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Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure


by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure Justice and Judgment Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Riverside edition.

Quote #1

Hold therefore, Angelo:--
In our remove be thou at full ourself;
Mortality and mercy in Vienna
Live in thy tongue and heart: old Escalus,
Though first in question, is thy secondary.
Take thy commission.
your scope is as mine own
So to enforce or qualify the laws
As to your soul seems good. (1.1.4)

While the Duke is "out of town," Angelo, his deputy, has complete authority to uphold the laws of Vienna.  Still, the Duke is also giving Angelo the power of flexibility – he can "enforce or qualify the laws" as he sees fit.  In other words, the Duke is giving Angelo the freedom to hand down death sentences or to be merciful – it's up to Angelo, who should do what seems right in his "soul."

Quote #2

We have strict statutes and most biting laws.
The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,
Which for this nineteen years we have let slip;
Even like an o'ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children's sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock'd than fear'd; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum. (1.3.3)

The Duke admits that, for the past several years, he's allowed his unruly subjects to flout the laws of Vienna. What's interesting is that the Duke talks about his subjects as though they are horses that need to be reined in by "bits and curbs."

Then, in mid-speech, the Duke switches metaphors and compares himself to an over-indulgent father who merely threatens his children (subjects) with "the rod," but never actually punishes anyone with a spanking, so to speak.

What's even more interesting is how this passage sounds a lot like what Puritan extraordinaire Phillip Stubbes wrote in his famous pamphlet The Anatomy of Abuses (1587). Stubbes (who hated the theater and thought the government in England was too lax) complains that parents who don't punish their children are responsible for all of society's problems:

"Give a wild horse the liberty of the head never so little and he will run headlong to thine and his own destruction also. [...] So correct Children in their tender years."

Quote #3

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,
And yet my nature never in the fight
To do in slander.  (1.3.4)

Hmm.  The more we think about it, the more the Duke does seem to act like a wimpy parent.  Here, he confesses that he's afraid of punishing his subjects who don't obey the laws of the land because it would make him a tyrant.  So, he's going to let Angelo do all of his dirty work for him.  Gee.  We wonder how that will work out. 

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