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How does Shakespeare interest his audience with both the moral debate and the action on stage in Measure for Measure?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare interest his audience with both the moral debate and the action on stage in Measure for Measure? In his play Measure for Measure, Shakespeare chooses to explore many moral issues such as human weakness, sexual temptation and above all justice against mercy. However these moral debates are intrinsically linked to the action on stage portrayed by Shakespeare's characters. Therefore to say 'both' is not appropriate or relevant to the question. The word debate suggests a 'prolonged discussion' which may lead an audience to associate Measure for Measure with dull trials and legal language something that may not of been of huge interest to Shakespeare's contemporary working class audience. Yet Shakespeare is able to capture all the previously mentioned debates vibrantly and dramatically through the characters of Angelo and Isabella. The conflict between these two absolute values, the 'precise' and 'snow-broth' Angelo against the restrained novice Isabella open the debates not just of justice and mercy but also of the male-female relationships of Jacobean England. The contrast of Isabella's enlightened, elegant speeches on mercy "The marshals truncheon, nor the judges robe become them with one half so good a grace as mercy does" against Angel's dry, blunt and inflexible responses "He's sentenced tis too late" highlight the inhumanity of the justice system and the Christian virtue of mercy. ...read more.

Middle

However to a modern and a feminist audience this would serve in exposing Isabella's vulnerability when faced with Angelo's patriarchal authority. Her character is also made much more engaging for a modern female audience as we realize she is not merely maid , widow nor wife' but a woman who is able to take control of her own body and decisions that ultimately make her very relatable to this audience. Yet throughout the second half of the play after Act II scene iv, the exploration of moral issues becomes secondary to the restoration of order and the drawing to a neat conclusion. This is shown principally through the mechanisms of the 'old fantastical Duke of dark corners' in his attempts to fix the problems his deputy has created. Subsequent dramatic devices such as the 'bed trick' where Isabella's body is substituted for Marianas and also the replacement of Claudio's head with that of a conveniently deceased pirate cause the play to become almost farcical. In the context of a Shakespearean comedy it was the formula for the previous disorder and chaos to be miraculously restored. ...read more.

Conclusion

However due to the huge differences in language and humour in twenty-first century England, these jokes are much harder for a modern day audience to react to. At the end of the play none of the issues that the play initially dealt with seem to have been fully resolved. With the Dukes choric declaration "haste still pays haste and leisure answers leisure. Like doth quit like and Measure still for Measure" an audience would expect a just conclusion to the play and the characters problems perhaps in line with Mathew 7:2 "as you judged others so shall ye be judged" Yet the play does indeed conclude in the style of a typical 1590's Shakespearean comedy, with multiple marriages. However it seems that Shakespeare is indeed punishing his characters as all these marriages seem destined to be unhappy both that between Angelo and Mariana and Lucio and the misfortunate prostitute "Marrying a punk, my lord is pressing to death/Whipping and hanging" Therefore we can conclude that Shakespeare was intending to appease his audiences desire to see some form of retribution delivered whether it serves to befit the initial moral debate or not. ...read more.

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