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
Divine right of kings
The power of the monarch
Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, monarchs were seen as being God's deputies on earth, having a ‘divine right' to rule; the monarch had absolute power, and an attack on him or her, even a verbal one, was considered to be treason.
Although there were meetings of Parliament, and had been for hundreds of years, Parliament did not convene unless summoned by the King; this practice continued through the reign of James I and beyond.
James I was particularly keen on the idea that the king ruled by divine appointment. In The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598) he had already written:
The Duke in Measure for Measure has precisely this power, being seen as God's Deputy on earth. When Angelo is given control, he is therefore the Deputy not only of the Duke but of God. Hence the significance of the word ‘grace' in the play: the rule of God was seen to exercise not only justice, but to offer grace and mercy.
What makes a good ruler?
The question of what makes a good ruler is debated through many of Shakespeare's plays. In Act IV of Macbeth, Malcolm lists the virtues that suit a king as:
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.'
In Measure for Measure the question of what a ruler should be like, and how best to exercise authority, is brought to the audience's attention again and again.
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