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Assigned: Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. (Riverside 584-618).

See Journals for instructions on journal sets.


1. In Act 1, Scene 1, the Duke hands power to Angelo and Escalus. What advice does he offer Angelo, and how does he describe the power that has been temporarily given to him? Also, why does the Duke prefer to leave Vienna without fanfare?

2. In Act 1, Scene 2, Shakespeare introduces us to Lucio as well as to Mistress Overdone (a prostitute) and her servant Pompey. What problems does their presence (their outlook, their practices, etc.) pose for the war on vice that is to be carried out by the Duke's lieutenants Angelo and Escalus?

3. In Act 1, Scene 2, Claudio enters on his way to prison. How does he describe his predicament to Lucio? What hopes does he invest in his sister, Isabella -- why, that is, does he suppose she might be able to get him out of his troubles?

4. In Act 1, Scene 3, what underlying logic does the Duke reveal to Friar Thomas concerning his decision to entrust his power to subordinates -- what main reason, and what subsidiary reason, does he advance? Do his reasons seem just to you -- should a ruler do such a thing for the reasons stated? Why or why not?

5. In Act 1, Scene 4, we get our first look at Isabella in the nunnery where she plans to take her vows. Lucio, informing her of her brother's plight, relays Claudio's call for help. How does Isabella construe her task at this point?


6. In Act 2, Scene 1, what makes it so difficult for Escalus to judge the case between Master Froth, Pompey, and Elbow's wife? How does he handle the situation, and in what sense does he thereby distinguish himself from Angelo?

7. In Act 2, Scene 2, what concept of justice does Isabella set forth to counter Angelo's sternness? What is so attractive to Angelo about Isabella, and what irony does he find in the fact that it is she who "tempts" him?

8. In Act 2, Scene 4, Angelo makes his brazen demand of Isabella, who seems only with difficulty able to comprehend it. What possible contradiction does Angelo bring to light about Isabella's stern refusal, given what she has already said about her brother's offense? Explain.


9. In Act 3, Scene 1, the Duke (disguised as a friar) reconciles Claudio to death, and just as quickly Isabella's information unreconciles him. The disguised Duke then offers Isabella a way to save her brother without yielding her body to Angelo. What exactly does he propose? Does it seem like an appropriate solution?

10. In Act 3, Scene 2, what is Lucio's apparent motivation for slandering the Duke (to his face, as it turns out)? What does the Duke imply in his rhymed couplets towards the end of this act about the proper way to deal with vice? Why is this an important admission with regard to the administration of human justice?


11. The Duke (still disguised) is busy throughout this act arranging affairs to suit the desired outcome: justice done in front of all. What are the most important steps he takes in Act 4? To what extent must others be kept in the dark about the unfolding plan, and why?


12. The play's resolution turns on the Duke's ability to arrange affairs so that rather than enforcing strict justice -- "measure for measure" -- he and Isabella can charitably return good for evil and, thereby, make evil characters serve the good. But do you find the play's moral resolution satisfactory?

13. Shakespeare's comedies (as Northrop Frye says) generally involve an exodus from corrupt urban life to a magical place where characters explore their problems and are transformed. Then there is a return to urban life, with appropriate marriages making social renewal possible, and honest leadership lending political continuity. Measure for Measure ends with marriages and the Duke's return, but what accounts for so many critics finding it a "dark comedy" rather than an optimistic statement about the chances for individual happiness and social harmony?

Edition: Evans, G. Blakemore et al., eds. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN: 0-395-75490-9.

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