Shakespeare’s treatment of justice and mercy in Measure for Measure


Measure for Measure is a play written by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a literary giant in the field of drama. It deals with the theme of justice and mercy. In The play “Measure for Measure” Shakespeare has showed how at the same time justice and mercy have to be established in society.  

More Notes: Measure for Measure

Justice and mercy under the duke: 

In the whole action of the play, both justice and mercy play a vital role. when the duke has given the authority power to sentence a man to death Angelo, he warns him that if the criminal’s crime is proven he will take the way of justice but if the criminal is free from his crime Angelo will treat the man with mercy. 

Though some scenes of the play we see the lack of justice while in others scenes mercy is the top hold. Finally, mercy brings a happy end to the play. 

Justice against Various types of social disorder 

The drama “Measure for Measure” is the representation of various types of social disorders such as injustice, seduction, violation, and so on. As a humble and virtuous person, the Duke of Vienna stands against Various types of social disorder. So, the people of Vienna are gradually affected by the duke’s laws and orders. So, he decided that he would hand over the administrative power to a strict ruler named Angelo to establish justice and mercy in society. though during the reined of Angelo various types of social disorders are found but Angelo is regarded as a puritan with a strict moral code as the deputy of the Duke of Vienna. He tries to stop all kinds of immoral activities within the kingdom and is determined.  As a part of justice and he has given a death sentence to Claudio because his guilt is proven that Claudio fornicates with a girl called Juliet and made her pregnant without marrying her. So, from the point of justice and law of the land, Angelo’s sentence against Claudio is just. 

Justice does not follow plead:  

After the death sentence of Claudio, Escalus a kind-hearted man and an old lord at the Viennese court pleads to show mercy to Claudio. He argues that any man in Claudio’s position, even Angelo himself, would have committed the same crime. Besides, Isabella, the sister of Claudio pleads for mercy for her brother to Angelo and suggests that Angelo should condemn her brother’s guilt but not the death sentence. He should enforce the revived laws by slow. She argues according to the Christian religion forgiveness is a virtue. She argues that A man may have the power of a monster, but it is tyrannical for him to use that power like a monster. But Angelo does not pay heed to both Isabella and Escalus’s plead. A moment later Escalus remarks that showing mercy to a criminal like Claudio may bring evil consequences for society. Here we see a victory of Justice against pleading. 

Contention between justice and lust: 

 During her second interview with Angelo, he dramatically proposes that if she is willing to surrender her virginity to him, he would pardon her brother Now the issue is a contention between justice and lust, and between chastity and the desire to save a brother’s life. Later on, On the advice of Isabell, Duke sends Mariana in Isabella’s disguise to satisfy Angelo’s sexual desire. Thus, Angelo throws law and justice out of the window and commits the same crime as Claudio did. 

More Notes: Suggestions

Combination of mercy and justice: 

Finally, when the duke finds that Angelo’s strong immoral desire and behavior towards Isabella than Claudio’s conduct towards Juliet, he feels greatly annoyed with Angelo and would like to punish him. But his judgment is characterized more by mercy than by a strict regard for justice. So, the duke forgives Angelo and resumes his office and authority, Later, Angelo tried to establish justice as well as mercy when judging all criminals. Thus, Measure for Measure is a great example of the treatment of Justice and Mercy. 


In light of the above discussion, it is said that Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” has proved that justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin which is vividly presented in the drama. So, we should judge any crime or criminal considering both Mercy and Justice. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

Articles: 230

Leave a Reply

error: Sorry !!