Measure for Measure: A Problem Play?

Lesson rationale

What is Measure for Measure’s problem? The play confronts us with questions about sex, morality and power, which challenge us as readers and audiences. It was defined as a comedy in Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) but it pushed the boundaries of the genre, and was labelled by F S Boas as a ‘problem play’ (1895). In these activities students will debate why the play is so problematic, through engagement with critics’ views, performance clips and photos. Focusing on four characters – Isabella, Angelo, Mariana and the Duke – they will also use drama to explore some of the play’s most problematic moments. Does the play resolve these problems at the end? Are the problems still relevant in today’s world? And are problematic texts sometimes the most powerful?

Key questions in this lesson:

  • Can this play be seen as a comedy?
  • What makes it problematic?
  • Are its problems still relevant in today’s world?
  • Are problematic and ambiguous texts sometimes the most powerful?