Measure for Measure

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1604-05
First Printed: 
1623
"

To have what we would have, we speak not what we mean.

"

The Duke of Venice is weary of ruling, and elects to take a break—leaving his deputy Angelo in charge. Angelo is a zealous man who embraces the opportunity to enforce laws that have grown lax and restore order to the Duke's unruly country. Meanwhile, the Duke remains in town disguised as a friar so that he may observe the goings-on from the people's point of view.

Angelo embraces his new responsibilities with harsh zeal, and condemns young Claudio to death for impregnating his fiancée, Juliet. The chaste, terrified Isabella pleads with Angelo to spare her brother's life. Power-hungry Angelo is unwilling to offer mercy, until he offers to trade Claudio's life for beautiful Isabella's virginity. The offended Isabella is horrified, but gets little sympathy when she relates her tale to Claudio, who would like to see his sister make this sacrifice to save his own life. All this time, the Duke (disguised as the friar) has overheard the conversation and is determined to save the pair and inflict punishment on the arrogant Angelo.

The Duke seeks out Mariana to aid him. Mariana is Angelo's former fiancée, and she still loves her past suitor. Isabella is persuaded to pretend to accept Angelo's offer, but unbeknownst to Angelo, it is actually a delighted Mariana who awaits him in the bed under cover of darkness. Despite his belief that Isabella has kept her promise and given up her virtue, Angelo plans to proceed with Claudio's execution. The Duke (as friar) is irate, and conspires to have another, true criminal executed in his stead, while also persuading Isabella to seek justice against Angelo from the Duke upon his expected return.

Isabella and Mariana arrive at the Duke's court, where the Duke has abandoned his disguise and reclaimed his leadership. Angelo attempts to lie his way out of the accusations from the two women, but his attempts to blame the friar fail when the Duke reveals this identity as his own alter ego. Angelo pleads for mercy, and the Duke orders him to marry Mariana. Meanwhile, Claudio and Juliet are reunited and the Duke himself proclaims his love for Isabella.