Measure for Measure

Some Thoughts on Act 4


The song with which the Act begins obviously refers to Mariana's feelings about Angelo, with the key words being forsworn, mislead and in vain.

There is evidence that Vincentio has long been aware of Mariana's situation and therefore Angelo's fault; we read that V's advice "Hath often stilled" M's "brawling discontent".

So why leave such a man in charge? He can't have known that the Claudio thing would come up. Surely he's being irresponsible in the extreme, experimenting with his dukedom in this way.

Angelo is determined in his pursuit of M, hatching a complicated scheme to bring I. to him and showing her the way "twice over". Nevertheless, he is aware of the sin in what he is doing, as he does it "with whispering and most guilty diligence". This awareness of wrongdoing intensifies the sin.

What do you think V. is saying in 4:1; 61 - 66? Do you think he is commenting upon the perils and negative implications of status? But why here and now? Does it refer specifically to A?

Do you think that V's behaviour here, specifically with regard to his reassurance of M. that she is not sinning in bedding A., is justified? He claims

"'tis no sin
Sith that the justice of your title to him
Doth flourish the deceit."

He is not a friar and cannot absolve her in this way. Am I making too much of this? Is it a moral reflection on his character or just a necessary plot device? Does the end justify the means, or is it not even a question that needs to be asked? Am I being too 21st century in my responses?


Pompey can be seen to represent honest sin in this play, by which I mean that he never makes any bones about what he is. This is in marked contrast to Angelo, a dishonest sinner and "seemer" who is determined not to be seen for what he is. Despite Pompey's blatant and shameless immorality he is a character audiences tend to like, both for his curious honesty and for his wordplay.

What do we make of a judicial system wherby a man can escape his lawful punishment for pimping by turning executioner; executioner, what is more, of one whose only "crime" has been one not recognised for "nineteen zodiacs"? Once more the whole concept of Viennese justice is called into question.

It's interesting that the executioner is called Abhorson, a lovely portmanteau name suggesting that he is an abhorred son of a whore. Pompey certainly feels that Abhorson. is no better than himself, saying of their respective worthiness "you weigh equally; a feather will turn the scale"

I don't know what's going on with the true man/thief thing. It's another of Pompey's clevernesses, but is lost on me.

The provost gives voice to the thoughts of the audience when he says of B and C.

"The one has my pity, not a jot the other,
Being a murderer, though he were my brother."

He refers to C's death in the most positive terms he can find - "thou must be made immortal" - maybe to try to take the sting away. Throughout the play we find no one but Angelo who is thoroughly happy with this sentence on C, and Shakespeare takes every opportunity to remind the audience of its injustice.

V. condemns A. whilst seeming to uphold him, in lines 86 - 87 -

"were he meal'd with that
Which he corrects, then were he tyrranous."

Since V. by now knows that A. is so "meal'd", this judgement is for the benefit of the audience.

The provost's referrence to "the very siege of justice" is interesting; he seems to suggest that those who have pleaded for C. have represented justice, which A. has publicly rejected. This is a condemnation of A. which almost slips by unnoticed.

A now reveals himself in his true colours, colours more stained than we had previously thought possible; having enjoyed I, as he thinks, he is going to renege on his word and get rid of the evidence by killing C .anyway. This is more ruthless than even V. expected and he almost has to show his hand in order to avoid C's instant execution. He manages to persuade the provost by means of a letter sealed with V's recognised seal. We are pleased at the saving of C. but have to ask whether outreaching his authority by being prepared to send Barnardine to his death effectively unshriven, since only pretending to be a friar.


The prison is full of users of prostitutes, with peculiar names which probably meant something at the time but are now lost on me!

I like Pompey's humorous approach to his job - "awake till you are executed, and sleep afterwrds" - but I think this is part of the campaign to make the audience respond positively to the honest villain, in contrast to A.

V. avoids having to send Barnardine to his death unshriven because Ragozine conveniently arrives on the scene. It is indeed "an accident that heaven provides!" What a transparent plot device! Deus ex machina or what? What it does suggest, however, is that, however much Shakespeare wants to undermine V's moral authority, there are some things which are beyond the pale.

What is not beyond the pale for V is playing with I's feelings, possibly for his own ends; he plans to

"keep her ignorant of her good,
To make her heavenly comforts of despair,
When it is least expected."

Not only does he not tell her of C's safety, he tells her he's already dead. Am I cynical in thinking he hopes she will fall into his arms in gratitude and relief when he finally reveals C's safety?

What follows with Lucio shows him in both his best ands worst lights; he has genuine compassion for I. but reveals his callous abandonment of the girl he got pregnant. What should we make of what L says of V? Is he lying or is there an element of truth there? Lucio's name is suggestive of the latin luce,meaning light. Does L shed light on the other characters in the play? Just a thought.


Angelo & Escalus are at a loss to understand what V is doing. Their conversation here is a device to fill the audience in on V's plans.

A's soliloquy at the end of this scene reveals him to be suffering for his misdeeds, maybe even losing his sense of identity; "This deed unshapes me quite." He is certainly regretting his actions, but arguably for selfish reasons:

"Alack! when once our grace we have forgot
Nothing goes right;"

This selfishness diminishes the sympathy I might otherwise begin to feel for him.


The significance of this scene is lost on me. V. is presenting himself as himself here, and indicates that things are in train which might cause Friar Peter to "blench", but we knew that already.


I. reveals her reluctance to follow V's instructions. We don't at this point understand why, but it becomes clear when we see that she is telling a false tale "to veil full purpose". We are also prepared for V's seeming hostility to I; he may "speak against" her "on the adverse side." All the strands of V's plot are coming together and the whole is moving towards its climax, as signalled by Friar Peter's words.

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