Loyola University’s production of William Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, touches on the issues of mercy, justice, and truth, and their relationship to pride and humility. The main character, Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, is a prime example of mercy. Through his wise ways to teach a lesson, he enables the ones around him to come to the conclusion he already knows.
Isabella, a novice in a nunnery, shows mercy to everyone around her. She also demonstrates that she has a deep understanding for the importance of being humble when she exclaims, “O! It is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” She is referring to Angelo, the temporary ruler of Vienna, who is not so angelic as his name insists. He condemns others, such as Isabella’s brother, yet he lives a life full of sin. Angelo gives Isabella the ultimatum to sacrifice her “virtue” in order save her brother’s life, or, if she refuses, he will not revoke her brother’s sentence. She considers doing this for her brother’s sake, even if it means that she will be destined to an eternity of fiery pits in Hell.
Isabella wondered, “Might there not be a charity in sin to save this brother's life?” She was contemplating whether or not something is still a sin if it is done for just reasons. She could no longer decipher if something is solely good or bad or if there is a fine line between the two. When the roles are reversed and Angelo is the one begging for his life, Isabella’s unending love for others and the will to do good is so strong that should cannot sit back and let Angelo die, knowing that her word can, and does, save his life.
In the end, everyone gets his or her fair share; The people who are honest and have had good intentions get rewarded, and the ones who lie and have had bad intentions get punished. Angelo is stripped of his power and sentenced to death. Though Isabella is able to save him from dying, he still has to own up to his marriage to the woman, Mariana, which he had tried to avoid. Another man who incessantly insults the Duke behind his back ends up having to marry a prostitute, who he had openly detested throughout the play. Isabella is honest from the very start of the play, which, at times, does not work in her favor, after all, no one would believe that the new ruler who insists on arresting and killing people for fornication is the same person who is trying to get this novice nun to sleep with him. The real Duke is able to see through Angelo’s evil lies and realize that Isabella is telling the truth. Her honesty pays off and her brother is free from his charges.
It is shown through Angelo’s actions that it is more embarrassing to be caught in the lie than to own up to it in the beginning. In Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Gilded Six-Bits,” the character, Missie Mae, tangles herself into a situation that is almost unfixable. Her greed and lies lead to the destruction of her marriage. After her baby is born, her husband is finally able to forgive her for what she had done. In Measure for Measure, Isabella’s actions prove that it may be hard to decipher what the right thing to do is, but it is always important to remember to ask for forgiveness and forgive others in the process of deciding. The Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is incapable of forgiving. He has become so hardened from life that he has become desensitized to normal human emotions. The ability to forgive no matter what happens is a humbling experience. Angelo should be honest when first questioned about his actions, instead, he digs himself into a deeper hole that eventually buries him. He illustrates why it is important to put honesty above everything else. It takes humility to be honest because pride prefers lies.
No one knows when the roles will be reversed, therefore it is wise not to judge others because they can judge right back. How fair they judge will depends on the treatment given to them. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the king says, “we’ll…laugh at gilded butterflies,” essentially referring to having the last laugh when the mighty fall. No one can stay high and mighty forever. For the good of everyone, no one should fault others for common mistakes.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” the speaker, Montresor, is quick to judge Fortunato, who has wronged him somehow. He becomes bloodthirsty for revenge and never once thinks about how it would be if the roles were reversed. As it happened to Angelo, things can get turned around quite quickly. Montresor and Angelo should not have been so quick to judge, considering neither are exactly perfect.
The very title, Measure for Measure, alludes to a biblical verse that can be translated to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, it is clear that forgiveness and honesty are the best options. “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall,” but, in the end, justice will always prevail.