Measure for Measure Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
A worked example
An example of a possible answer to the question:
What does this extract contribute to our understanding of Angelo?
is given below this annotated extract, bringing together the ideas put forward in the annotations.
Key i.e., numbers in brackets refer to comments below:
Measure for Measure Act II, Scene ii
God save your honour.
Exit Isabella, Lucio and Provost
(1) From thee: (2) (3) even from thy virtue! (4)
What's this? What's this? (5) Is this her fault or mine? (6)
The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most?
Ha? (7) (8)(9) (10) Not she, nor doth she tempt; but (11) it is I (12)
That, lying by the violet in the sun,
Do as the carrion does, not as the flower, (13)
Corrupt (14) with virtuous (15) season. (16) Can it be
(17) That modesty may more betray our sense (18)
Than woman's lightness? (19) Having waste ground enough,
(20) Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary
And (21) pitch our evils there? (22) O fie, fie, fie! (23)
What dost thou (24), or what art thou (25), Angelo?
Dost thou desire her foully (26)for those things
That make her good? O, let her brother live! (27)
(28) Thieves for their robbery have authority,
When judges steal themselves. (29) What, do I love her, (30)
That I desire to hear her speak again?
And (31) feast upon her eyes? What is't I dream on? (32)
(33) O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, (35)
With saints (36) dost bait thy hook! (34) Most dangerous (37)
Is that temptation that doth goad (38) us (39) on
To sin in loving virtue (40). (41) Never could the strumpet
With all her double vigour, art and nature, (42)
Once stir my temper (43): (44) but this virtuous (45) maid (46)
Subdues me quite (47). (48) Ever till now
When men were fond (49), I smiled, and wonder'd how. (50)
(1) This is a soliloquy, Angelo's first – we are taken into his mind. He examines his own thoughts; he is no longer so confident.(2) Save your honour ... from thee – Angelo is instantly aware of his own dishonourable feelings; her polite farewell has a double meaning for him.
(3) From thee – although she uses the formal ‘you', he thinks of her as ‘thee' – is this because she is a subordinate, or because he instinctively uses the intimate form? (See also Shakespeare's Language > Thee, thou and you).
(4) Thy virtue – Angelo is aware that it is, ironically, her goodness that attracts him. He had assumed that he was above temptation – see ‘Never could' at 41 below
(5) Repetition, and the question form, suggest his consternation and bewilderment.
(6) Her fault or mine? Tempter or tempted? His first reaction is to see her as being guilty; he views woman-kind as temptresses.
(7) This single word ‘Ha?' suggests his surprise and …
(8) … the pause that follows indicates that a moment's reflection leads him to the inevitable conclusion it is ‘Not she'.
(9) Not she – two strong beats, (see also Shakespeare's Language > Blank verse, prose & rhyme) and the line beginning with a negative, indicate his rejection of his own excuse.
(10) The monosyllabic line gives a sense of firmness, reinforcing his decision.
(11) The caesura, followed by ‘but', again reinforces Angelo's rejection of any blame attaching to Isabella for what he knows is his own weakness.
(12) The line leading up to ‘I' on the strong final beat of the line, which clearly puts the blame firmly on himself. Angelo is, for the first time, accepting his own fallibility.
(13) Lying by the violet … season. A vivid image of rotting flesh contrasted with a sweet flower.
(15) Virtuous - strongly contrasted with 'corrupt' - is also a reminder that in the first line of the soliloquy he speaks of Isabella's virtue as threatened by his own sinful thoughts.
(16) A caesura, followed by ‘Can it be', suggests again Angelo's incredulity at his own sinful thoughts.
(17) Again (see 4) Angelo puts forward idea that virtue can tempt him. Contrast the low-life characters, e.g., Mistress Overdone – because such grossness has not attracted him, he has assumed he was immune to sexual temptation.
(18) Our sense – ‘our' is not, here, the royal plural (see also Shakespeare's Language > The royal plural) but, taken in conjunction with the next point, suggests he is thinking of men as opposed to women. ‘Sense' here indicates ‘senses', but perhaps with the double meaning of ‘common sense', as in ‘ She speaks, and ‘tis such sense' earlier in Act II sc ii.
(19) Woman's lightness – not ‘a woman's' – the use of the generic term ‘woman' here implies that he has seen all women as Eve - like temptresses.
(20) Another vivid image – of wantonly destroying a holy building when there is plenty of ‘waste ground' – shows that he is aware of Isabella as a nun, associated with the church, and of himself as evil.
(21) Pitch continues the image of using waste ground, as a place for pitching a tent – but the plosive sound is harsh and self-condemnatory. ‘Pitch' is also a homograph – that is, the one word has two different meanings; as well as pitching a tent it suggests to the hearer (i.e. the audience) ‘pitch' as ‘tar', which is traditionally defiling.
