Measure for Measure

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The Duke Character Analysis

The benevolent ruler of Vienna who has asked Angelo to govern in his stead to impose law and order. Though his subjects believe he has left town, the Duke disguises himself as a friar and observes the workings of his state while incognito. He uses this deception to counteract the injustices he discovers Angelo has committed.

The Duke Quotes in Measure for Measure

The Measure for Measure quotes below are all either spoken by The Duke or refer to The Duke. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Virtue Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Measure for Measure published in 2005.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Now, good my lord,
Let there be some more test made of my metal,
Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamp'd upon it.

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), The Duke
Page Number: 1.1.51-53
Explanation and Analysis:

Duke Vicentio begins the play by describing how he will leave, and he urges his deputy Angelo to "Take thy commission." The Duke specifically commands Angelo to act in his stead, by letting "Mortality and mercy in Vienna / Live in thy tongue and heart." The Duke places Angelo in charge of the city's justice (by giving him the ability to command executions) and virtue (by leaving him in charge of doling out mercy).

This is a heavy task, and Angelo might be responding honestly (as well as politely) when he asks the Duke to not give him such a lofty duty until he is more worthy of it. In this response, Angelo's response also alludes to notions which will resurface throughout the play, such as appearance versus reality. After the Duke gives Angelo this responsibility, Angelo will act as the duke without being the duke; the "figure" of authority will only be "stamp'd upon" him. Yet, this pretense is a public one; everyone will see and know that Angelo is not the duke himself. When describing this, Angelo uses an analogy in which his body is a kind of "metal," much like a coin; this early foray into notions of money, circulation, and capital reminds us that this play's title, "Measure for Measure" will have multiple layers of meaning as the acts continue.

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Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

We have strict statutes and most biting laws
(The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds),
Which for this fourteen years we have let slip,
Even like an o’ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threat’ning twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children’s sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock’d than fear’d; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead,
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker)
Page Number: 1.3.20-32
Explanation and Analysis:

It turns out that Duke Vicentio has not left the play at all; after he is absent for one scene, the audience sees him again, as he converses with a friar. Fittingly, it is in this monastery that the audience may begin to understand why the Duke has left Vienna, spurring the action of the play. The Duke at least claims that he left not for love, but rather for the good of his people. For fourteen years, he has supposedly allowed the virtue of his city to slip; in the Duke's colorful description, even fathers and children become figures of sinfulness, as "quite athwart / Goes all decorum," and liberty takes control over justice. The Duke seems to believe that Angelo is better suited to restoring this virtue, as an individual not as entrenched in the political customs of the last few years. 

But perhaps we cannot believe the Duke's description completely. He only describes his city in these flawed terms after the friar questions the Duke's intentions, making the Duke defensively claim that he has "a purpose / More grave and wrinkled than the aims and ends / Of burning youth." In the Duke's depiction of Vienna, we do, however, have a portrait of a city which plays out of many of the play's overall concerns: sin versus vice, romantic and familial bonds versus isolation, and collective versus individual action.

Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

The Duke is very strangely gone from hence;
Bore many gentlemen (myself being one)
In hand, and hope of action; but we do learn
By those that know the very nerves of state,
His givings-out were of an infinite distance
From his true-meant design. Upon his place,
And with full line of his authority,
Governs Lord Angelo, a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense;
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind: study and fast.
He (to give fear to use and liberty,
Which have for long run by the hideous law,
As mice by lions) hath pick’d out an act,
Under whose heavy sense your brother’s life
Falls into forfeit; he arrests him on it,
And follows close the rigor of the statute,
To make him an example.

Related Characters: Lucio (speaker), The Duke, Angelo
Page Number: 1.4.54-72
Explanation and Analysis:

After we see the Duke disguise himself as a friar, Lucio goes to Claudio's sister Isabella, another individual who is only partially a member of the clergy. Isabella is in the process of becoming an authentic nun, however, so she acts as a model of piety and goodness. To Isabella, Lucio summarizes the situation so far: the Duke has left "very strangely" and mysteriously (disguising his "true-meant design") and his replacement, Angelo, has already sentenced Claudio to death for his generally minor offense of impregnating his betrothed Julia. 

