Isabella defines Angelo as an arch-villain(TM). To what extent do you agree with her that Angelo is the villain of the play?

Authors Avatar

Measure for Measure

Isabella defines Angelo as an ‘arch-villain’. To what extent do you agree with her that Angelo is the villain of the play?

Though he displays many villainous traits and commits some seemingly irredeemable acts of cruelty, it would be unfair to judge Angelo outright as an ‘arch villain’

All of Shakespeare’s plays contain at least one character who displays villainous characteristics. These vary greatly from the remorseless evil of Iago in Othello to the more comedic antagonists whose main role is act as a block against true romance. Angelo poses a problem as does not fit seamlessly into either group.

 The dictionary defines the term ‘Villain’ as a wicked person or evil person. Certain actions that Angelo undertakes certainly would lead some to regard him as that. The most obvious of these would be the seemingly cruel act of ordering Claudio’s execution for the human act of impregnating his lover/wife Juliet. This from the outset is an extreme and unjust measure for a crime that even in Jacobean times would not warrant death. This highly puritanical approach to justice can easily be deemed as villainous especially to a more liberal thinking twenty-first century audience. However it is important to note that Angelo is only putting in place the law “it is the law who condemns your brother not I” and his severity only stems from the necessity to reinforce the law “setting it up to fear the birds of prey” especially after the dukes laxity on Vienna.

Join now!

Angelo’s role also takes the form of the so-called corrupt magistrate that rose from a novella by Giraldi Cinthio and George Whetstones Promos and Cassandra. Jacobean audiences familiar with these texts would recognise Angelo in this role as a rigid judge who commits the ultimate act of hypocrisy by executing one for a crime he himself attempts to commit with Claudio’s sister Isabella.

Like Promos, Angelo abuses his power to achieve his own gains over a woman and cruelly manipulates Isabella to submit to him “Who will believe thee Isabel, My unsoiled name th’austerness of my life…..will so your ...

This is a preview of the whole essay