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Measure for Measure

Human nature and the law often collide in Measure for Measure. As the play begins, the duke of Vienna announces he is going away and puts his deputy Angelo in charge of the state. Angelo immediately enforces a law prohibiting sex outside of marriage, sentencing Claudio to death for sleeping with Juliet, Claudio's now-pregnant fiancée.

Claudio's sister Isabella, a novice nun, appeals to Angelo to save her brother. But the supposedly pure Angelo demands that Isabella sleep with him to save Claudio. To Claudio's dismay, Isabella refuses.

The duke, who has remained in Vienna disguised as a friar, suggests that Angelo's jilted fiancée, Mariana, could take Isabella's place. Although the trick succeeds, Angelo orders Claudio beheaded anyway. The duke saves Claudio, but he tells Isabella that Claudio is dead.

The duke, resuming his identity, sentences Angelo to wed Mariana and then be put to death. But Mariana and Isabella plead for Angelo's life. Revealing that Claudio is alive, the duke pardons Angelo and proposes to Isabella.

Early printed texts

Measure for Measure was first published in the 1623 First Folio and that text serves as the source for all subsequent editions of the play.

The play was reprinted in the 1632 Second Folio, but the copy of F2 digitized by the Folger is one formerly owned and censored by the Jesuit college in Vallodolid, Spain. As a result of that censuring, the text for Measure for Measure was excised from this copy of the works.

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opening of Measure for Measure in the First Folio
Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

Picturing Measure for Measure

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Measure for Measure is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Isabella (1896)

Isabella (1896)

Item Title: 
The graphic gallery of Shakespeare's heroines ...
Item Call Number: 
ART Flat a24
Item Date: 
1896

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Isabella pleading to Angelo (Act 2, scene 2; 1793)

Isabella pleading to Angelo (Act 2, scene 2; 1793)

Item Title: 
Isabella Appealing to Angelo
Item Call Number: 
FPa30
Item Creator: 
Hamilton, William, 1750-1801, artist.
Item Date: 
1793

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Mariana (Act 4, scene 1; early 20th century)

Mariana (Act 4, scene 1; early 20th century)

Item Title: 
[Measure for measure, IV, I] [graphic] / C. Buchel.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B919 no.8 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Buchel, Charles A., artist.
Item Date: 
[early 20th century?]

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Louis Rhead sketch of Claudio pleading to Isabella (Act 3, scene 1; early 20th century)

Claudio pleading to Isabella (Act 3, scene 1; early 20th century)

Item Title: 
Measure for measure. Hear me, Isabel, said the agonized Claudio [graphic] / Louis Rhead.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box R469 no.102 (size L)
Item Creator: 
Rhead, Louis, 1857-1926, artist.
Item Date: 
[not after 1918]

More images of Measure for Measure can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)