Arrangement of Serious and Comic Elements in Measure for Measure

Serious and Comic Elements in Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare has variably been described as an allegory, a morality play, and a satire. However, perhaps, the most satisfactory label is a tragicomedy, aka a dark comedy, aka a bitter comedy. The arrangement of serious and comic elements in the play has made it an outstanding tragicomedy in a significant way. 

Scaling Measure for Measure as A Tragicomedy

Measure for Measure is neither a pure tragedy nor a pure comedy. It’s popularly known as a tragicomedy. A tragicomedy is a play in which the action passes through a series of tragic situations but ends in happiness. It swings between the two extremes of the serious (tragic) and the comic elements. This kind of play is regarded as the best type of drama as it represents a balanced condition of the human mind in a given crisis. 

In this article, I have described how Shakespeare has arranged the series of some serious and comic elements in constructing the story of Measure for Measure in a tragicomic fashion. The serious and comic elements arrangement is described below in segments, according to Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV, and Act IV.

Serious and Comic Elements in Act I in Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure is a tragicomedy that is full of serious and comic elements. The play begins seriously with the Duke’s entrusting the country’s government to Angelo and himself withdrawing from the scene. Then a comic scene comes with Lucio, two other gentlemen, besides Pompey and Mistress Overdone, providing us with amusement and mirth. This humorous scene ends with a serious episode when Claudio entrusts Lucio to ask Isabella to save Claudio’s life by pleading with Angelo and obtaining a pardon. 

The next scene is again serious. Here, the Duke explains to Friar Thomas for having temporary renouncement from his official duties and describes his desire to move about in the disguise of a Friar. The scene continues with a serious tone as Lucio contacts Isabella at the convent and delivers a message from her brother. Isabella is now deflected from her original purpose of joining the convent because she must strive to save her brother’s life by pleading his case with Angelo.

Serious and Comic Elements in Act II in Measure for Measure

Act II opens on a serious note. Angelo is determined to stick to his original decision to have Claudio executed for having committed to execution. Angelo rejects Escalus’s recommendation on Claudio’s behalf. Then this opening scene of Act II takes a comical turn when Elbow, a police constable, produces Pompey and Froth before Escalus and Angelo for trial. 

Elbow amuses us with his ignorance and malapropisms; Forth amuses us with his stupidity, while Pompey does his witty remarks.

Serious and Comic Elements in Act III in Measure for Measure

Three dire developments take place in the opening scene of Act III. They are the Duke’s sermon to Claudio on life and death, Isabella’s denunciation of Claudio, who wants her to surrender her virginity to Angelo to save Claudio’s life, and the Duke’s scheme of substituting Mariana for Isabella to satisfy Angelo’s lust as the price for saving Claudio’s life. 

The second scene of this Act is a comic one with Pompey being once again ordered to be arrested for continuing as a professional pimp. Lucio also amuses us in this scene with his sarcastic comments on Angelo and on the Duke.

Serious and Comic Elements in Act IV in Measure for Measure

Act IV is again a mixture of comic and serious elements. In the opening scene of Act IV, Mariana is convinced to disguise herself as Isabella and to go to satisfy Angelo’s lustful desire. Here, the situation becomes complex when Angelo gives fresh orders for the execution of Claudio. 

In this Act, the Duke falsely tells Isabella that her brother has already been executed and that Claudio’s severed head has been sent to Angelo for Angelo’s satisfaction.

Serious and Comic Elements in Act V in Measure for Measure

Act V is wholly serious except for the fact that the play has a happy ending. The charges brought against Angelo by Isabella and Mariana are highly dramatic. The situation becomes grim when the Duke sentences Angelo to death, saying that the law demands the life of Angelo for Claudio’s life and that the law insists upon measure for measure. 

However, when Claudio is produced before the Duke by the provost, the death sentence against Angelo is withdrawn. Likewise, the death sentence is also withdrawn against Lucio. 

Angelo has ended up in Mariana’s lawful husband; Lucio has been compulsorily married to Kate; Claudio is called upon to compensate Juliet; Escalus and the Provost receive a promotion to higher posts. The Duke offers to marry Isabella. Thus, Act V contains the reversal and the happy ending, which are essential in a tragicomedy.


Considering all the evidence mentioned above, we must agree with the view that in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare has treated serious and comic elements very skilfully, for which critics have rightly considered the play as a tragicomedy. 

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

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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