STUDY QUESTIONS ON MEASURE FOR MEASURE Stephan Flores
1. Graham Nicholls suggests that the play's first few scenes presents the Duke
as an "insecure authority figure aware that his rule has created a stagnant,
corrupt Vienna, yet handing over the task of rectifying the situation to an authoritarian
of whose moral fibre he has enough doubt to linger in disguise to watch the consequences
of his transfer of power" (15). What passages can you cite to support or
qualify this view? Dennis Walder observes that the properties
of government are placed under question from the start (Shakespeare:
Texts and Contexts 217).
2. As the play develops, consider what the disguised Duke may begin to understand,
to learn, to apply. Note as well that to adopt the disguise of a friar may for
contemporary Prostestants have suggested a dubious basis for authority: Popish
Catholicism and a recent tradition of discourse that represented hypocrites and
fornicators as Catholic clerics, including friars. What does the real Friar Peter
assume the Duke is up to (1.3)? Explore the Dukes explanation of his plans/purpose
(1.3). Do you find his justification convincing?
3a. Explore how we come to appraise Angelo via various references to him (e.g.,
1.1.22-24, 1.2.135-48, 1.3.50-54), as well as through his own speech (1.1, 2.1).
What possibilities, effects begin to accumulate or become juxtaposed? Do we evaluate
and understand Angeloor rulers in generalon terms distinct from the
office occupied or authority exercised, particularly if it is a question of enforcing
the law? Should a judge do more than enforce the law?
3b. Summarize and compare Angelos argument in the opening of Act 2 with
Escaluss response to it. What is the effect of the action that follows after
4. Claudio praises Isabella's eloquence (1.2.160) but she is initially destined
for a cloistered life, separated from the exchanges of Vienna's sexual underworld.
Once trapped by Angelo's sexual proposition, analyze Isabella's intellectual and
emotional responses, her desire and perhaps even her pleasure in the developing
intrigues. What does she represent? What does she learn or become?
5. What degree of empathy or sympathy does the play generate for Claudio? Who
are his friends and what are their values? How do you respond to his first comments
(1.2.103 ff.)? How do his perspectives bear on the question of determining and
submitting to proper authority? What is or should be the proper relationship between
liberty and restraint?
6. What functions does Lucio serve? What attitudes does he express? What are the
effects of his banter about the Duke (e.g., 3.1.358)?
7. Analyze the debate in 2.2--what are Isabella's lines of argument and appeal?
How do they affect Angelo? Consider also whether Angelos soliloquies at
the beginning of 2.2 and 2.4 develop our understanding of what is happening, perhaps
so that we question who is capable of judging another: is there something inadequate
in both Angelos and Isabellas perspectives or positions, especially
on the question of justice and mercy. Note how the question of what makes for
good governance or properly exercised authority is again addressed in this scene.
8. Analyze Angelo's arguments with Isabella in 2.4. How does he gradually manuever
her into becoming vulnerable to his sexual offer? Has she changed her ethical
position? How does she view/value her chastity in relation to her brother's life?
Why? Explore her response (2.4.1009) to Angelos proposal that she
lay down the treasures of [her] body as ransom for Claudio. Consider
as well that Shakespeare altered this aspect of the story from sources, where
in Cinthios tale in the Hecatommithi, the woman propositioned is finally
persuaded to yield by her brothers appeal. As Lawrence Stone observes of
this period, adhering to dissident religious opinions, whether puritan or
Catholic was one way for women to display independence. Might Isabellas
chastity be important to her not only because of her concern over a mortal sin
but also over her identity and will? What does Angelo mean by exclaiming Be
that you are; / That is, a woman (2.4.134-35).
9. Evaluate the Duke's (as Friar) "consolation" to Claudio (3.1.5-41).
What is the effect and purpose? Has the Duke changed? How does he portray life/death,
and by inference, will such views affect his notions of justice and mercy? What
about the Dukes reprimand to Juliet (2.3.28-30)?
10. Note how Isabella speaks indirectly to Claudio of his impending execution
(3.1.55). As the scene develops, how does her understanding of Claudio progress?
11. Comment upon (explain?) Isabella's disgust with Claudio, which includes a
prayer that her mother committed adultery (3.1.138-153). If Isabella appears unfeeling,
angry, and unsympathetic to Claudio, how do we understand her response and her
position (see also 5.1.445). Is her chastity worth more than her brothers?
12. Suggest what has helped lead the Duke to views expressed in the soliloquy
that concludes 3.1.
