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Measure for Measure

A scene from Measure for Measure

Introduction to the play

Measure for Measure is among the most passionately discussed of Shakespeare’s plays. In it, a duke temporarily removes himself from governing his city-state, deputizing a member of his administration, Angelo, to enforce the laws more rigorously. Angelo chooses as his first victim Claudio, condemning him to death because he impregnated Juliet before their marriage.

Claudio’s sister Isabella, who is entering a convent, pleads for her brother’s life. Angelo attempts to extort sex from her, but Isabella preserves her chastity. The duke, in disguise, eavesdrops as she tells her brother about Angelo’s behavior, then offers to ally himself with her against Angelo.

Modern responses to the play show how it can be transformed by its reception in present culture to evoke continuing fascination. To some, the duke (the government) seems meddlesome; to others, he is properly imposing moral standards. Angelo and Isabella’s encounter exemplifies sexual harassment. Others see a woman’s right to control her body in Isabella’s choice between her virginity and her brother’s life.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Measure for Measure

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

… But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep

Act 2, scene 2, lines 146–151

Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and measure still for

Act 5, scene 1, lines 466–468

Measure for Measure in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Measure for Measure. Find more in our digital image collection

William Hamilton. Isabella appealing to Angelo. Oil on canvas, 1793
Isabella. From the graphic gallery of Shakespeare's heroines ...
Act 3, scene 1: "Hear me, Isabel," said the agonized Claudio. By Louis Rhead.
New York, Delacorte Theater, Central Park. Joseph Papp presents William Shakespeare's Henry V; Measure for Measure. Playbill, summer 1976

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Measure for Measure

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Measure for Measure

Early printed text

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.