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Home » , » Discuss the theme of authority in Measure for Measure?
Measure for Measure has been described as a drama of ideas in which several themes can be traced. The theme of authority or power means the control a human being has on others. The larger the power, the greater the number of human beings controlled, the more advantageous it is considered to be. It has almost entirely alluded man that power or authority is a second hand emotion sought by third rate human beings. 

The theme of authority or power is certainly among the leading ideas in the play. This theme is clearly presented in the very opening scene of the play when the Duke delegates his authority to Angelo. The Duke means to say that he is endowing Angelo with the authority to sentence a man to death if a man's crime calls for this punishment, and also with the authority to show mercy to a man if Angelo believes that an accused deserves mercy. In the course of the play, we find the workings of both justice and mercy. 

During the absence of the Duke, Escalus's authority is next only to that of Angelo. Escalus is a merciful and humane judge by nature and temperament. On coming to know that Angelo has sentenced Claudio to death, Escalus pleads on Claudio's behalf and asks Angelo to pardon Claudio's life. A man who is merely tempted to commit a sexual offence of that kind cannot be punished; but he who actually commits that offence must not go scot-free. Angelo admits that all judges are not honest. Claudio is a victim of the authority. He is sentenced to death for making pregnant a girl called Juliet without marriage. So to save her brother Isabella comes to Angelo's house. At that time Angelo's carnal desire is aroused. He tells her that her brother will be pardoned if she surrenders her body to him. Here the authority is proved as a bad personality. 

The Duke also stands for authority. But his authority is of the gentle kind. It leads to a small amount of sin. The Duke hands over the authority of the state to Angelo in order to rectify a wrong. He knows his subjects are leading a life of motiveless pleasure, mainly because he his been too kind. He knows Angelo is austere and learned. He wants the brothel houses to be closed. He wants people to show moderation, especially in sexual habits. He wants the Christian virtue of sex only through marriage to return to Vienna. He takes charge as soon as he realizes that he has made a wrong choice. He reverts to his compassion. He believes sexual promiscuity to be a sin. He pardons men for their sins. However, the Duke deals almost in the same manner with Lucio also. Lucio is a dissolute young man who has been haunting brothels and who has made a girl pregnant after having falsely promised to marry her. Now, Lucio is the one person whom the Duke finds it impossible to forgive. Accordingly, the Duke orders him first to marry the mother of his illegitimate child, and then to be whipped and hanged. 

However, in this case also the Duke forgives Lucio. In this way, William Shakespeare has treated the theme of authority in his Measure for Measure very successful. The theme of authority or power plays a vital role for the development of the action of the play.


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