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Measure for Measure: Study Questions

  1. The problem with problems. Does Measure for Measure work as a play? Look especially at the ways Shakespeare changed his source and be prepared to discuss the various areas that the commentary suggests are problematic.
  2. Do traditional discussions of character work in a play that seems in part a morality play? Think about some major and minor characters here.
  3. What do you make of the somewhat macabre scenes with the hangman Abhorson (whose name suggests that he is the son of a whore). Look at 4.2.21-61 and 4.3.1-66, and see if you can see what his presence, especially in connection with the amoral and irrepressible Pompey, adds to the play.
  4. A recent article argues cogently that the opening sequence of scene 1.2 where Lucio discusses politics and venereal disease with two cronies, may be an interpolation designed for a later revival. Would the omission of this passage change your idea of the play?
  5. Consider how Measure for Measure might be considered an "open" work -- accessible to many varying interpretations in performance, impossible to pin down on the page, and so on.
  6. In particular, look at the ending and consider how you react to the various solutions the Duke imposes on the ending. In one production of the play it was left to the actor who played Isabella to decide whether she should accept the Duke, refuse him, or remain undecided at the end of each performance; one of the actors reported that both when Isabella accepted or rejected the Duke the audience responded well to the play--the one result they did not like was when the ending was left hanging.
  7. Consider the other plays you have now read; to what extent do you consider them also "open" works? Is there a difference between comedies and tragedies?
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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.