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Social Injustice in Measure for Measure
Social justice is a topic known all to well in today's society. Such issues as social heirarchial structure and unjust representatives of citizens of nations are issues in need of attention by those in power. Corruption, lies and greed by those in power however stand in the way of this form of justice from occurring, leaving many with little or no social status open to prejudice on race, religious and sexual grounds. William Shakespeare illustrates the ease in which power can corrupt in his play, Measure for Measure.
In Measure for Measure, a leader corrupts the legal system for his own benefit. Vienna is being lead by Angelo, a name reflecting 'bad angel', and the city has been outraged due to his corrupt ways. The play is based around the court case of Claudio and the injustice delivered to him by the corrupt leader for a crime that some would consider being trivial.
Claudio had made love to his fiancée prior to their marriage. At this time in Vienna, this was a crime punishable by death and Angelo was quick to pounce on this fact, sending Claudio to gaol and sentencing him to death. In studies of justice we have learnt that justice depends on the situation and this seems grossly unjust for a couple planning to be wed.
After Claudio is sentenced to death, Shakespeare creates an interesting turn of events showing just how corrupt leadership can be. Once Claudio's sister, Isabella, a novice nun approaches Angelo to dispute his decision and begs for mercy, he tells her that in order to save her brother, she will have to give up her virginity to him:
"Admit no other way to save his life-
As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
But in the loss of question- that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desired of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-binding law, and that there were
No earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer:
What would you do?"
"As much for my brother as myself:
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That is, were I under the terms of death,
Th'impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'd yield
My body up to shame."
"Then your brother must die."
"And 'twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than a sister by redeeming him
Should die forever."
This passage shows that the question of Angelo is not whether he is corrupt or not, but how corrupt he is. His hypocritical ways were characteristic of the leader in action. On one hand he was condemning Angelo and Juliet for their sin but on the other was encouraging the exact same sin with Isabella, the signs of true hypocrisy. As we can see in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, those in leadership roles often let their responsibilities fall short and the power they obtain influences their duties to their underlying citizens negatively and due to this an injustice may occur.