Measure for Measure

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Themes and Colors
Virtue Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Liberty and Justice Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Measure for Measure, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Liberty and Justice Theme Icon

Given the way that appearances and realities are reconciled at the play's conclusion, it is appropriate that justice is a main theme of the work. "Measure for measure" itself refers to the inevitable carrying out of justice: people get what they deserve. The play's conclusion is so satisfying because it rectifies the rampant injustice that preceded and rewards or punishes each character according to his or her moral worth.

This typical poetic justice, however, is complicated by the way Shakespeare manipulates the concept of liberty. Liberty is, of course, an indispensable component of justice, but the play emphasizes that excessive freedom can often foster injustice. The duke observes that in his debauched territory, "liberty plucks justice by the nose." When Lucio asks Claudio what has caused his arrest, Claudio replies that his lack of restraint stems "From too much surfeit is the father of much fast, so every scope by the immoderate use turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue, like rats that ravin down their proper bane, a thirsty evil; and when we drink we die." There is no better illustration than Angelo of the corrupting power of excessive liberty. When his position of power allows him to pursue the "thirsty evil" that he desires, he, despite his misgivings, proceeds to pursue Isabella while running roughshod over the rights of others. And because justice is inevitable, his drink of this evil is what causes him to be brought to justice and punished at the play's end.

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Liberty and Justice Quotes in Measure for Measure

Below you will find the important quotes in Measure for Measure related to the theme of Liberty and Justice.
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 2 Quotes

Thus can the demigod, Authority,
Make us pay down for our offense by weight
The words of heaven: on whom it will, it will;
On whom it will not, so; yet still ’tis just.

Related Characters: Claudio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.116-117
Explanation and Analysis:

As Claudio enters the stage, he is being taken to prison slowly and publicly. This is supposedly happening under Angelo's specific commands, as the provost tells Claudio when Claudio begins to (perhaps rightly) complain about this. Therefore, Claudio is being thoroughly and publicly punished for having sexual intercourse with his betrothed Juliet because of Angelo's whim and decision.

Claudio protests the societal structures which bestow "Authority" on such individuals and allow capricious human actors to (try their best to) enforce the "the words of heaven" and heaven's infallible decrees. When human figures such as Angelo make the determinations, only some guilty individuals receive punishment; the decisions of heaven are only ever partially fulfilled. According to much of the world, though, "still 'tis just" -- this partial form of heavenly justice, which is mediated by the "demigod Authority" and lower human characters, largely seems to be a fair system, rooted in justice. Claudio can see its flaws, though, from his current position outside of the system. Claudio is being forced to "pay" for his sins, and here we again see this blending of justice and monetary circulation.

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 2, Scene 1 Quotes

We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.1-4
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play's second act opens, Angelo closely echoes the Duke's supposed reason for placing him in charge of Vienna. He describes the difficulties of enforcing laws and decrees; these rules become a mere empty framework, an impotent "scarecrow," unless human individuals are able to actively enforce them. Angelo seems willing to carry out this enforcing and ensure that "custom" does not continue to stray far from legalistic action. Angelo suggests that he will place law over mercy and reason over spontaneous human passion. This declaration is unsurprising given the prior events of the play, yet it will itself become a "scarecrow" in the upcoming act. 

Ay, but yet
Let us be keen, and rather cut a little,
Than fall, and bruise to death.

Related Characters: Escalus (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.5-7
Explanation and Analysis:

After Angelo declares that he will enforce justice, striving against sinful "custom" and ensuring that the very letter of the law is carried out, Escalus takes an antagonistic approach to this idea. Escalus advocates for mercy, suggesting that law enforcement must be balanced with forgiveness and care paid to each individual case. There is more to consider than an individual's actions; intention and internal development are significant as well. 

This exchange between Angelo and Escalus reminds us that Measure for Measure deals with intellectual tensions and philosophical issues as well as the struggles and successes of individual characters. As a "problem play," it is a comedy with intellectual force in addition to its romantic conventions and devices (which have not yet appeared in the play). As such, it does not let Escalus's comment rest without a response. Angelo immediately replies.

'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall. I not deny
The jury, passing on the prisoner’s life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try. What’s open made to justice,
That justice seizes. What knows the laws
That thieves do pass on thieves? ’Tis very pregnant,
The jewel that we find, we stoop and take’t,
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon, and never think of it.
You may not so extenuate his offense
For I have had such faults; but rather tell me,
When I, that censure him, do so offend,
Let mine own judgment pattern out my death,
And nothing come in partial.

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), Claudio, Escalus
Page Number: 2.1.18-2.1.33
Explanation and Analysis:

Angelo's reply to Escalus's suggestion for greater mercy and forgiveness becomes a detailed unpacking of many tensions. We are introduced to the notion that temptation and sin are two separate phenomena; again the inconsistencies between the internal and the external figure prominently. Angelo also directly addresses the prevailing concern that justice can only be partial and humans cannot punish all sinners, in order to fully act out heaven's rulings. To Angelo, this is certainly reality. Yet, he suggests that individuals who enforce justice are duty-bound to punish all sins which are revealed. Although a human society cannot fully act out heaven's justice, it can fully act out its own to the best of its abilities. It can fully enforce all wrongdoings it sees, undiluted by merciful tendencies, so that it completely acts out its own justice and "nothing" will "come in partial."

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Because authority, though it err like others,
Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself,
That skins the vice o’ th’ top. Go to your bosom,
Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know
That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess
A natural guiltiness such as is his,
Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue
Against my brother’s life.

Related Characters: Isabella (speaker), Claudio, Angelo
Page Number: 2.2.164-171
Explanation and Analysis:

As Isabella pleads her brother's case to Angelo, she begs Angelo to be merciful, but not always using wholly religious words such as mercy and forgiveness. Fittingly, she is the figure which reminds Angelo of his heart; she will again unintentionally do this when she unwittingly inspires Angelo to fall in love (or at least lust) with her. Though she is the individual with the most virtue, Isabella claims that Angelo also has a kind of virtue, a "kind of medicine" within himself. He can choose to refrain from making harsh choices. 

Isabella asks Angelo to recall his own "natural guiltiness" and past transgressions. She introduces the notions of human experience and emotion -- passion, frailty, and reality -- as she virtuously pleads for mercy in her brother's case.

O cunning enemy, that to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook! Most dangerous
Is that temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue. Never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigor, art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite.

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), Isabella
Page Number: 2.2.217-223
Explanation and Analysis:

After Isabella begs him to reconsider, and spare her brother's life, Angelo confronts his sudden passionate attraction to her. The tensions of the play begin to unravel; Angelo contemplates his lust "to sin in loving virtue" and claims that the "cunning enemy" uses "saints" to fulfill his aims. Sin and virtue become hopelessly entangled, as the "virtuous maid" incites him to the very acts which Claudio committed, and for which Angelo condemned him.

Another contrast, that between reason and human impulse, becomes a flawed binary as well. Angelo has been our character of the law, our strict dictator who seems to wholly lack human passion. Yet he is the character who becomes infatuated so immediately, in an event which any reasonable individual would think could "never" occur. 

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Look, here comes one; a gentlewoman of mine,
Who, falling in the flaws of her own youth,
Hath blister’d her report. She is with child,
And he that got it, sentenc’d; a young man
More fit to do another such offense
Than die for this.

