In ‘Measure for Measure’, Shakespeare demonstrates that there is an innate immorality and corruption in the heart of man. Shakespeare illustrates that power does not cause corruption. This is achieved by presenting the Duke, who has the most power in Vienna, as a moral hero, and conversely revealing the corruption of the powerless class through characters including Pompey, Mistress Overdone, and Barnadine. Through all this, Shakespeare uses Lord Angelo in Measure for Measure to show that immorality and corruption is innate in mankind.
It is worth noting 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 labelling Angelo with a pure name, but also as a puritanical deputy, who has been "elected" (1.1.18) 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. But what's even more interesting, is that when the apostle Paul writ...
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...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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