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Messy Definitions and Blurred Lines: Marriage, Autonomy, and Reconciliation in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure


Chan, Andrew M. (2021) Messy Definitions and Blurred Lines: Marriage, Autonomy, and Reconciliation in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Other, California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/c94a-wh36.


[Introduction] “The tempter or the tempted, who sins the most?” (2.2.200) – Angelo’s question of sin represents the overall tension between violence and reconciliation in Measure for Measure. But why does Shakespeare create tensions between the Latin lex talionis, “eye for an eye” and the biblical consideration of “measure for measure”? What do the different forms of reconciliation mean for the different characters in the play? And are they effective forms of justice? An answer, perhaps, lies in Shakespeare’s presentation of marriage. Measure for Measure depicts marriage specifically as a form of reparation for violence: the characters in the play do not repent for their various sins through jail time or death, only through potentially unhappy marriages. In doing so, Shakespeare constructs his own set of terms in which the reader must consider the concept of a late medieval marriage: marriage in the play does not always take the form of a conventual, consensual relationship, instead Shakespeare uses forced marriage to challenge the Catholic tradition of marriage as a sacrament and the growing Puritan ideal of marriage for companionship. Through the marriages of Claudio and Juliet, Mariana and Angelo, and the ambiguous silence of the Duke’s proposal to Isabella, Shakespeare compares and contrasts different foundations for marriage, making an appeal to the audience to interpret their purpose. Shakespeare plays with the ideals of consent, companionship, and the law to create several competing implementations of a “measure for measure.” The audience must decide which, if any of these marriages are satisfying, and to what extent that, in light of the violence of the play, they can constitute their own form of justice, and their own “measure for measure.”

Item Type:Thesis (Other)
Subject Keywords:Hixon Writing Center, Hallett Smith Prize for Essay Devoted to Shakespeare
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:English
Awards:Hallett Smith Prize, 2021.
Thesis Availability:Restricted to Caltech community only
Research Advisor(s):
  • Koch, Jonathan
Group:Hallett Smith Prize, Hixon Writing Center
Thesis Committee:
  • None, None
Defense Date:12 May 2021
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06092021-174209263
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14273
Deposited By: Leslie Rico
Deposited On:09 Jun 2021 21:42
Last Modified:09 Jun 2021 21:42

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