Review: Measure for Measure

Posted 17 June, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Measure for Measure
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: eBook

In the Duke’s absence from Vienna, his strict deputy Angelo revives an ancient law forbidding sex outside marriage. The young Claudio, whose fiancee is pregnant, is condemned to death by the law. His sister Isabella, soon to become a nun, pleads with Lord Angelo for her brother’s life.

I believe this is the last of those “problematic” plays by Shakespeare that I have left to read. I mean, with a premise like the one above, you can already see where some of the problems may come in.

Hmm, so, this was an interesting play. I do appreciate how this play addresses the question of the law, justice, and mercy, about morality and how far you would go to save someone you love. It was also interesting how the Duke Vicentio and Lord Angelo play the extremes on the matter of ruling (akin to Richard II and Bolingbroke in Richard II (review)): the duke seemed to have been really laxed and unable to enforce the law sternly and as he should, while Angelo is too strict with the law and unwavering. Yet by the end of the play, the situation seemed almost reverse in that Angelo finds himself at the mercy of the law while the duke suddenly becomes a bit of a hard-ass at the end. I can’t help but I feel the duke was a bit irresponsibile in leaving Vienna under Angelo with the work of reinforcing the law but then staying in town in diguise; I mean, I get where he’s coming from, staying in town in disguise and can therefore see firsthand how Angelo conducts his business, but it seems so…flippant. I don’t know.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse Angelo and what he did. I mean, fine about the hypocrisy/whatever you want to call it; it was actually interesting to see how he’s such a puritan and stickler for the law and morals and all that but then he finds himself in a situation where he himself is tempted by desires of the flesh. It makes for an interesting personal conflict and his soliloquy in Act II shows it/ But the ultimatum he poses Isabella? Yeah, wut, no O_O (oh, and ditching Mariana five years prior under those circumstances = not cool). He really got dragged in Act V when he was caught for everything he did. As an amusing aside, he totally reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire‘s Stannis Baratheon: stern, unbending, closing down the brothels. Ha.

Despite of these intriguing themes, it was a bit of a meh read. I didn’t really care for the secondary storyline with Lucio and the brothel. I did like Claudio’s speech in Act III, Scene 1 about his fear of death–it was quite poignant–and his discussion with his sister about Angelo’s ultimatum was interesting because again, the question of how far you would go to save your sibling, would you personally compromise yourself, etc. It’s a tough situation, but kudos to Isabella for sticking to her principles even as her brother faced death.

Overall, Measure for Measure is an interesting play. The characters here are not quite one or the other, black or white, and the themes and questions raised are interesting. I reckon it’s a lot more interesting to actually watch the play than to read it because it can be a little flat at times. But otherwise, glad to have finally read it (now all I have left are two comedies and a number of histories/tragedies). 🙂

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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2 Responses to “Review: Measure for Measure”

  1. I read this quite a long time ago and so unfortunately cannot comment extensively on it. I do want to reread it because I suspect it has a lot of nuances that I missed the first time around. On a reader response kind of level, though, I just remember being annoyed by the ending. You can’t just command someone to leave a convent!

    • Glad I’m not the only one who thought about that re: the ending! And with Isabella sticking to her principles the way she had been throughout the entire play, I can’t imagine her just leaving at the end either…

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