It is very difficult for a state to impose morality on its' citizens since morals have a tendency to be relative. Adding to the complexity is the fact that everyone has sinned - the enforcer is as much at fault as the accused. This problem comes to a boil in Shakespeare's play, "Measure for Measure", where Angelo enforces the death sentence for fornication against Claudio. Angelo then uses Claudio's problem as leverage to get his sister to commit the same crime with him. Throughout this play, Angelo's sins are exposed to him and he goes through a repentance, payment, and growth process. The same happens to seedy Pompey.
Angelo's sin is blackmailing Claudio's sister, Isabella, with the death of her brother if she does not sleep with him, "...and that there were No earthly menas to save him, but that either You must lay down the treasures of your body" (2.4.95-97). Isabella and the disguised duke only know the sin. With no one to enforce the laws of morality on Angelo, he has the freedom to rape the helpless. The crime Angelo is going to commit is known and forethought by him. He does not come to the realization that this is wrong until he has no other choice, "hast though or word, or wit, or impudence, That yet can do thee office? If thou hast, Rely upon it till my tale be heard, And hold no longer out." (5.1.371-374). The selfishness has caught up with Angelo and he realizes the only way out is to repent, "I should be guiltier than my guiltiness...But let my trail be mine own confession. Immediate sentence then and sequent death Is all the grace I beg." (5.1.375, 5.1.380-382). People can argue that Angelo only did this to get off the hook. Is it repentanc...
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... do desire to learn, sir; and I hope, if you have occasion to use me for your own turn, you shall find me yare. For truly, sir, for your kindness I owe you a good turn." (4.2.56-59). Lastly, he learns what type of life he was living as he passes through the jail, seeing all of his old business acquaintances. The decision he made to start a new life put himself on the opposite side of the bars of his old friends. Pompey realizes that his old life would do nothing but drag him down. The rest of the story sees him faithfully carry out his duty.
Black, James. "The Unfolding of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey 26 (1973): 119-28.
Leech, Clifford. "The 'Meaning' of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 69-71.
Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. The Arden Shakespeare. Ed. J.W. Lever. London: Routledge, 1995.
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