Money and materialism
The significance of wealth
Since the play concentrates on the difference between spiritual and physical values, it is perhaps not surprising that Shakespeare also shows us characters who are very concerned about wealth and material success:
- Most obvious, perhaps, is Angelo, who, as we discover halfway through the play (Act III sc i) has abandoned the virtuous and loving Mariana because her dowry was lost when her brother's ship was ‘wracked at sea'
- There is a parallel to this in Claudio, who, while remaining faithful to Juliet, has nevertheless not married her because they are waiting for ‘propagation of a dower / remaining in the coffer of her friends.'
At the other end of the social scale, Pompey and Mistress Overdone are equally concerned with getting money:
- As Pompey tells Escalus (Act II sc i), ‘I am a poor fellow that would live.' And we see that money is much more important to Pompey than morality
- He also recognises that wealth can give status even to a fool such as Froth – he is ‘a man of fourscore pound a year', he tells Escalus, clearly expecting this to be taken into consideration.
In contrast, Isabella, who, in entering a nunnery would make a vow of poverty, scorns material wealth, and her offer of a ‘bribe' to Angelo (Act II sc ii) explicitly rejects the attraction of physical riches:
Not with fond sickles of the tested gold,
Or stones, whose rate are either rich or poor
As fancy values them: but with true prayers …
From fasting maids, whose minds are dedicate
To nothing temporal.
Coinage and forgery
Money in the era of Shakespeare
Throughout Measure for Measure there is a recurring image of coins. In Shakespeare's time, and for a couple of hundred years beyond, money was physically worth its nominal value; that is, a shilling coin had to contain a shilling's worth of silver. Forgers, or counterfeiters, would try to pass false coins, and it was also a common crime to clip round the edges of a coin to remove some of the metal: eventually coins had milled edges to prevent this. Coins were also stamped with an image of the ruler's head on one side, and another image on the reverse.
A coin current in Shakespeare's time was the ‘angel' – a coin which bore the image of the Archangel Michael defeating the Devil or Satan in the form of a dragon; throughout Measure for Measure there is a verbal play on the name of this coin, and on false coinage, relating to Angelo:
- In the first scene, the Duke asks Escalus about Angelo,
‘What figure of us, think you, he will bear?'
- When the Duke tells Angelo that he is to be left in charge of Vienna, Angelo himself asks (with a pun on ‘mettle' as character and ‘metal' as gold):
Let there be some more test made of my mettle
Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamp'd on it.
- He uses the same pun and image in Act II sc iv, when arguing to Isabella that fornication is as bad as murder. Referring to the fact that the penalty for counterfeiting coins could be execution, Angelo compares creating a child through sexual intercourse outside marriage to making a false coin:
Ha? These filthy vices! It were as good
To pardon him that hath from nature stolen
A man already made, as to remit
Their saucy sweetness that do coin heaven's image
In stamps that are forbid. ‘Tis all as easy
Falsely to take away a life true made,
As to put mettle in restrained means
To make a false one.
A way of testing whether a coin was false was to weigh it, to see how much silver or gold it contained. Shakespeare links this idea to the biblical quotation which gives him the title of the play (see also Introduction):
‘With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again' (Matthew 7:1-2
– in other words, the weight you give to others will be apportioned to you. Hence ‘weighing' becomes another significant image in the play:
- The disguised Duke is described by Lucio (Act III sc ii) as
‘a very superficial ... unweighing fellow'
- Isabella tells Angelo that
‘We cannot weigh our brother with ourself.'
- The Provost tells Abhorson that he and Pompey are equal (perhaps equally repellent) in his eyes:
‘Go to, sir, you weigh equally: a feather will turn the scale.'
- The Duke, pretending to disbelieve Isabella in Act V sc i tells her that Angelo could not have behaved as she says:
‘He would have weigh'd thy brother by himself'
- Angelo, using a more explicit image of false coinage, sneers at Isabella (Act II sc iv) that her story will not be believed: because of his position of trust,
‘My false o'erweighs your true.'
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. 6Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. 7Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 13Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 15Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? 23And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. 24Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. 28And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
1Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. 6Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. 7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: 8For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 9Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? 12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. 13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. 28And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
1. Consisting of or relating to (the) spirit(s), rather than material or bodily form.
2. Relating to matters of the soul, faith, religion, or the supernatural.
3. A type of religious song whose roots are in the slave communities of North America.
an amount of money or goods given as part of a marriage contract
A religious house where nuns ' women who have devoted themselves to the worship of God, and have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience ' live and pray (also called a Convent).
false or forged, especially of coinage; something that pretends to be genuine but is in fact false
Chief angel. In Christian tradition Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are considered to be archangels.
Also known as Satan or Lucifer, the Bible depicts him as the chief of the fallen angels and demons, the arch enemy of God who mounts a significant, but ultimately futile, challenge to God's authority.
The devil; the term 'Satan' actually means 'Enemy' and is often used to refer to the force of evil in the world.
A play on the meaning of words, often for comic effect.
a person's spirit and resilience when doing something difficult
The act of having sex with someone who is not a spouse.
In the Bible the promise, or contract, between a man and a woman committing them to a life together, is also used as an image of the relationship between God and his people. .
Relating to, or contained in, the Bible. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament.