Recalling the verse from St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again,’ this play presents thought-provoking conundrums about justice, liberty and mercy.
All power corrupts, runs the axiom, and when the Duke of Vienna hands power over to the virtuous Angelo, it is not long before the would-be reformer reveals his own ﬂaws. He offers to save the brother of novice nun Isabella, condemned to death for lechery, if she will surrender her virginity to him. The disguised Duke observes all, yet when he returns to bring order and justice, the expected happy ending turns sour. In the play’s ﬁnal ﬁve lines, the Duke proposes that he himself marry Isabella. She makes no reply. Her silence can be interpreted in many ways – is she pleased? angry? undecided? Shakespeare leaves us to ask whether we are witnessing a happy ﬁnale, or the exchange of one tyrant for another.
Published by Oxford University Press and bound in hardback buckram by The Folio Society, The Oxford Shakespeare series offers authoritative editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The early printings have been scrupulously re-examined and interpreted by eminent scholars, who also provide introductory essays covering all relevant background information, together with an appraisal of critical views and of the plays in performance. The exhaustive commentaries pay particular attention to language and staging. Reprints of sources, music for songs, genealogical tables and maps are included where necessary; many of the volumes are illustrated, and all contain an index.
Each book has an individual editor, with the whole series overseen by Stanley Wells.
N. R. Bawcutt is Reader in English Literature at the University of Liverpool
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