Measure for Measure
How we cite our quotes:
'An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!'
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and MEASURE still FOR MEASURE.
Then, Angelo, thy fault's thus manifested;
Which, though thou wouldst deny, denies thee vantage.
We do condemn thee to the very block
Where Claudio stoop'd to death, and with like haste.
Away with him! (5.1.49)
When the Duke sentences Angelo to death, he advocates for a kind of "eye for an eye" system of justice that comes from a passage in the bible: "For with that judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you meet, it shall be measured unto you again" (Matthew 7:2). In other words, the corrupt deputy who once sentenced Claudio to death for the crime of fornication (and then arranged to sleep with Isabella) is now headed for the chopping block.
Well Angelo, your evil quits you well. (5.1.61)
At the play's end, biblical justice is replaced by Christian mercy. In the previous passage, we saw how the Duke sentences Angelo to death in an endorsement of measured justice. Yet, here, the Duke pardons Angelo for his crimes. This pardon dramatizes what often seems like a theological contradiction: the call for Christian mercy and the biblical demand for justice.
He's sentenced; 'tis too late. (2.2.14)
When Angelo rigidly declares that Claudio will put to death for his crime, he resembles the sixteenth-century English Puritan Phillip Stubbes.
Unlike Vienna in Measure for Measure, fornication wasn't punishable by death in Shakespeare's England, but Stubbes wanted it to be. Stubbes once wrote that anyone guilty of prostitution, adultery, whoredom, or incest should be made to "taste of present death" or be branded "with a hot iron on the cheek, forehead, or some other part" so everyone would know how sinful they were (Anatomy of Abuses, 1583). Yikes!