Related Characters: The Provost (speaker), Claudio, Juliet
Page Number: 2.3.10-15
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Duke comes to visit the prisoners in his friar disguise, the Provost introduces him to Juliet, revealing his personal sympathy for her plight. When he mentions how Juliet is pregnant, the Provost also shares the fate of her lover Claudio. These two lovers tend to be defined in relation to one another -- one of their crimes is easily explained by the other's crime -- and this suggests the way that one person's actions never exist in a vacuum, and thus one can never be completely culpable. It also suggests, however, that Claudio is more responsible than Juliet; he is to be killed immediately, and she is not.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Heaven hath my empty words,
Whilst my invention, hearing not my tongue,
Anchors on Isabel; heaven in my mouth,
As if I did but only chew his name,
And in my heart the strong and swelling evil
Of my conception. The state, whereon I studied,
Is like a good thing, being often read,
Grown sere and tedious; yea, my gravity,
Wherein (let no man hear me) I take pride,
Could I, with boot, change for an idle plume,
Which the air beats for vain. O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming!

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), Isabella
Page Number: 2.4.2-15
Explanation and Analysis:

Struck by Isabel, Angelo's distracted, guilty prayers do not fulfill their function and connect him to heaven. In this soliloquy, which Angelo utters as he is alone on the stage, Angelo becomes curiously close to Claudius in Hamlet, whose prayers did not reach heaven as well. Angelo only intends to experience sexual intercourse with Isabel, and only intends to kill Claudio, yet Angelo's speech here links him to Claudius -- the character in Hamlet who did have sexual intercourse with Gertrude and did kill the former King of Denmark, all while lamenting his own guilt as Angelo does here. This alludes to the darker nature of Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's final and darkest comedy. 

Angelo is now painfully aware of his heart -- but he is only aware of his impending vices, instead of his former transgressions (the acts which Isabella suggested that he should remember). He now must confront the central dualities of the play and decide whether he will act out his own impulses or act in service of his society's justice. He must decide whether he will maintain the pretense of a wholly reasonable and just individual or allow himself to reveal his newly emotional internal experiences.

Might there not be a charity in sin
To save this brother's life?

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), Isabella, Claudio
Page Number: 2.4.67-68
Explanation and Analysis:

As Angelo attempts to convince Isabella to commit herself to sexual intercourse with him, he suggests that he would spare her brother if Isabella offers herself to him in this way. Before, Angelo expressed in speech the new entanglements between good and evil, virtue and vice, and appearance and reality; now, his actions (in his attempts to convince Isabella to engage in sexual actions with him) attest to these as well. 

Angelo suggests that, as a virtuous woman, Isabella has much to offer. She could choose to selfishly preserve it, until she fully commits to the nunnery and offers it to God, or she could use it to save her brother. Isabella could condemn her own soul through intercourse outside of wedlock, or she could condemn herself in order to un-condemn her brother. This suggestion does not merely use female virginity as a bartering tool; it suggests that moral depravity and consequence is transferable between individuals more broadly. Virtue and vice is entrenched in social networks and exchanges, as well as custom and law. The significance of the title "Measure for Measure" begins to become clearer, even as the moral compass of the play grows more confused. 

Better it were a brother died at once,
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die forever.

Related Characters: Isabella (speaker), Claudio
Page Number: 2.4.114-116
Explanation and Analysis:

To Isabella, moral consequences are not easily transferred among individuals, as Angelo now suggests they are. She is not merely entrenched in systems of circulation and exchange; she is also dedicated to particular religious tenants. According to her Christian beliefs, the life of one's soul is far more important than the life of one's physical body. Thus it would be better for her brother to physically die than for her to spiritually die, thus condemning herself to an eternity in Hell.

Isabella is repulsed to the suggestion that saving her brother's life would justify losing her virginity. Her sexual purity is an intrinsic aspect of herself which, lost, would alter her beyond measure. 

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

O, were it but my life,
I’d throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin.

Related Characters: Isabella (speaker), Claudio
Page Number: 3.1.117-119
Explanation and Analysis:

As Isabella speaks to Claudio in prison, she reveals that Angelo has offered to spare Claudio's life if Isabella will have sex with him. Claudio's immediate response is to state that Isabella will not "do't" -- she will not sacrifice her virginity for her brother's life. Isabella feelingly agrees, claiming that she would "throw it [life] down" "as frankly as a pin" in order to save her brother. Once again she values the soul far more than the body. Further, she only implies that she will not even consider saving her brother through having sex. This hesitancy to even speak directly about this topic suggests the layers of privacy and secrecy which surround female sexuality and religious chastity.

