William Shakespeare's Characters and Themes

William Shakespeare's Characters and Themes

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William Shakespeare's Characters and Themes

Shakespeare's characters have been named and moulded carefully to
represent different themes in the play. The character of the Duke
holds the overall power in the play and his name Vincentio is only
mentioned in the 'dramatis personae' at the beginning of the play. By
calling him 'Duke' the audience is also continuously aware of this
power. A Duke is supposed to have a divine right from God, when the
Duke disguises himself as a Friar, he also has the right of confession
which he abuses when other characters confess to him. One of the
themes of 'Measure of Measure' is the abuse of power which many
characters do in different circumstances. The Duke however does appear
weak and somewhat cowardly by leaving Angelo to reinforce all of the
laws and to do the so-called dirty work, while the Duke goes into
hiding to see what the town's people think about him.

Angelo abuses the power given to him by the Duke while he is in
hiding, by first pulling back a fourteen year old rule that has not
been in existence without any announcement, and then by bribing
Isabella to save her condemned brother who was arrested for breaking
the law Angelo wants to commit. Angelo actually wants to go against
the law he brought back for the sake of lust. Angelo is an immoral and
unjust character by abusing this power as well as hypocritical. All
the characters who described Angelo, said almost the same thing, that
Angelo, 'whose blood is very snow-broth.'

The job of Duke however is not so important to Angelo when the lower
classes need dealing with as he cannot make a name for himself in the
higher social circles, therefore in Act 2 Scene 1, Escalus is given
the job of sorting out Froth, Pompey and Elbow. With this scene, it
shows the audience how good a Duke Escalus would have been if he was
left in the position. He was going to be the Duke's first choice;
however the Duke may have wanted to test Angelo's loyalty and honesty.

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The name 'Escalus' itself refers to the scales of justice, a judgment
without prejudice which is balanced and fair. Escalus is therefore the
only character with a real sense of justice, for example he gives
Pompey a fair warning, that if he ever gets caught again 'I shall have
you whipped.' The character 'Justice' is therefore symbolically to
represent the lack of justice in the play.

Claudio is a victim of the law being pulled back and therefore looks
on society as unjust and corrupt with those laws. He sees sex as a
natural thing, however 'when we drink, we die.' That 'liberty' turns
to 'restraint' as he feels that too much freedom has been given to
just take it away again without warning. Claudio loves Juliet and
thinks he has been condemned wrongly, that he is a victim of
injustice. Angelo however, even though his name comes from the word
'angel' does not show mercy; 'Tis one thing to be tempted…another
thing to fall.' However when Angelo falls for Isabella, it is not love
he feels, but lust and even though he was in a confused state, in Act
2 Scene 4 he questions himself and his feelings about it however he
was tempted and he fell. Claudio and Angelo are opposite in the play,
Claudio has the conscience and compassion that Angelo lacks, but
represent the victim and the abuser of power.

Isabella is introduced in Act 1 Scene 4, and the audience is
immediately aware that she has not only strong religious feelings, but
also a strong will and self control, she claimed that she was 'rather
wishing a more strict environment' in the nunnery. This shows her
devotion to God and her beliefs in comparison to Angelo's lack of
devotion to his beliefs when the lower classes are involved. When
Isabella and Angelo are arguing for Claudio it is clear the
differences between them, and between immorality and morality.
Isabella in helping her brother is torn between her own morality and
her love for her brother as he committed a sin that she really

Morality and immorality is a strong theme in the play and characters
such as Angelo who show a deep immorality can be compared with
Isabella who not only have their own morals to uphold, but have to
cope with the morality and immorality of the laws.

Injustice and justice are also strong themes in 'Measure for measure'
and are shown by different characters in the play, for example, the
Duke, while he shows injustice by letting Angelo rule which therefore
leads to the arrest of Claudio, at the end of the play he saves
Claudio and Angelo gets his comeuppance by having to marry Marianne
who he deserted. The Duke however falls under immorality by disguising
himself as a Friar using a false power of confession that all
characters are a victim to.

Isabella shows a sense of justice and injustice also, by allowing her
brother Claudio to be killed instead of sacrificing her virginity is
an injustice; however justice pulls through when Marianne takes her
place. Isabella constantly also seeks justice and begs for her
brother's life.

Lucio is a character that has gone out of his way to help Claudio,
however in Act 1 Scene 4 when he tells Isabella Claudio's fate, he
shows no respect for religion or the nunnery when he says: 'Hail
virgin if you be…' His sense of justice for Claudio however is very
strong and he encourages Isabella to continue to beg for her brother.
The audience likes Lucio for standing by Claudio as well as his easy
and casual attitude to different issues that arise. He knew that the
Duke has lied about where he was, which is closer than any of the
other character's got to the truth.

The characters therefore represented and acted on different
circumstances in the play which resulted in the introduction of
different themes in the play, such as justice, morality, power and
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