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Measure for Measure By William Shakespeare - Explain the significance of the title.

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Measure for Measure By William Shakespeare GCSE Coursework 2003 Explain the significance of the title. The first thing to note is that 'Measure for Measure', unlike some of the comedies, has a highly significant title, a phrase which not only sums up the basic theme of the play, but is brought out and emphasized in the last act, when the Duke condemns Angelo: "An Angelo for Claudio; death for death. Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure" ( V.i.l.406-409 ). To me, the title 'Measure for Measure' suggests balance. It is all about duality, and the theory that there are two sides to everything, to every story. Everything has an opposite. Good versus bad, right versus wrong, law and order versus vice and inequity. All the characters and themes throughout the play carry this duality. 'Measure for Measure' takes it title from the Gospel according to Matthew: "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7:2), a passage from the Sermon on the Mount, one of Christ's most famous sermons. Many of the people in Shakespearian times were religious and read the Bible and so were likely to know of this sermon. Among other things, this sermon shows the importance of the difference between outer sacredness and inner corruption. Like the play, the Sermon on the Mount stresses the world of thoughts, intentions and the mind, showing not only what a person does but also what they think. He takes the Ten Commandments and explains them. More to the point, he speaks about the world of sexual activities: Thou shalt not commit adultery. The laws that are stated by the Ten Commandments can dictate behaviour, distinguishing between what is good and what is bad, but it cannot dictate attitudes and intentions. Another biblical reference that sums up the whole idea of balance and equality in the play- "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." ...read more.


Angelo ultimately proves to have a false appearance; his statements of virtue and self-control do not match his behaviour. But to call him a hypocrite is not strictly fair as he is as surprised at his lust as anyone else, at least in the beginning, and he questions his moral status at the beginning of the play. His morality had always been important to him, and when he commits a sin it catches him off guard. When he finds himself lusting after Isabella, he exclaims with surprise, "What's this, what's this? Is this her fault or mine? The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most, Ha? Not she; nor doth she tempt; but it is I That, lying by the violet in the sun, Do as the carrion does, not as the flower, Corrupt with virtuous season. Can it be That modesty may more betray our sense Than woman's lightness?" ( II.ii.l.163-170). Angelo finds that he has a double nature: the first is the virtuous man that would have carried on how society would like him to and the second, a lustful and power-hungry character. His awareness of this duality is shown in his speech. In the scene ( II.ii ) where Isabella begs for her brother's life he shows both sides of his character. Until the point where he attempts to seduce Isabella, his language is straightforward with single meanings. But when he begins to pursue Isabella, he speaks with many asides and double meanings. His change in character is mirrored in the speech, and it reveals to the audience and maybe also Isabella, Angelo's inner corruption and lack of honour, in the difference between what he seems to be on the outside and what he actually is on the inside. Angelo being likely to be tempted and sin and giving in (though by no means excusable) was not surprising to the audience. ...read more.


Now, as fond fathers, Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch, Only to stick it in their children's sight For terror, not to use, in time the rod Becomes more mock'd than fear'd: so our decrees, Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead, And liberty plucks justice by the nose, The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart Goes all decorum." ( I.iii.l.19-31 ). Described here is the loss of morals and the loss of etiquette. In 'Measure for Measure' one particular problem is solved by 'the famous bed trick', the substitution of Mariana for Isabella. The ultimate design of the Duke is to rectify all the corrupt situations at hand and the revealing of private vices might be good, but there is real question mark over the means he uses to achieve those ends (just as there is question about his use of the disguise of a friar, especially when he hears confession) when he sends Mariana to Angelo. The Pompey subplot emphasizes the sexual corruption in the city and the implications of laws that have not been enforced in Vienna. But it also suggests that human laws and human morality are quite unpredictable. Good and virtue are defined not by standards but by how the people act. 'Escalus- "How would you live, Pompey? By being a bawd? What do you think of the trade, Pompey? Is it a lawful trade?" Pompey- "If the law would allow it, sir." Escalus- "But the law will not allow it, Pompey; nor it shall not be allowed in Vienna." Pompey- "Does your worship mean to geld and splay all the youth of the city?" ( II.i.l.221-228 ) Whatever the law, according to Pompey, it is an unreasonable imposition that violates human nature. Such social opinions spread through the entire play. And it isn't a matter of class: Lucio, of the upper classes, shares the same morals as Pompey. The whole play is preoccupied with sex and Shakespeare uses language throughout to show this. There are more obvious references, like Lucio's talk of sexual diseases in I.ii. ...read more.

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