Measure for Measure

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene i

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Commentary

Shakespearean comedies traditionally end with marriage, and Measure for Measure is no exception. Isabella, originally on the verge of becoming a nun, finds herself about to marry the Duke. It is interesting that she is not given a chance to respond to the Duke's marriage proposal in the play. She is assumedly very happy to become the wife of the town's leader, particularly since he has saved her brother's life. But at the same time this situation reinforces her loss of sexual independence. The central conflict in the play revolves around Isabella's refusal to follow the ways of most of the women in Vienna. Her marriage to the Duke confirms her virtue while denying her independence.

There are no independent women in Measure for Measure. Of course, this is not strange, considering the setting and Shakespeare's own era. But Measure for Measure gives its women characters even less freedom than other Shakespearean plays. They are prostitutes, nuns, or jilted lovers, given no chance to control their own lives. Isabella is the one exception in that she refuses to respond to Angelo's advances. However, she is still obedient toward the Duke, following all of his instructions.

At the conclusion of the play, the Duke administers punishment to all of the wrongdoers and rewards the virtuous. Angelo is told to marry Mariana, and he escapes death at her request. The Duke probably does not intend to execute Angelo, but wants it made clear that his crime deserves such a punishment. Mariana's reward is Angelo, which she takes happily, although the Duke tells her that he is unworthy of her love. Claudio is allowed to marry Juliet, and Lucio is punished by being made to marry a prostitute. Marriage is not a clear-cut punishment or reward, therefore. Instead, its qualities revolve around the individual situations in which it occurs.


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