Themes in the First Act of Measure for Measure

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Themes in the First Act of Measure for Measure


In the first act of measure for measure the main themes of the play
are introduced. I intend to discuss the themes that I believe to be
the most important ones in this play.

There are quite a few themes that I can see after reading the first
act. Firstly there is appearance vs. reality. This applies to Angelo
especially, whose reputation and appearance of goodness do not match
the reality of who he truly is. Many people have opinions of Angelo.
Lucio for example says this:

"Lord Angelo, a man whose blood is very

snow broth."

Lucio repeats the Duke's descriptions of Angelo's seeming
invulnerability; his "blood is very snow broth," and he "never feels
the wanton stings and motions of the sense." It will be very ironic,
then, when this man who appears to be so very strict and pure falls to
temptation, as all people tend to do. So we can see that even the
common people of the city think Angelo is a decent character and this
also seems to be the opinion of the duke, because he believes Angelo
is good and trustworthy enough to rule Vienna. However, Angelo is not
all that he seems. He appears to be a very strict man who believes
very strongly in following the rules. His character seems to be
questioned when we learn that he has arrested Claudio for getting
Juliet pregnant, yet he lets the brothels stay open in the city. This
is saying that in one way he is condoning casual sex in leaving the
brothels open but he is condemning it by arresting Claudio, so he is
giving out very mixed messages. So already we see that Angelo is not
all that he seems.

Another important theme in the play is Moderation and mercy. These are
the two necessary qualities of a ruler that Angelo lacks, and which
make him a poor judge. Every ruler must govern with an eye for human
nature and its weaknesses, and show mercy for those who commit the

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same sins as the ruler himself falls victim to. This theme is
introduced well in the first act because we learn almost straight away
about Claudio's arrest and the circumstances under which he was
arrested - we learn that Claudio and Juliet were as good as married,
they just hadn't paid a dowry. The reader sees this as unfair and
thinks Angelo should show some mercy, this idea is also re-enforced by
Escalus at the beginning of the second act.

The final theme I am going to talk about is vice vs. piety. Several
figures in the play seem to err toward being too indulgent or too
strict; we see this in Angelo, a very strict individual and very
pious. He could be a much better person if he just loosened up a bit
and showed a bit of mercy. A character that seems to have more loose
morals is Lucio. He sleeps with girls at brothels on a regular basis
and lies a lot but we learn that he actually is a good person in act 1
when he goes and pleads Isabella to go and see Angelo and beg for her
brother's life. We cannot judge that he is a fully good character but
he shows that he is more mercy in him than Angelo ever could.

So even though this is quite a short act we learn a lot about the
characters and the main themes of the play are introduced here and are
developed throughout the play.


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