Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure is a play written by William Shakespeare in 1604 or 1605. This is one of the playwright's three problem plays, so-called because they cannot be easily classified as tragedy or comedy.


The Duke of Vienna (who, at the time the play was written, would have been the eccentric Rudolf II), decides to enforce the city's harsh but unused laws against fornication. Lacking the strength of will to do so himself, he pretends to absent himself and appoints the stern Angelo as deputy, knowing Angelo will enforce the full rigor of the law. The Duke's assistant Escalus is attached to Angelo as advisor, his humanity standing in contrast to Angelo's harsh inflexibility. The Duke himself, meanwhile, returns to Vienna disguised as a friar to observe developments.

First to fall victim to the revitalized statute is Claudio, who has gotten his own betrothed pregnant. The fact that he plans to marry this girl does not preserve him from Angelo's harsh interpretation of Viennese law. At the instigation of the bawdy rake Lucio, Claudio's sister Isabella makes her plea before Angelo, who is so overcome with lust for this novice Carmelite that he offers to spare her brother in return for a nocturnal rendezvous. Isabella refuses in horror, but Claudio is unmanned by fear of death and urges his sister to accede to Angelo's demands. At this point the Duke intervenes, still in disguise, and takes action to vindicate the wronged girl.

Among the comic characters are the aforementioned Lucio and the dissembling pimp Pompey Bum (named for his large posterior). Lucio bears a marked similarity to Parolles, the braggart character from Shakespeare's previous play All's Well That Ends Well, while the constable Elbow is a copy of the Dogberry character from Much Ado About Nothing; even some of Dogberry's individual gags are recycled.


The main source of the play is George Whetstone's 1578 lengthy two-part closet drama Promos and Cassandra. Whetstone took the story from Cinthio's Hecatommithi, and Shakespeare seems to have consulted the Cinthio story as well as a dramatization of the story by Cinthio. It was in Cinthio that Shakespeare discovered the story he would adapt for his next play, Othello.

The title, which appears as a line of dialogue in the play, may be related to the Bible, Matthew 7:2:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

External link

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