Lucio echoes Claudio's conviction that human actors in command arbitrarily and unfairly use their own liberty to pick (or "pluck") sinful individuals. Then, these authoritative actors punish their chosen sinners, removing their sinners' liberty to "make" their sinners "an example" for the broader community. He also further characterizes Angelo, the figure who represents this flawed form of justice, as a man without spontaneous  human feelings. Angelo seems to be a man driven only by law and reason, instead of the variations and ambiguities of human passion.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

What’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid more thousand deaths; yet death we fear
That makes these odds all even.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.40-43
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duke, disguised as a friar, appears to Claudio in prison to provide him with counsel. After asking Claudio whether he hopes for pardon, and hearing that Claudio does indeed remain in hope to some extent, the Duke advocates that Claudio should lose all hope and "be absolute for death." The Duke labels life as a gift that "none but fools would keep" and details life's unpleasant contradictions (that young men desire riches and old men cannot derive pleasure from the riches that they have). Again we see the darker nature of this comedy. 

The Duke's description of life's many hidden deaths also recalls this play's tension between appearance and reality. The Duke does not suggest what exactly constitutes the "more thousand deaths" of life. Yet we might believe that these deaths-in-miniature are the consequences of pretense; they slowly accrue over one's life, as one adopts different identifies, leaving each personality and experience behind, and fails to see one's internal desires and motivations gain external representation.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Twice treble shame on Angelo,
To weed my vice, and let his grow!
O, what may man within him hide,
Though angel on the outward side!
How may likeness made in crimes,
Making practice on the times,
To draw with idle spiders’ strings
Most ponderous and substantial things!
Craft against vice I must apply.
With Angelo tonight shall lie
His old betrothed (but despised);
So disguise shall by th’ disguised
Pay with falsehood false exacting,
And perform an old contracting.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker), Angelo, Mariana
Page Number: 3.2.269-282
Explanation and Analysis:

After craftily conversing with characters through his disguise a friar, the Duke utters this soliloquy on false virtue. He focuses on Angelo's crimes, without considering the hypocrisy of his own deception and the way he is hiding his own truth underneath his priestly appearance. 

Here, the Duke also attempts to offer a solution to this play's problem of false appearances. He suggests that "craft against vice I must apply" -- supposedly, wit and intelligent plans might be enough to conquer the sin which grows when men use false "angel" appearances to hide their inner vice. The Duke's plans noticeably use their own form of false appearances, though; he will disguise Mariana, Angelo's own abandoned betrothed, so Angelo believes she is Isabella. Here, the Duke is harnessing female sexuality for his own uses.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

Nor, gentle daughter, fear you not at all.
He is your husband on a pre-contract:
To bring you thus together ’tis no sin,
Sith that the justice of your title to him
Doth flourish the deceit. Come, let us go,
Our corn’s to reap, for yet our tithe’s to sow.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker), Mariana
Related Symbols: “Measure for Measure”
Page Number: 4.1.78-83
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Duke encourages Mariana to follow his plan, he uses the language of sin and virtue to appease any doubts or concern she might have. He tells Mariana to "fear ... not" because sexual intercourse with Angelo is supposedly not sinful; Angelo "is" Mariana's husband, at least "on a pre-contrast." This social relationship is, however, remarkably similar to that between Isabella and Claudio, who were also betrothed to marry. This underscores the ways that laws, and rules become altered and rewritten in the changeable social sphere of Measure for Measure. The Duke appeals to the "justice" of this social relationship and social contract as a reason that Mariana could have intercourse with Angelo without being sinful. Then, he closes the scene with a typical rhyming couplet, again alluding to the idea of "measure for measure," and seemingly unconcerned by the moral ambiguity his comment is creating. 

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

The tongue of Isabel. She’s come to know
If yet her brother’s pardon be come hither.
But I will keep her ignorant of her good,
To make her heavenly comforts of despair,
When it is least expected.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker), Isabella, Claudio
Page Number: 4.3.115-119
Explanation and Analysis:

The Duke makes this comment as his plan is rapidly developing. Although a fellow prisoner Barnadine is refusing to die in Claudio's stead, a pirate Ragozine, who has recently died, looked similar enough to Claudio that his head can be sent to Angelo instead of Claudio's. The Duke is relieved by this lucky event, but decides that he will allow Isabel to believe that her brother has truly died, keeping her "ignorant of her good," as God might keep an individual briefly unaware of a lucky turn of fate. This situation reveals the Duke's power; it emphasizes his omnipresence and ability to choose how he shares his knowledge with others.

Yet, his decision seems to derive more from a calculating will than from a beneficent spirit. He is intentionally allowing Isabella to suffer for the sake of his own whims. She might certainly draw closer to God from this situation, making "heavenly comforts of despair," but the Duke is also being duplicitous and manipulative. Yet again, his plan involves controlling a virtuous woman. It is left ambiguous whether the Duke is here acting more as a friar or as a friar-in-disguise -- he acts concerned with Isabella's spiritual life, but also seems to want to draw out the suspense of her ignorance in order to create more drama for his own enjoyment.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

By mine honesty,
If she be mad, as I believe no other,
Her madness hath the oddest frame of sense,
Such a dependancy of thing on thing,
As e’er I heard in madness.