(22) There is another question here, as after ‘lightness' (19); the whole speech contains a series of questions – it is a self-examination in complete contrast to Angelo's earlier confident assertions to Escalus about his own immunity from sin.
(23) O fie – the triple repetition shows scorn and disgust at his own thoughts.
(24) What does thou? – before, he has acted as judge of others. Now he puts himself on trial.
(25) What art thou? Angelo realises that what he must face is not just a question of his action, but of his whole nature. He must face his human fallibility.
(26) There are hard consonants on ‘dost … desire', followed by the strong term ‘foully'. The stress on this word after ‘Desire her' suggests simultaneously the base nature of his desire – that it is lust, not love – and his disgust at this kind of desire in himself. Ironically, he has only met Isabella because she has come to plead for Claudio, condemned for fornication though he regards Juliet as his wife.
(28) Thieves – the position of this word at the start of the line, and contrasted strongly with ‘Judges', shows his awareness that he is as bad as those he condemns – c.f. ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged' (see also Introduction).
(29) There is a caesura, marking a pause, followed by ‘What' as he starts to question himself again, finding it incomprehensible that he feels passion for her.
(30) Do I love her? – Angelo seems not to know what love is. Here he clearly confuses love and lust. As far as the audience knows, he has never experienced either – he is ‘a man whose blood is very snow-broth'. [However, at this stage the audience does not know about Mariana – when we do, we may ask ourselves what, if anything, he felt for her.]
(31) And feast upon her eyes – Angelo's use of ‘feast' is indicative of his sensual reaction to Isabella's beauty – his lust needs physical satisfaction.
(32) What is't I dream on? – Angelo has a sense of unreality; again, he cannot comprehend his own reaction, because he has never acknowledged his ability to succumb to human weakness.
(33) O cunning enemy – Angelo is now aware that the devil can use his wiles against even the apparently virtuous.
(34) This is an image of fishing: he sees the devil as setting out to catch unwary victims.
(35) A saint – choice of this word suggests that this is how Angelo had previously seen himself: a model of virtue.
(36) With saints dost thou bait thy hook – yet another reference to the very virtue of Isabella being the temptation. He keeps coming back to his own amazement that goodness can be a temptation. He has stressed this already several times and it is a point he goes on to repeat twice more.
(37) Caesura followed by the superlative ‘Most dangerous' stresses Angelo's realisation that the temptation ‘to sin in loving virtue' is one that he had not imagined, and which could threaten his soul.
(38) Goad us on – (c.f. the fishing image of ‘bait thy hook'): Angelo uses an image of the devil as physically urging him into temptation.
(39) Us on – ‘us' is an inclusive pronoun – c.f. ‘our sense', ‘our evils' earlier in the speech; Angelo now admits that he, in common with others, has human weakness.
(40) To sin in loving virtue – the paradox of these words again reinforces a sense of Angelo's surprise.
(41) Never – this strong negative immediately following the caesura stresses again his incredulity at these extraordinary new feelings in himself.
(42) The strumpet with her double vigour, art and nature – Angelo has been surrounded in Vienna by obvious sensual licence, and prostitutes ‘painting' – i.e. using make-up – have revolted him. Isabella, as a novice nun, presents a very different picture of womanhood.
(43) My temper means ‘my nature'. The choice of the word ‘temper' links with ideas of ‘tempered metal', and reminds us that Angelo has suggested to the Duke [in Act I sc i] that more trial should be made of his ‘metal' (or ‘mettle'). Did Angelo in fact have a subconscious awareness then that his ‘mettle' might be ‘false metal'? – c.f. the several references to coinage and to an ‘angel' as a coin. (See also Imagery and symbolism > Money and materialism)
(44) There is a caesura followed by ‘but', indicating another marked contrast as in ‘Never' at 41. Angelo is aghast at the contrast between his former confidence in his own virtue and his present thoughts.
(45) Virtuous maid – Angelo again stresses that Isabella is virtuous – as in ‘thy virtue', ‘virtuous season', ‘sanctuary', ‘good', ‘saints', ‘virtue'.
(46) Maid – Angelo is aware that Isabella, as a novice nun, is a virgin. Yet, as he reveals in his second interview with her, he is prepared to violate her.
(47) Quite – This word, followed by a caesura, suggests the complete overthrow of his previous sense of immunity from temptation.
(48) The caesura followed by ‘Ever till now' reinforces 47.
(49) Men … I; this contrast suggests how, previously, Angelo had set himself apart from other men. Contrast his new awareness at 39 and earlier.
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