13. By the play's conclusion, the Duke has drawn Isabella into his intrigues to
entrap Angelo, but delays informing her that Claudio still lives; he turns then
to articulate the principles or premises of his justice (5.1.392 ff.). What does
he emphasize? Compare his sentiments with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew
7) or with Old Testament law (Leviticus 24). What is at stake in the choice he
poses to Isabella to plead for Angelo's life?
14. When Isabella finally pleads for Angelo, upon what view of justice does the
Duke pardon Angelo--Isabella's and Mariana's, or his own (e.g., 5.1.484)? What
do you think of his other judgments in this scene?
15. Trace the Duke's transformation (revelation?) from ineffectual impotence to
agile, pragmatic manipulator-director. Does this trajectory seem accurate? Are
we prepared for the play's conclusions?
16. What role/effect does Barnadine present (4.3)?
17. How would you direct someone to play Isabella towards the close of the play's
final scene? Why?
18. Do you agree that the "world of Measure for Measure is one in which a
deputising ruler imposes a rigid framework of justice into which human nature
is required to fit; when the ruler himself returns at the end of the play, his
own judgements reflect a grey world of confusing ambiguities. The moral and legal
certainties of Angelo and Isabella have shipwrecked on the rocks of human fallibility,
and the Duke is left to pick out pragmatic solutions as best he can" (Nicholls
19. There seems little room in this play for compromise, or negotiated middle
ways; instead, execution or pardon seem to be all that Viennese law, or the Duke,
can offer. Consider the causes and effects of such extremes.
20. Explore the play's complex cross-linkages among death, money, sexuality, and
21. Explore the play's emphases on reputation and on slander (e.g., 2.1.150, 2.4.154,
3.1.220, 5.1.119, 5.1.300 ff.)
22. Read Ch. 2 of Marilyn Williamson's The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies.
How do her arguments deepen or affect your understanding of the play? She suggests,
for example, that "Throughout the play there is a tendency to hold sexuality
guilty of all social ills attached to it and thereby justify control of it by
the state" (89). Illustrate this observation and explain why Williamson finds
23. Stephen Greenblatt observes that "Renaissance England had a subtle conception
of the relation between anxiety and the fashioning of the individual subject,
and its governing institutions developed discursive and behavioral strategies
to implement this conception by arousing anxiety and then transforming it through
pardon into gratitude, obedience, and love" (Shakespearean Negotiations 138).
Does the play work in this fashion? How and where?
24. Donna Hamilton suggests that the play asks both "what is at stake when
the power of the church displaces the power of the king?" and "whether
or not James [I] would dominate the English church in such a way as to secure
order while at the same time protecting his subjects [Puritans and Catholics especially]
from persecution" (Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England 114).
Explore the play's attention to such relations between church and state.
25. As usual, read carefully the introduction to the play in The Norton edition. Katherine Eisaman Maus, for example, asks: "What happens to individuals
and a community when sexuality is viewed as transgressive, when it becomes the
subject of public discipline?" If Angelo is "sexually aroused
by prohibition", why is this important? Is Isabella heroic, chilling,
26. Jonathan Goldberg (James I and the Politics of Literature 230-9) discusses
the play as interrogating a series of substitutions and representations (e.g.,
does Angelo represent the Duke? does the Duke represent James I or even the figure
of the playwright? by the end of the play is Angelo in Claudio's position and
the Duke in Angelo's place?) Goldberg concludes: "By representing representation,
Shakespeare contributes to the discourse of his society and to its most pressing
questions about prerogative, power, and authority."
27. Dennis Walder notes that J.M. Nosworthy suggests that in the purely
political context, the Duke is no less reprehensible than Angelowould
you agree? Walder also asserts that the play expresses a profound anxiety
about the nature of the ruler (225)what are the bases for such anxiety?
28. Dont forget to read McEvoys chapter on comedy (Shakespeare:
The Basics, Second Edition Ch. 7, Ch. 9 on mixed-genre plays in first edition). For example, McEvoy comments: "Yet a virgin's moral power rests on the unstated premiss of her desirability: she is female beauty unsullied by the potent threat of awakened female sexuality. . . . but [men] want her . . . in order to take that purity from her. . . . Husbands need to control their wives' sexuality if they are to have sons whose paternity is beyond question. The fear of this real power that women have recurs in the imagery of som many of the exchanges in this play. . . . The discourse of Christian asceticism contains a repressed sexuality which makes [Isabella] all the more attractive to Angelo. . . But he also despises her because he desires her" (155, 157).
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