Measure for Measure: a selection of your `theme' statements

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On Feb 24th I solicited a few sentences from each of you -- the principal theme of Measure for Measure, as you saw it. Here are some rather simplistically-synthesized selections from your responses. This exercise was fruitful; I'm going to do it again.

The human condition, human nature (vs an impartial, ideal law)

Measure highlights many moral issues that have faced the human condition through time: good and evil, hypocrisy and truth, justice and injustice.

The inability to defy human nature. Angelo tries to defy his baser desires only to cave in, just as Claudio had earlier. The realization that these men's desires were unavoidable is one way to read the Duke's many marriages at the end.

How in many ways human law runs contradictory to the laws of the natural world (sexuality).

I also believe that the play's exploration of justice focusses on ... human desires and natural instincts. Is it a just society that punishes people for executing normal sexual desires, when between two consenting adults?

As a kind of inverse of Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure begins sounding like a tragic love story, but the Duke's elaborate disguises turns the play into a more comedic one.

The inability to control corruption, which is often inherently part of human nature. The duke while in power couldn't control the rampant prostitution going on, while Angelo tries to enforce morality in Vienna only to be a hypocrite who is equally guilty of the crime he sentences Claudio for.

Hypocrisy, the difficulty of perceiving truth: so many of the characters present one image while hiding another.

Measure for Measure makes us think about human substitution, if we think individuals are interchangeable or not.


The principal theme is the questioning of moral values and virtues -- what is the better thing to do? Are earthly virtues (love for a brother) more significant than spiritual values (saving one's own soul)? Each character has difficult choices to make, each with a somewhat foreseeable consequence, hence, Measure for Measure. Things appear to have equal value or equal consequence, but one must be chosen over the other.

The principal theme of this as I see it is morals. Isabella's morals were tested by Angelo, a character I see as amoral. He has no moral fiber whatsoever, and Isabella is a strong character who sticks to her principles even when she is putin a `testing' situation.

One may see questions raised in regards to the virtues and morals of those who are supposed to be living lives of Christianity. Both Isabella and the `friar'/duke have questionable morals. This reinforces the notion that even those who make a life of loving God are not wholly pure in intention.

Ideals tested, questioned

Human nature spans a spectrum of ideals and virtues. The principal theme seems to be human reaction under or against the weight of dire circumstances -- personal virtues or principles being put to the ultimate test.

Characters are `tested' in their strength to uphold their ideals.

The idea of justice as an ideal end point, the ultimate good. Each character must overcome a certain flaw in their humanity to move closer to it. All of the testing and balancing that must go on, all of the strife in the play, even Angelo's seemingly tyrannical role, was necessary.

The play seems to challenge in the viewer what s/he considers acceptable, taboo, or a given. E.g. it challenges governmental decisions, which should not just be readily accepted, but analyzed.


Measure explore the idea of justice, and to what extent it is synonymous with the law.

There are characters who are trying to uphold justice (Duke, Isabella) and those who are trying to avoid it but in the end are subjected to it (Claudio, Angelo, Lucio).

The principal theme would be exactly what its title implies: you get what you deserve.

The shortcoming of the law in catching every single person for sinning.

The impossibility of maintaining an unchanging yet fair system of justice, both personally and institutionally. It is obvious that the representatives of justice in the play are far from impartial.

The play draws our attention to the process of justice, to means as well as to ends. Kindness in trickery is preferable to straightforward abuse of power.

Human judges

Whether or not as humans we have the rights and capacity to dispense justice or whether it is simply a divine vocation we can have no part of.

It seems to question, undermine the worthiness of law and authority figures.

the ideal ruler: the Duke, Angelo

the use and abuse of power

the way that authority can bend and twist the law to suit its own needs rather than to benefit society or the individual

the incapability of officials to administer the law

The conclusion

The distribution of justice is questionably inefficient at the end. Some people are punished, some not at all.

The importance of law and authority is undermined by the `created' ending, which is essentially formed through manipulation and deception.

The conclusion of the play makes obvious the inadequacy of the justice system, so true `justice' seems distant and inadequate.