, but then does not hold up his end of the bargain.

Escalus is a wise lord who advises Angelo to be more merciful. He is loyal to the Duke and seeks to carry out his orders justly, but cannot go against Angelo's will. As his name suggests (Scales) he takes a balanced decision to everything, which in turn makes him one of the most wise characters in the play.

Lucio, described by Shakespeare as a "fantastic," is a flamboyant bachelor who provides much of the play's comedy. He is a friend of Claudio, and tries to help him. He is a bawd himself, but would rather die than marry the 'whore' who is with his child.

Mariana was intended to marry Angelo, but he called the wedding off when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck that killed her brother.

Mistress Overdone runs a brothel in Vienna.

Pompey is a clown who works for Mistress Overdone.

The Provost runs the prison, and is responsible for carrying out all of Angelo's orders.

Elbow is a dim-witted constable who arrests people for misconduct, particularly of the sexual variety. He provides some comic relief through his frequent use of malapropisms in his speech.

Barnardine is a long-term prisoner in the jail, sentenced to be executed. The Duke originally considers him hopeless and therefore dispensable but later changes his mind.

Juliet is Claudio's lover, pregnant with his child.

Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo. Under Vincentio's government, the city's harsh laws against fornication have been laxly enforced, but Angelo is known to be a hard-liner on matters of sexual immorality.

Claudio, a young nobleman, is betrothed to Juliet; having put off their wedding, he makes her pregnant out of wedlock. For this act of fornication he is punished by Angelo. Although he is willing to marry her, he is sentenced to death. Claudio's friend Lucio visits Claudio's sister Isabella, a postulate nun, and asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf.

Isabella obtains an audience with Angelo, and pleads to him for mercy. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo and Isabella, it becomes clear that he harbours lustful thoughts for her, and he eventually offers her a deal: Angelo will spare Claudio's life if Isabella will sleep with Angelo. Isabella refuses, but she also realises that (due to Angelo's austere reputation) she will not be believed if she makes a public accusation against him. Instead she visits her brother in prison, and counsels him to prepare himself for death. Claudio vehemently begs Isabella to save his life, but Isabella refuses.

The Duke has not in fact left the city, but remains there disguised as a friar, in order to spy on his city's affairs, and especially the actions of Angelo. In his guise as a friar he befriends Isabella and arranges two tricks to thwart the evil intentions of Angelo:

First, a "bed trick" is arranged. Angelo has previously refused to fulfill the betrothal binding him to Mariana, because her dowry was lost at sea. Isabella sends word to Angelo that she has decided to submit to him, making it a condition of their meeting that it occurs in perfect darkness. In fact, Mariana agrees to take Isabella's place, and she has sex with Angelo, although he continues to believe he has enjoyed Isabella. (In some interpretations of the law, this constituted consummation of their betrothal, and so marriage.)
Contrary to expectation, Angelo goes back on his word, sending a message to the prison that he wishes to see Claudio's head, which necessitates the "head trick." The Duke first attempts to arrange the execution of another prisoner whose head can be sent instead of Claudio's. However the villain Barnadine refuses to be executed in his current drunken state. As luck would have it, however, a pirate named Ragozine, of similar appearance to Claudio, has suddenly died, so his head is sent to Angelo, instead.
This main plot concludes with the "return" to Vienna of the Duke in his own person. Isabella and Mariana publicly petition him, and he hears their claims against Angelo, which Angelo smoothly denies. The scene builds a sense that the friar will be blamed for the "false" accusations levelled against Angelo. The Duke leaves Angelo to be judge of the cause against the friar, but returns in disguise moments later when the friar is summoned. Eventually the friar reveals himself to be the duke, thereby exposing Angelo as a liar and Isabella and Mariana as truthful. He proposes execution for him -- with his estate going to Mariana as her new dowry, for a better husband. On Mariana's pleas for Angelo, the Duke is merciful to him, but forces him to marry Mariana. The Duke then proposes marriage to Isabella. Isabella makes no reply, and her reaction is interpreted differently in different productions: her silent acceptance of his proposal is the most common in performance.

A sub-plot concerns Claudio's friend Lucio, who frequently slanders the duke to the friar, and in the last act slanders the friar to the duke, providing opportunities for comic consternation on Vincentio's part, and landing Lucio in trouble when it is revealed that the duke and the friar are one and the same person. His punishment, like Angelo's, is to be forced into an unwanted marriage: in his case with the whore Kate Keepdown.

Would i read it again?

The answer to this quetion is simply....yes! you have to read it again to get a full understanding of it.

I great and powerful book which explores the corruption in vienna


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Comments on this review

  • torr published 16/08/2007
    Good A Level essay, but, to be honest, for a Ciao review I would have liked to see more of what you thought and felt about the play yourself. Duncan
  • kitty17 published 16/08/2007
    Good review, ellie.
  • karimkha published 16/08/2007
    I enjoyed this review, well done!
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Product Information : Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare

Manufacturer's product description

Play - ISBN: 0198320108

Product Details

Type: Play

Title: Measure for Measure

Author: William Shakespeare

ISBN: 0198320108

EAN: 9780198320104


Listed on Ciao since: 05/01/2001