Within ‘Measure for Measure’ Shakespeare presents the notion that mankind's corruption is not necessarily born by power, but rather already innate in humanity. Shakespeare argues that power is not a producer of corruption by presenting the Duke, who holds the most power, as a moral hero, and conversely revealing the corruption of the powerless class (through characters like, Pompey, Mistress Overdone, and Barnadine). Shakespeare uses Lord Angelo in Measure for Measure to show that corruption is innate within mankind whilst Angelo is a symbolism for pharisaical fanaticism in the play.
It's interesting to note that Lord Angelo's name evokes an image of purity and holiness. Names are given at birth, and the idea that he is called angelic from the start, would argue against this doctrine of innate depravity. But, as Shakespeare argues, it's a name that can't be lived up to because of natural passions and lusts, which ultimately leads to Angelo's hypocrisy. The play opens up not only dressing up Angelo with a pure name, but also as a puritanical deputy, who has been "elected" to enforce the laws while the Duke is away. This idea of "election" not only signifies the political decree of Vienna, but also a Pauline doctrine that relates to men and angels.
Angelo has done an efficient job at fooling people into believing that he is incapable of natural vices. When the Duke announces the decision to give Angelo authority, Escalus, the good lord, applauds the choice: "If any in Vienna be of worth, To undergo such ample grace and honor, It is Lord Angelo". Angelo has done such an efficient job he has even fooled the lower class into thinking that he is pu...
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...ne of Shakespeare's solution to this innate problem is not to run off and join a monastery (or a convent, as Isabella attempts to do); but rather to accept the inborn human vices and try to lead good lives in spite of them.
Works Cited and Consulted:
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.
New American Standard Bible. Reference ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1975.
Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. The Arden Shakespeare. Ed. J.W. Lever. London: Routledge, 1995.
Thomas, Vivian. The Moral Universe of Shakespeare's Problem Plays. London: Croom Helm, 1987.
Wilders, John. "The Problem Comedies." In Wells, Stanley, ed. Shakespeare: Select Bibliographical Guides. London: Oxford UP, 1973.
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