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

Authors Avatar

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. Isabella’s speech notably resembles “the Quality of mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches. One can conclude that perhaps that Shakespeare was questioning the judicial system and the application of justice in his life. By exploring this through this powerful exchange of wills Shakespeare would certainly have created a dramatic theatrical impact while perhaps leading an audience to question the implementation of the law.

Join now!

Shakespeare also engages his audience through the exploration of gender politics through these two characters. Isabella in her attempts to save her brothers life is offered a cruel ultimatum by Angelo “You must lay down the treasures of your body, to this supposed or else let him suffer” She is to either allow her brother to die or sacrifice the only thing of worth for many Jacobean women, her chastity.  

Angelo’s assurance of “Who will believe you Isabel/My unsoiled name….will so your accusation outweigh” show the powerless position of women in Jacobean society. Therefore we see justice as being ...

This is a preview of the whole essay