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker), Isabella
Page Number: 5.1.68-72
Explanation and Analysis:

The play's final scene opens by the city gates, with Isabella accusing Angelo to the Duke Vicentio, as the Duke himself (disguised in friar form) earlier bid her. Angelo attempts to suggest that Isabella is mad, but Isabella relies upon this play's tension between appearance and reality to make clear her sanity (and Angelo's guilt): "even so may Angelo, / In all his dressings, characters, titles, forms, / Be an arch-villain." This explanation seems to satisfy the Duke, who is no stranger to deception, as he himself was in costume throughout the play (except for the very first and very last scenes).

Of course, the Duke does not actually need this explanation, as he has manufactured Isabella's petition and earlier told her what to say. In this scene, the Duke is engaging in a deception of his own once again here; his vow "by mine honesty" does not signify much.

For this new-married man approaching here,
Whose salt imagination yet hath wrong’d
Your well-defended honor, you must pardon
For Mariana’s sake; but as he adjudg’d your brother—
Being criminal, in double violation
Of sacred chastity and of promise-breach,
Thereon dependant, for your brother’s life—
The very mercy of the law cries out
Most audible, even from his proper tongue,
“An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!”
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure.
Then, Angelo, thy fault’s thus manifested;
Which though thou wouldst deny, denies thee vantage.
We do condemn thee to the very block
Where Claudio stoop’d to death, and with like haste.
Away with him!

Related Characters: The Duke (speaker), Isabella, Claudio, Angelo, Mariana
Related Symbols: “Measure for Measure”
Page Number: 5.1.455-475
Explanation and Analysis:

The irony of the play is fully revealed on stage, by the city gates; the Duke openly states that Angelo has indeed committed the same crime for which he sentenced Claudio to death. And so, according to the "eye for an eye" (or, "Measure still for Measure") notion of retributive justice, Angelo should be condemned to death as well, receiving the same judgment that he doled out to others. It is no accident that the Duke, who has manufactured the play's entire plot, here reveals its fundamental irony. The Duke also seems to advocate for its "Measure for Measure" brand of justice. According to the Duke, it is "the very mercy of the law" which cries of "Measure for Measure"; he even curiously associates the term mercy with retributive justice. As we know well, however, the Duke's words are not always what they may seem to be. He is not actually planning to kill Angelo for this "fault," but he can exercise his power and momentarily pretend that he will carry out this threat. 

Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging.

Related Characters: Lucio (speaker), The Duke
Page Number: 5.1.596-597
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly before the play ends, the Duke orders Lucio to marry the prostitute ("punk") whom he impregnated. This is how the Duke chooses to punish Lucio for speaking so slanderously about the Duke while the Duke was absent -- or so Lucio thought. (Of course, the prostitute herself never appears, and her feelings on the matter aren't considered.) Thus we end the play with sex and the law entwined, just as we began the play with Claudio being punished according the law because of his sexual "deviance." Here, a character is also being forced to confront a consequence for associating with prostitutes. Prostitution, a continuous undercurrent of the play, is now brought into contact with the Duke's public and authoritative proclamations.

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The Duke Character Timeline in Measure for Measure

