Bernadette Gibbons Shakespeare Honors Dr. Silva May 17, 2006

Bernadette Gibbons
Shakespeare Honors
Dr. Silva
May 17, 2006
In Shakespeare’s dramatic play, Measure for Measure, one can be sure to uncover
the various elements of trickery, role-playing, and ultimate deception. Although almost
every character in the play attempts to portray a specific personality, we later ascertain
that each person has his or her own tendency to exaggerate. It is not until the very end of
the play, that we realize who exactly is behind each “costume” that is worn. Those who
are meant hold a precise position in society have buried secrets when all the truth is told.
“O, what a man within him hide, / Though angel on the outward side!” (3.2.218-19) In
my eyes, this quote of Isabella’s, refers to not only whom she was speaking with, but to
all of the principal male characters in the play as well as herself. This theme of hidden
pleasures and dictation to others proves Isabella’s point.
A sensible man, of whom I do not know the name, once said that we should
practice what we preach. In Measure for Measure, it seems as if the majority of the group
can only handle the initial step of that proclamation. Take Angelo for example, he is a
powerful official who is punishing Claudio for fornicating. A fair decision is what some
bureaucrats may believe, but Claudio knew of his mistake and intended to marry Juliet.
Angelo is the type of character who uses his power to make others feel inferior to him. It
is not until Angelo meets Isabella that the true disguises begin to unfold. Angelo’s power
soon diminishes when he is mesmerized by Isabella’s looks as well as her purity.
Outward appearance often confuses our interpretation of who someone really is.
The role of the Duke is another questionable role because throughout the play he is the
in-between character who tried to aid all. At the end of the play, when he reveals himself
to the crowd as being the Friar, we also are informed that the Duke is in love with
Isabella. Maybe that is too strong of a statement, but the Duke certainly expresses his
interest in her becoming his wife when he asks her to take his hand and join him in the
final scene. The thematic quote [“O, what a man within him hide, / Though angel on the
outward side!” (3.2.218-19)] here suggests that although the Duke was pretending to be a
Friar, and although he was just after reprimanding Angelo for putting Claudio to death,
off he, himself goes with Isabella who was in the process of becoming a nun. He is the
epitome of a contradiction.
There are a numerous amount of ways that Isabella can be evaluated. She comes
off as a saintly creature who is about to go off and seclude herself from society and men.
Throughout the play, she is very outspoken and simplistic, but towards the end, we see
that she loses grasp of her verbosity and becomes a part of a very confusing order. I
enjoy Isabella’s character the most because I feel that she experiences the biggest growth
out of all of the characters. She proves to the reader that not every person no matter the
lifestyle, posses the same needs and characteristics. Isabella also deserves the right to be
happy and satisfied, and if she needed all of that drama to understand that, I feel it was all
well worth it.
The essence of an angelic outward appearance should never be fully trusted.
Many believe there is no such thing as a perfect person, but there are good-hearted people
and Isabella is a testament to that. Without Isabella in Measure for Measure, I feel that we
, of whom I do not know the name,would not have been introduced to every characters
dual personality. Religion and morality play as key themes in this play and through one
character’s faults, another is always discovered. This subject of disguise can be summed
up in a quote from the Duke in Act III,
“What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid moe thousands deaths; yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.” (III.i.38-41)
This quote shows that even life is a disguise for what is yet to come and that is death.
One can not escape the path that is chosen for them and with each decision one makes,
comes the ultimate consequence.