Last Updated 03 Apr 2020

Themes presented in Act 1-Measure for Measure

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A theme becoming noticeably present throughout Act 1 is that of religion, possibly part of the larger them of morality. The Duke, Scene 1 line 70, speaks of being greeted by 'aves vehement'. The word 'Ave' in Latin means 'Hail' and is often associated with prayer, particularly to the Virgin Mary (a figure prominent in Catholicism). This suggests that the public in Vienna see the Duke as a saviour and a figure to be worshipped. At the time of its original performance this would have conveyed to the audience the prominence and power of the Duke in Vienna. However, the Duke says this greeting is good he does not 'relish' it, showing the audience possibly that the Duke is not arrogant and does not wish to be a replacement for someone's faith; it perhaps allows the audience to hold a respect for the Duke from the beginning of the play.

In scene 2, the references to religion continue with Lucio speaking of 'the sanctimonious pirate that went out to sea with the ten commandments, but scraped one off the table'. This suggests a corruption of religion and its associated beliefs, which may foreshadow other themes coming later in the play-those of right and wrong, particularly when interpreting laws on prostitution and the confusion about marriage (should it be based on good faith or a legal ceremony). The pirate reference, particularly to the original audience, may have suggested that personal interpretations and sinister dealings were going to occur in the performance.

Both the reference to the pirate and 'aves' could show how Shakespeare is presenting a 'problem play'. They raise the question of how religion should be carried out and how it can creep too far into everyday behaviour, until people begin to make powerful/adored figures idols and interpret religious teachings to suit their own behaviour.

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Scene 3, in the monastery, has two intertwining themes running through it-those of power and religion. The audience is presented with two powerful figures in their own right, one powerful due to his allegiance to God and perhaps less powerful in the workings of society and the other powerful due to his position in society and perceived almost as a 'God' by his people. A silent power struggle appears to be occurring in the scene, not power for power's sake, but in order to earn the respect of the other. Throughout, the Duke appears to be justifying his argument in order to make it sound less corrupted and more favourable in the eyes of the friar. This comes across in his greetings of 'Holy father' and 'holy sir' and flattery 'none knows better than you'. The friar speaks politely to the Duke 'Gladly, my lord'. There is some sense of balance or equality in this scene, as ordinarily the Duke would be seen to be more powerful, due to his reign on the justice system however, he knows that the only person who can help him is the friar and the friar has the weapon of being aware of why the Duke has disappeared.

Justice and morality are two another themes running throughout Act 1. The main plot line of Claudio being sentenced is at the centre of these themes. At the time of the first performance, brothels were widely apparent and many powerful figures were known for making use of their services. This is made clear to the audience, with the scene set in a brothel and the comic references to sexual diseases and the portrayal of the brothel as an industry. This should show the audience that it was widely accepted that these places were a part of society, making Claudio's actions seem less severe. He talks of Julietta being 'fast my wife', apart from the legal proceedings so the fact he is being punished for this action and others are getting away with prostitution seems even more immoral, it raises the question of whether Claudio's actions are worse than the other male characters despite him being faithful to one woman. This is open to interpretation by the actors, however, they may choose to play Claudio's speech with comedy, to make it sound like a feeble excuse for his actions rather than a legitimate plea for justice, which could make it seem as though justice is being done.

Again a sense of corruption is presented, this time in politics. The Duke, who has fled unexpectedly, has let the law be ignored for a number of years yet Claudio is being punished under it. This suggests the laws can be manipulated to suit the leader. This is similar to the corruption of religion mentioned earlier when the pirate changed the ten commandments to suit his lifestyle and ideals at the time.

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Themes presented in Act 1-Measure for Measure. (2017, Jul 31). Retrieved from

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