In Measure for Measure, three major female characters have speaking roles: a prostitute who's arrested for running a brothel, a wannabe nun who's blackmailed by a corrupt deputy, and a woman who's jilted for not having a large enough wedding dowry. In the play, Shakespeare creates limited roles for these figures, prompting the audience to consider more generally a woman's place in society. Although these characters inhabit vastly different spaces in the social spectrum, they all have one thing in common – each is a victim of patriarchal authority.
The roles of female characters are purposely limited in Measure for Measure, which suggests that social roles for sixteenth-century women are limited as well.
Mistress Overdone is the quintessential unruly woman – as a prostitute who runs an illegal brothel, she operates outside the realm of masculine authority – until she's arrested and thrown in jail that is.