The timeline below shows where the character The Duke appears in Measure for Measure. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Liberty and Justice Theme Icon
Agency and Society Theme Icon
The Duke of Vienna speaks with a nobleman, Escalus, about his plan to leave another nobleman, Lord... (full context)
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Liberty and Justice Theme Icon
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The Duke leaves, saying he does not enjoy the formal, public aspects of his authority. Afterwards, Escalus... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Virtue Theme Icon
Lucio, a flashy bachelor, and two other gentlemen discuss an international political development: the Duke appears to be in peace talks with the King of Hungary. The two gentlemen disapprove,... (full context)
Virtue Theme Icon
Liberty and Justice Theme Icon
...who might have sex out of wedlock. Lucio agrees and recommends that Claudio seek the Duke's reprieve. However, Claudio responds that he has tried, but the Duke is nowhere to be... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
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The Duke speaks with Friar Thomas at a monastery to request "secret harbour." He explains that he... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Virtue Theme Icon
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...Isabella asks why the couple does not marry, Lucio tells her that they would, however Duke has been temporarily replaced by cold, cerebral Angelo. Claudio is to be made into an... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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The Duke, disguised in his friar costume, goes to the jail. There, he asks the Provost for... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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At the prison, the Duke, still disguised as a friar, asks Claudio if he hopes for a pardon from Angelo.... (full context)
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Isabella arrives to speak with Claudio. The Duke asks the Provost to take him to a spot where he can eavesdrop on the... (full context)
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As Claudio pleads with his sister, the Duke emerges from his hiding spot, still in disguise as a friar. He tells Isabella that... (full context)
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Claudio leaves, and the disguised Duke asks the Provost to leave also so that he can speak with Isabella in private.... (full context)
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The Duke tells Isabella that she will not succeed by denouncing Angelo publicly; instead, he proposes a... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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Outside the prison, the Duke, still disguised, speaks with Elbow and other constables who have detained Pompey. He asks Elbow... (full context)
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When Pompey is escorted away by the officers, Lucio asks the Duke, whom he thinks is merely a friar, if there is any recent news of the... (full context)
Virtue Theme Icon
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...Angelo is so uncompromising that he would see Claudio executed merely for sexual deviance. The Duke, Lucio maintains, would not issue such a punishment, because he was said to be familiar... (full context)
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The Duke replies indignantly that Lucio is mistaken; he asks for Lucio’s name and says that he... (full context)
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Escalus and the disguised Duke exchange greetings. The Duke asks Escalus about what the Duke was like, and Escalus replies... (full context)
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Escalus and the Provost leave. Alone, the Duke delivers a soliloquy condemning Angelo’s shameful behavior. The Duke promises to use craftiness and disguise... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
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The Duke finds Mariana at her home, and Isabella arrives there soon after. Isabella relays that Angelo... (full context)
Virtue Theme Icon
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The Duke introduces Mariana and Isabella and the two outline their plan off-stage. When the two return,... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
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...warrant for his execution in the morning and tells the condemned man to prepare. The Duke, in disguise, enters the prison and asks if anyone has visited that evening. The Provost... (full context)
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...sent to Angelo by five o’clock. The Provost promises to fulfill this charge, and the Duke privately laments Angelo’s duplicity. The Duke then asks who Barnadine is, and the Provost tells... (full context)
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The Duke tells the Provost that he looks like an honorable man, and asks him to do... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
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The Provost reveals to the Duke that a “notorious pirate,” of similar age and appearance to Claudio, has died in the... (full context)
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Isabella arrives and asks if Claudio’s pardon has been delivered. The Duke answers that Claudio’s head has already been sent to Angelo. Isabella rages, and the Duke... (full context)
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Lucio enters and tells Isabella he is grieving for her brother. The Duke, Lucio claims, would not have executed him. The disguised Duke again protests Lucio’s mischaracterizations of... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
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In Angelo’s house, Angelo and Escalus review the letter from the Duke. The Duke’s erratic correspondences make Angelo worry that the Duke may have lost his mind.... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
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Outside town, the undisguised Duke meets with Friar Peter. He gives the friar letters to deliver and asks him to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 6
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...reluctant to speak her complaint against Angelo, but Mariana urges her to follow the disguised Duke’s instructions. Isabella says that the disguised Duke warned her that the Duke might initially side... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
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A group of lords and townspeople is assembled at the city gates. The Duke enters, greets Angelo and Escalus, and thanks them for their service. Friar Peter brings Isabella... (full context)
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Isabella continues to protest. The Duke then remarks that Isabella’s madness seems strangely reasonable, and asks her to voice her accusation.... (full context)
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Isabella sticks to her story, and the Duke orders her sent to prison. Before she is sent away, the Duke asks her if... (full context)
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Friar Peter comes forward and agrees with the Duke that Isabella is lying. The Duke inquires if he is familiar with Friar Lodowick, and... (full context)
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...by guards, and Mariana comes forward as a witness. She wears a veil, which the Duke asks her to remove. She replies that she will only show her face when bidden... (full context)
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Angelo, scandalized, asks Mariana to show her face, and she complies. The Duke asks Angelo if he recognizes her, and Angelo tells the story of their engagement, attesting... (full context)
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Escalus summons Isabella and, at Lucio’s suggestion, questions her in private. The Duke, back in his friar’s disguise, then reappears with the Provost. Escalus asks the disguised Duke... (full context)
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The Duke asks that Friar Peter, Mariana, and Isabella be released from custody and requests that Lucio... (full context)
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Angelo, newly-married, returns, and the Duke proclaims that he shall be executed in Claudio’s place, as “measure still for measure.” Mariana,... (full context)
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The Duke does not respond to the women’s requests, and instead asks the Provost why Claudio was... (full context)