Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” –Matthew 7:1-2

This problem play, this dark comedy draws its title from this biblical quote and suggests the question at the heart of the play: is judging – one or several humans of another – possible at all? From what vantage point can one fallible human being judge another, mete out measure for measure?

Samuel Coleridge speaks to the controversy surrounding this play by saying that, “Measure for Measure is the single exception to the delightfulness of Shakespeare’s plays…although it is Shakespearian throughout. . . .” The play is of particular interest to scholars and critics interested in English history, the life of the court, religion and the presentation of women and sexuality in drama. With its passages of brilliant verse and psychological investigation, this is a play that requires our attention no matter how hard it may be to categorize.

Man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep. . .

Measure for Measure, 2.2.120-125

Isabella’s accusation—as she is being asked to give her body for her brother’s life—queries the ‘power divine’ that cloaks the figures of authority in our world including the playwright (the author whose creation employs authority). The power to judge brings man close to the gods; the playwright also enacts that power as he or she offers characters of good or evil, actions that evoke our approbation or condemnation.

As with the other Shakespearian plays, for this one-meeting intensive study we will read aloud significant passages, working to access the tone of performance that is so vital to understanding the plays. We will also view portions of filmed productions.

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.



Posted on

January 19, 2018