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Measure for Measure Theme of Gender

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.

Questions About Gender

  1. Discuss the kinds of roles women play in Measure for Measure.
  2. Compare and contrast Mistress Overdone to Isabella.
  3. What does Angelo's behavior toward Isabella and Mariana suggest about the relationship between gender and power?
  4. Explain Lucio's reasoning when he objects to marrying the mother of his child. What does this suggest about his attitude toward women?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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