Measure for Measure

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Measure for Measure is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604. It was (and continues to be) classified as comedy, but its mood defies those expectations. As a result and for a variety of reasons, some critics have labeled it as one of Shakespeare's problem plays. Originally published in the First Folio of 1623 (where it was first labeled as a comedy), the play's first recorded performance was in 1604. The play deals with the issues of mercy, justice, and truth and their relationship to pride and humility: "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall".



  • The Duke, Vincentio, also appears disguised as Friar Lodowick
  • Isabella, a novice nun
  • Claudio, Isabella's brother
  • Angelo, rules in the Duke's absence
  • Escalus, a lord
  • Lucio, a debauched lord
  • Mariana Angelo's former fiance
  • Mistress Overdone A prostitute who runs a brothel
  • Pompey, a bawd and "tapster" (pimp) who works for Mistress Overdone.
  • The Provost, runs the prison, and is responsible for carrying out all of Angelo's orders.
  • Elbow, a constable
  • Barnardine, a prisoner
  • Juliet, Claudio's lover/unofficial bride, pregnant with his child.
  • Justice, a friend of Escalus.
  • Varrius, a friend of The Duke


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 the Duke's government, the city's harsh laws against fornication have been loosely enforced, but Angelo, who later reveals himself as a hypocrite, is known to be a hard-liner on matters of sexual immorality.

Claudio, a young nobleman, is betrothed/unofficially married to Juliet. At the time, marriages were supposed to be announced by banns in advance. Due to lack of money, Claudio and Juliet did not observe all the technicalities. This did not make them unique however; at the time most people (including the Church) would have considered them married. Technically, however, all the formalities for a civil marriage had not been followed and so a strict judge could claim that they were not legally married. Angelo, as the personification of the law, decides to enforce the ruling that fornication is punishable by death, and since he does not accept the validity of the marriage, Claudio is sentenced to be executed. Claudio's friend Lucio visits Claudio's sister Isabella, a novice nun, and asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf.

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