ViennaAlthough historically it never was one, Shakespeare depicts Vienna as a city-state – that is, a city which is in itself a small kingdom, though its ruler has the title ‘Duke' rather than ‘King'. It is clear that the Duke has absolute power of life and death: we see this particularly in the last scene where he metes out justice. There is no indication how the Duke attained his power: for example, is it hereditary? The fact that he simply is the ruler, with complete authority, is one aspect which suggests he has God-like power – ‘power divine' as Angelo says in Act V sc i. (See also Characterisation.)

Shakespeare's version of Vienna makes no attempt to reflect the European city which today's audiences may well know – and which some of Shakespeare's audience might have visited. He makes mention of few buildings and these, such as the prison, the nunnery, and ‘houses of resort' such as that run by Mistress Overdone, are not described in any detail. What is clear, however, is that Vienna is a city where moral corruption is rife. The Duke knows this himself, which is why he appears to leave the city, to see whether Angelo will improve the situation. In fact, matters deteriorate, and, as the Duke says in Act V sc i,


‘Here in Vienna … I have seen corruption boil and bubble.'


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