Measure for Measure and Hamlet


Although corruption in the world and characters are a theme around which both Measure for Measure and Hamlet are constructed, it seems erroneous to encapsulate these Shakespearean plays solely in such a realm. The villains in both plays are not as deeply rooted in corruption as it would originally appear. Claudius and Angelo are both complex characters who never fully give themselves to sin and villainy. Their indiscretions seem to stem from, at least, a fundamental level of integrity. Angelo deters from his moral righteousness at the sight of Isabella who invokes lustful feelings in him. Claudius genuinely loves Gertrude despite the fact that he killed her husband.


While there is no disputing the fact that Angelo is a villain, it can also be contested that he has the makings of a rather decent individual. In Act One, Scene One Angelo presents himself as an upstanding individual. He states, "Now, good my lord, Let there be some more test made of my mettle. Before so noble and so great a figure Be stamp\'d upon it." Angelo\'s way is to rigidly enforce the laws to the letter and arrest every offender, no matter what his excuse may be. The intentions through which Angelo’s corruption are manifest are rooted in morality. Mercy for sexual sinners and toleration for common crimes is what has made Vienna so sinful in the first place. Through measures of leniency which Angelo refuses to allow any longer, The Duke has allowed Vienna to become overrun with pimps and prostitutes as well as poverty and sexual indecency. It can easily be contested that the Duke leaves the task of cleaning up Vienna in the hands of Angelo because he is believed to be an upstanding and righteous man. However, The Duke seems to doubt Angelo’s abilities from the very beginning. He admires active virtue but he puts a man on the throne who he knows has been inactively virtuous.


I do fear, too dreadful:


Sith \'twas my fault to give the people scope,


\'Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them


For what I bid them do: for we bid this be done,


When evil deeds have their permissive pass


And not the punishment. Therefore indeed, my father,


I have on Angelo imposed the office;


Who may, in the ambush of my name, strike home.(1.4.34‑41)


With the stringency enacted by Angelo, there is seemingly little room for mercy. This extends to Isabella’s case wherein she pleads for the life of her brother who has been sentenced to death for fornication. Angelo, adhering to the letter of the law, informs Isabella:


Be you content, fair maid.


It is the law, not I condemn your brother.


Were he my kinsman, brother, or my son,


It should be thus with him. He must die tomorrow. (2.2.82‑85).


Had the first violator been punished, the state would not be in the mess in which it finds itself. Angelo rules with an iron fist that initially makes him appear as a man steeped in merit. Angelo loses his attractiveness and become Measure for Measure’s villain after his propositioning of Isabella. His villainy remains a constant perception except for a short moment wherein he wrestles with his conscience for having betrayed both Isabella and Claudio.


In Angelo’s Act Two, Scene Four soliloquy, he confesses his hypocrisy; his lust for Isabella overcomes his virtuous words. He is unable to plead for grace. His sexual appetite may only be satiated by innocents and the virtuous. His bargain with Isabella is made craftily. He brags to her that he is the possessor of a reputation so virtuous that for her to attempt an exposure of his indiscretions would make her out to be a liar. His betrayal of his bargain in ordering Claudio\'s execution and his harshness with sinners in sex, not unlike himself, illustrate more of his hypocrisy. "Once our grace we have forgot, Nothing goes right: we would, and we would not." When the Duke stands revealed before all, Angelo\'s confession is immediate, his virtuosity returns, and he begs for "immediate sentence then, and sequent death" (5.1.365). An eye for an eye dictates that Angelo should be given the same sentence he handed down to Claudio; as