Measure for Measure has been considered a problem play since it raises problematic issues that are left unresolved. The play mainly centres around the problem of justice and mercy. In the play, we found the workings of both justice and mercy.
There are scenes in which justice predominates and others in which mercy dominates. However, it is mercy that ultimately rings supreme.
The play begins with the necessity of establishing justice against the weakness of the merciful administration of the Duke. Because of too much leniency, his administration fails.
Angelo Upholds And Implements Law Impartially
Angelo, the king’s deputy (Duke), gradually revives all the dead laws. He rules the country with an iron rod. He enforces his strict law first on Claudio. He is sentenced to death for making a girl pregnant before marriage. This is undoubtedly just according to the demand of the law.
But the complexity arises when the question of mercy enters. Even the magistrate considers it brutal and somewhat tyrannical to implement the death sentence of Claudio.
Despite their suggestions, Angelo remains adamant. He proves himself impartial when he says he was ready to take the same punishment, committing the same crime.
Isabella Urges Angelo to Put Mercy Over Justice
The problem climaxes with Isabella entering the scene with her famous and brilliant speech on mercy. Justice and mercy are brought face to face. Isabella’s interview with Angelo is the contention of justice and mercy.
Apart from raising some problems regarding the particular case, the confrontation raises fundamental, disturbing issues about mercy and justice. Some conflicts brought out by this are the conflict between law and humanity. The conflict between the social, biological, and psychological laws is human nature, charity, chastity, etc.
Angelo respects the demand for justice, and Isabella represents the need for mercy. Isabella recognizes the demands of justice, but her fascination is with the greatness and divine beauty of mercy. She says that mercy is a noble quality and more fitting symbol than a king’s crown, a mayor’s sword, a military commander’s baton, a judge’s robe as a symbol of authority.
Justice And Mercy Take A New Turn between Angelo And Isabella
In Angelo’s statement, Claudio is a forfeit of the law so that he can do nothing. Isabella promptly refers to the original sin as forfeiture of all humanity and Christ’s mercy as the only redeeming method. She further says that Claudio is not the only man to commit the offense, so Angelo should show pity.
Angelo says that his punishment is a pity for others. Isabella’s last argument is to look at her and find out if he does not feel any temptation to such a sin. By now, Angelo begins to be affected and asks her to meet her the next day.
During the interview with Isabella with Angelo, the problem becomes more complicated. Angelo has now completely overcome his passion for Isabella. Now his only wish is to enjoy her sexuality. He openly proposes that she surrender her virginity as a price for obtaining a pardon for her brother.
Now, the issue is far from Isabella’s part, a conflict between chastity and the desire to save her brother’s life, while for Angelo, it is a conflict between justice and lust. Isabella is ready to save her chastity even at the cost of Claudio’s life, while Angelo is ready to possess her at the cost of anything.
At this point, both mercy and justice disappear in their conflict.
Justice along with mercy backs with the presence of the Duke. He saves Claudio’s life, takes away authority from Angelo, and is sentenced to death for killing Claudio.
However, he is exempted from death as Claudio’s presence disproves his guilt of murder. Finally, the Duke shows indiscriminate mercy to all other offenders.
Now, this total forgiveness has raised criticism about its justification of it. Nor is this criticism altogether invalid. The only possible answer is that we see that mercy dominates the Duke’s character from the very beginning.
Therefore, the play shows the triumph of mercy over justice.
If you are preparing for your exams or any assignments on Measure for Measure, you might also want to consider purchasing the following books.
Name of the Book Name of the Author Amazon Purchase Link
Measure for Measure (Text Book) William Shakespeare Click for Amazon Price
STUDENT’S GUIDE: MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Measure for Measure – A William Shakespeare Play with Study Guide (Literature Unpacked) Eleanor Henderson Click for Amazon Price