Measure for Measure Study Guide

Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure is a comedic and dramatic play framed around the false departure of a Vincentio, Duke of Vienna. Vincentio remains in his city disguised as a simple friar in order to assess the qualities of his stern judge, Angelo. The play also deals with a number of interwoven romances and the entanglements that result therefrom, as well as following the thread of the duplicitous and unjust Angelo's attempts to usurp Vincentio's authority.

Measure for Measure is a play, written in 1603, by William Shakespeare. It is known as one of Shakespeare's three problem plays because it cannot be easily classified as a tragedy or comedy.

Act I

  • Thyself and thy belongingsAre not thine own so proper, as to waste

    Thyself upon thy virtues, them on thee.

    Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,

    Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues

    Did not go forth of us,’t were all alike

    As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch’d,

    But to fine issues, nor Nature never lends

    The smallest scruple of her excellence,

    But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines

    Herself the glory of a creditor,

    Both thanks and use.

    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • He was ever precise in promise-keeping.
    • Lucio, scene ii

  • We have strict statutes and most biting laws,The needful bits and curbs to headstrong steeds,—

    Which for these fourteen years we have let sleep;

    Even like an o'ergrown lion in a cave,

    That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,

    Having bound up the threat'ning 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.

    • Duke Vincentio, scene iii

  • I have on Angelo impos'd the office;Who may, in the ambush of my name, strike home.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene iii

  • I hold you as a thing ensky’d and sainted.
    • Lucio, scene iv

  • A man whose bloodIs very snow-broth; one who never feels

    The wanton stings and motions of the sense.

    • Lucio, scene iv

  • He arrests him on it;And follows close the rigour of the statute,

    To make him an example.

    • Lucio, scene iv

  • Our doubts are traitors,And make us lose the good we oft might win,

    By fearing to attempt.

    • Lucio, scene iv

Act II

  • 'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,Another thing to fall. I do not deny,

    The jury, passing on the prisoner’s life,

    May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two

    Guiltier than him they try.

    • Angelo, scene i

  • Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.
    • Escalus, scene i

  • This will last out a night in Russia,When nights are longest there.
    • Angelo, scene i

  • Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?
    • Angelo, scene ii

  • No ceremony that to great ones’longs,Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword,

    The marshal’s truncheon, nor the judge’s robe,

    Become them with one half so good a grace

    As mercy does.

    • Isabella, scene ii

  • Why, all the souls that were, were forfeit once;And He that might the vantage best have took

    Found out the remedy. How would you be,

    If He, which is the top of judgment, should

    But judge you as you are?

    • Isabella, scene ii

  • The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept.
    • Angelo, scene ii

  • O! it is excellentTo have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous

    To use it like a giant.

    • Isabella, scene ii

  • But man, proud man,Drest in a little brief authority,

    Most ignorant of what he’s most assur'd;

    His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

    Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,

    As make the angels weep.

    • Isabella, scene ii

  • That in the captain’s but a choleric word,Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.
    • Isabella, scene ii

  • Our compell’d sinsStand more for number than for accompt.
    • Angelo, scene iv

  • Let me be ignorant and in nothing good,But graciously to know I am no better.
    • Isabella, scene iv


  • The miserable have no other medicine,But only hope.
    • Claudio, scene i

  • Be absolute for death; either death or lifeShall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life,

    If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing

    That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,

    Servile to all the skyey influences,

    That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st

    Hourly afflict; merely, thou art death's fool;

    For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun,

    And yet runn'st toward him still. Thou art not noble;

    For all the accommodations that thou bear'st

    Are nurs'd by baseness. Thou art by no means valiant;

    For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork

    Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,

    And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st

    Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself

    For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains

    That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;

    For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get;

    And what thou hast, forgett'st. Thou art not certain;

    For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,

    After the moon. If thou art rich, thou art poor;

    For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,

    Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey,

    And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;

    For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,

    The mere effusion of thy proper loins,

    Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,

    For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,

    But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,

    Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth

    Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms

    Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich

    Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,

    To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this

    That bears the name of life? Yet in this life

    Lie hid more thousand deaths: yet death we fear,

    That makes these odds all even.

    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • The sense of death is most in apprehension;And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,

    In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great

    As when a giant dies.

    • Isabella, scene i

  • O, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,The damned'st body to invest and cover

    In rev'rend guards!

    • Isabella, scene i

  • Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;

    This sensible warm motion to become

    A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit

    To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside

    In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;

    To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,

    And blown with restless violence round about

    The pendent world.

    • Claudio, scene i

  • The weariest and most loathed worldly lifeThat age, ache, penury, and imprisonment

    Can lay on nature, is a paradise

    To what we fear of death.

    • Claudio, scene i

  • The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • There, at the moated grange, resides this dejected Mariana.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • He who the sword of heaven will bearShould be as holy as severe;

    Pattern in himself to know,

    Grace to stand, and virtue go;

    More nor less by others paying

    Than by self-offences weighing.

    Shame on him whose cruel striking

    Kills for faults of his own liking!

    Twice treble shame on Angelo,

    To weed my vice and let his grow!

    O, what may man within him hide,

    Though angel on the outward side!

    Making practise on the times,

    To draw with idle spiders' strings

    Most ponderous and substantial things!

    Craft against vice I must apply:

    With Angelo to-night shall lie

    His old betrothed but despised;

    So disguise shall, by the disguised,

    Pay with falsehood false exacting,

    And perform an old contracting.

    • Duke Vincentio, scene ii

Act IV

Take, oh take those lips away,

That so sweetly were forsworn;

And those eyes: the break of day,

Lights that do mislead the Morn;

But my kisses bring again,

bring again,

Seals of love, but seal'd in vain,

seal'd in vain.

  • Boy, scene i

  • Every true man’s apparel fits your thief.
    • Abhorson, scene ii

  • Alack, when once our grace we have forgot,Nothing goes right! we would, and we would not.
    • Angelo, scene iv

Act V

  • A forted residence’gainst the tooth of timeAnd razure of oblivion.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • Truth is truthTo the end of reckoning.
    • Isabella, scene i

  • My business in this stateMade me a looker-on here in Vienna,

    Where I have seen corruption boil and bubble,

    Till it o'er-run the stew.

    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

  • They say, best men are moulded out of faults:And, for the most, become much more the better,

    For being a little bad.

    • Mariana, scene i

  • What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.
    • Duke Vincentio, scene i

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