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling—’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

Related Characters: Claudio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.133-147
Explanation and Analysis:

As Claudio speaks with his sister in his jail, he seems somewhat more than willing to die, when he claims "If I must die, / I will encounter darkness as a bride, / And hug it in mine arms." Similarly, he initially does not oppose Isabella's desire to stay pure instead of sacrificing her virginity for his life. 

Yet his resolve then becomes plagued by fear. "Death is a fearful thing," he first says, briefly, before continuing in this more fervent speech. Although we might associate the tragedy Hamlet more with death, here we briefly escape the worldly nature of this play, which focuses on the competing interests of human passions and reasons, and dwell upon the landscape of death. There is no one analogy that Claudio can use to describe it; Claudio cannot know death, and this mystery leads to his fear. His fear projects through the words, making this speech a passionate plea for his life. Through these attempts to describe death, Claudio attempts to reach through his sister's convictions. 

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Why, what a ruthless thing is this in him, for the rebellion of a codpiece to take away the life of a man!

Related Characters: Lucio (speaker), Claudio, Angelo
Page Number: 3.2.115-117
Explanation and Analysis:

Lucio asks the Duke (who is disguised as a friar) for news about the Duke, and the "friar" declines to provide any, claiming that he knows nothing of the Duke's recent affairs. Lucio then details how Angelo had been acting in the Duke's absence -- that is, ruthlessly-- and indulges in the common speculation that Angelo is not an ordinary mortal and thus not susceptible to the lusts common to flesh-and-blood humans. Lucio exclaims that there is a "ruthless thing" in Angelo ("in him") which inspires this lack of mercy, this hardness towards the baser impulses and actions that are spurred by female sexuality (or innocence, in the case of Isabella). The "rebellion of a codpiece" here jokingly refers to male genitalia and its tendency to lead men into trouble -- something usually knowingly winked at and pardoned in a patriarchal society, but here inexplicably punished. Thus Angelo's judgment against Claudio is not just seen as a harsh punishment, but as an attack upon the worldview that allows sexuality (particularly male sexuality) to exist in a vague no-man's-land, universally known to all but outside of society's direct acknowledgement and condemnation.

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 4 Quotes

But that her tender shame
Will not proclaim against her maiden loss,
How might she tongue me! Yet reason dares her no,
For my authority bears of a credent bulk,
That no particular scandal once can touch
But it confounds the breather. He should have liv’d,
Save that his riotous youth with dangerous sense
Might in the times to come have ta’en revenge,
By so receiving a dishonor’d life
With ransom of such shame. Would yet he had liv’d!
Alack, when once our grace we have forgot,
Nothing goes right—we would, and we would not.

Related Characters: Angelo (speaker), Isabella
Page Number: 4.4.25-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Angelo and Escalus discuss the Duke's letter, which, written as the Duke, asks them to meet him at the gates of Vienna and to order citizens with complaints to present petitions on the street of the city. At the street, the common crossing-place of nuns, dukes, prostitutes -- all individuals -- the play's events promise to reveal themselves.

After Escalus leaves, though, Angelo stops describing his confusion over the Duke's orders and instead provides this soliloquy about his own actions. His (supposed) sexual experience with Isabella weighs heavily on him; in his guilt, Angelo fears that Isabella might speak out against him (although he even thinks about this in a sexual way). Yet he placates himself convincingly, arguing that the solidity of his own reputation, gender, and social rank will protect him from any possible accusations she could present. He still has the appearance of a sinless man, although he believes he is merely another sinner -- like Claudio, the man he believes he condemned to death (and now regrets). Angelo is entrenched in misconceptions; he believes he has killed Claudio and taken Isabella's virginity, which gives deeper meaning to his statement "we would, and we would not."

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.