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Home » , » Why is Measure for Measure considered a 'dark comedy'?


Dark Comedy is also known as black comedy. It is a drama which believes that human beings exist in a purposeless universe where they are faced with forces which are beyond their control or understanding. It believes that morality and ethics, as well as intellectual values are meaningless, and that life is a tragic farce. A comedy has a happy ending. It has wit, humour, fun, joy, and laughter. On the other hand, a dark comedy is gloomy. It does have a happy ending. It also has amusing scenes as well as wit and humour. It is an undercurrent of gloom and despair which never leaves us. The comic elements in such play are pushed into the background by the tone and atmosphere of seriousness and gravity. Measure  for Measure by William Shakespeare is a play of this type. It is also called problem play.

Measure for Measure is the darkest of the three dark comedies written by Shakespeare. It is the darkest because it displays the most detested of human emotions-that of sexual promiscuity. Shakespeare's massive sensibilities led him to explore different areas of human nature. Though he did not give a solution, the choice of subject meant that he found it worth exploring. Most critics have believed that sexual promiscuity is bad.

The gloom in the play is attributed to three different and distinct reasons. One view is that the gloom in the play is an extension of Shakespeare's own convoluted mind at the time when he wrote these dark comedies. However the second view dismisses this view completely. It traces the gloom of these plays to the spiritual exhaustion of the Jacobean Age. This was an age of doubt,which brought about dread for death, and a negation of life.

There is no doubt that the world of the play is hedonistic and sexual promiscuous. It is a world of brothels and pimps, senseless  copulation, mindless pregnancies, and a total reversal of Christian value of marital sex. It has a weak Duke. It has a deputy Duke, Angelo, whose learning makes him harsh and eruel. IT is a world where a brother asks a sister to compromise her virginity to save his life. It is a world where a woman willingly indulges in sexual promiscuity through deception at the behest of the Duke. It is a world where despicable fellows like Lucio not only roam freely, but exist with aplomb; where pimps and bawds flourish despite repeated warnings and a very ambiguous law.

However, the setting of the play is in Vienna. This city has become a hot-bed of corruption. Shakespeare in this play portrays a society which is corrupt and rotten. It is a society in which morality is debased to the extreme and sexual incontinence. The Duke neglects his duties during his long period in office. Angelo also abuses power and authority. The play depicts a society where women have to provide dowry at the time of marriage. Claudio and Juliet love each other very much. But they do not get married because of dowry. Therefore, Measure for Measure is a dark play or dark comedy. Its atmosphere is gloomy. It has a happy ending. It also has amusing scenes as well as wit and humour. It is a problem play because it deals with a particular social or moral problem.


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