What are the moral debates in Measure for Measure? How does Shakespeare make them interesting to an audience in the theatre?

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Sandra Bogacheva

 What are the moral debates in Measure for Measure?

How does Shakespeare make them interesting to an audience in the theatre?

        Measure for Measure, like the period in which it was written, is marked by the juxtaposition of two mismatched ideologies and their related dramatic forms. The play begins as a romantic comedy, but at the end of the second act, both its ideological perspective and its formal structure undergo a ‘metamorphosis’ and from this point on the play proceeds to its conclusion according to the form and ideas of the ‘disguised monarch play’- where the Duke starts to take control of the situation.

There are many different moral debates within the play, which are explored in different ways. ‘Is fornication a bigger crime than killing?’ – is the ‘sexual debate’, which also links in with the ‘hypocrisy debate’ of the play. It is an important one because the play evolves around the question – whether or not Isabella should sleep with Angelo. Shakespeare presents us with this overwhelming situation between her and Angelo - Isabella faces a moral uncertainty, where religion stands against fornication: - “Better it were a brother died at once than that a sister, by redeeming him, should die forever.”

Shakespeare makes this debate interesting to an audience by doing something he has often done before: he does not provide any kind of descriptions of Isabella. Therefore, in theatre and film productions, her character has been interpreted and presented  in many different ways. In parts, she appears to be a deeply moral and religious person who not only feels that her religion is her life, but also feels a requirement for introduction of further rules: - “I speak not of desiring more, but rather wishing a more strict restraint upon the sisterhood…”

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 However, at other times, considering the fact that she is the focus of the play’s sexual dynamic, she appears to have a rather erotic persona. Isabella uses various sexual metaphors and we can see her repressed sexuality blooming in some of her speeches: - “That is, were I under the terms of death, th’impression of keen whips I’d were as rubies, and strip myself as to a bed that long I have been sick for, ere I’d yield my body up to shame.” Sometimes, her language seems to be overweighed with sexual meaning and throughout the play, she appears ...

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