Character Directory

DUKE VINCENTIO

Duke Vincentio is the ruler of Vienna. The Duke, who appoints the stem Angelo as his deputy and then spies on his performance, personifies a major theme of the play: the relationship of government to Christian doctrines of forgiveness and mercy. The Duke's government has been lax, as he admits to the Friar in 1.3, but in designating Angelo to restore a strict public morality he errs to the opposite extreme. His deputy is incapable of applying the law flexibly, and the result is a harsh injustice, the death sentence for the honorable Claudio. However, the Duke is intent on personal improvement—Escalus says of him that he 'above all other strifes, contended especially to know himself (3.2.226-227)—and his effort teaches him to acknowledge the need for mercy to counteract human weakness.

Significantly, the Duke's disguise as he investigates Angelo's governance is that of a friar; in adopting a religious role he manifests the God-given authority that Shakespeare and his original audiences ascribed to all rulers. Angelo's lust for Isabella, Claudio's intercessor, produces a seemingly irresolvable conflict. However, the Duke, in his friar's guise, takes over the play and effects two improbable schemes: the substitution of another head for that of the supposedly executed Claudio, and of another woman, Mariana, for Isabella. Having thus negated Angelo's evil intent, the Duke re-emerges, in 5.1, to bring the play to a close in a flurry of pardons and marriages.

Many commentators have found this denouement lacking in credibility, but Shakespeare's purpose was symbolic, and realism should not be expected. The Duke controls the outcome and thus fulfils the ruler's proper role in the play's scheme of things. He offers the mercy of God to the deserving and undeserving alike. It is he who recognizes in Barnadine, the vicious murderer, a mere 'creature unprepar'd' (4.3.66), and he forgives LUCIO his slanders, despite the insult to both his personal pride and his authority. Most important, he proves susceptible to the pleas of Mariana and Isabella for mercy towards the villainous Angelo. Finally, though he has earlier claimed immunity from 'the dribbling dart of love' (1.3.2), he proposes marriage to Isabella. In striking contrast to the negative attitudes of both Angelo and Isabella, early in the play, the Duke underscores Shakespeare's belief in the happy marriages that traditionally close a Comedy.

ANGELO

Angelo is the deputy to the Duke of Vienna and lustful pursuer of Isabella Angelo abuses his office by refusing mercy to Claudio when it is obviously due. Then he attempts to extort sex from Isabella with a promise of a pardon for Claudio. Once he has slept with her (or so he thinks), he goes back on the deal and orders Claudio's execution. Angelo is saved, however, from actually committing these unforgivable deeds by the Duke's machinations—Mariana, whom Angelo had deserted years earlier, replaces Isabella in his bed and, instead of Claudio's head, he is shown that of a criminal who has died naturally. Angelo is himself pardoned at the play's close, as part of its emphasis on forgiveness.

Angelo's criminality is a facet of the play's theme of good government. His downfall results from an excess of zeal. The Duke is too lax, but Angelo errs in the other extreme. At first a righteous public servant—the Duke calls him 'A man of stricture and firm abstinence (1 3.12)—he proves to be unreasonably stern. A grievous injustice, Claudio's death sentence, is the result.  Angelo's rigid personality is seen to be a cause of evil. He ignores pleas for mercy; he is so confident in his own rightness that he never examines his own humanity-a point made by Isabella in 2.2. Blind to human nature, he is not only a bad ruler, he is also incapable of resisting his sudden lust for Isabella. His initial misdeeds lead him further into evil. He sees this himself and cries, 'Alack, when once our grace we have forgot, / Nothing goes right. . .' (4.4.31-32). It is the Duke who saves him from his own intentions and, alter he marries Mariana, he is forgiven by the Duke.

Once Isabella's refusal to meet Angelo's demand has left Claudio facing death, in 3.1, the Duke takes over the play, and Angelo is not seen very much until his conviction and reprieve in 5.1. Because Shakespeare wished to employ the happy ending of traditional COMEDY, he was compelled to abandon the psychological portrait of Angelo, though the fallen deputy remains stern at the close, seeking death rather than marriage and forgiveness. Whether the villain's reduced importance is seen as a flaw in the play or simply as a strategy in the service of a non-realistic end depends on one's view of Measure for Measure, but in any case Angelo remains a powerful creation.

ESCALUS

Escalus is a subordinate to the Duke of Vienna. Escalus is a respected elder—the Duke praises the 'art and practice' of 'Old Escalus' (1.1.12, 45). He is appointed Angelo’s second-in-command in the Duke's absence, and serves as his foil in the play. He consistently advocates mercy for Claudio, in opposition to Angelo's determination to execute the young man for fornication.  Though his pleas are dismissed, he continues to defend the ideal of justice tempered with mercy. On the other hand, in the comical trial scene of 2.1 Escalus represents the opposite failing of government in being too lax when he releases the pander Pompey with a warning—one for which the pimp has no respect.  This produces the anomaly that a hardened promoter of prostitution goes unpunished while the honorable Claudio remains under sentence of death. Escalus contrasts with Angelo in another respect: he is true to his duty while the Duke's deputy is corrupted by his lust for Isabella. Though he disagrees with Angelo's severity towards Claudio, he limits his resistance to argument and makes no effort to forestall the decision of his superior officer. The Duke recognizes his devotion to duty at the play's close. Escalus' chief function is to serve as a symbol of both dutiful submission and kindness.

CLAUDIO

Claudio is  a condemned prisoner and brother of Isabella. Claudio has impregnated Juliet out of wedlock, and has been condemned to death, under an antiquated law, by Angelo, the deputy of the Duke of Vienna.  This is the basic situation from which the play's central conflict arises—Angelo's demand of sex from Isabella in exchange for Claudio's life. Claudio's intentions are clearly honorable, however; he wants only to marry Juliet. Their sexual relations would have been perfectly legal but for a delay in marriage arrangements, and his condemnation is an evil excess on Angelo's part, as all the other characters agree.

Claudio's situation is a result of the Duke's lax regime in Vienna. Despite his aristocratic upbringing, the young man is familiar with the bordello world of Lucio, Pompey, and Mistress Overdone, from whom we first learn of his plight, in 1.2. We recognize the stereotype of an immature young man in bad company, and we are not surprised that his ascetic sister is disappointed in him when his fear of death overcomes his sense of nobility. The moving passage in which he begs her to accommodate Angelo begins, 'to die, and go we know not where' (3.1.117). His reaction is touchingly human and we do not share Isabella's hysterical condemnation; the episode helps us realize that she is, in her way, as extreme as Angelo. Claudio's moral character is favorably compared with Angelo's in the contrast between his loving relationship with Juliet and Angelo's desertion of Mariana. 

LUCIO

Lucio is a dissolute gentleman who befriends the condemned Claudio and slanders the Duke of Vienna of Vienna. Although, as Claudio's friend, Lucio supports Isabella in her encounters with the obsessively strict official, Angelo, he is nonetheless an unsavory character. He maliciously defames the Duke and callously admits to having abandoned a pregnant woman; that he is forgiven his crimes in the end is an important part of the play's emphasis on the value of forgiveness.

We first see Lucio in 1.2, jesting lewdly about venereal disease with his friends (see Gentlemen. A customer of the bordello run by Mistress Overdone and Pompey, Lucio represents the degenerate life that has flourished in Vienna because of the Duke's lax regime. He is not without good qualities, however.   In standing by Isabella, in 2.2 and 2.4, he seems a positive figure, but beginning in 3.2 he takes on another aspect. He flippantly refuses to help Pompey avoid imprisonment, and Mistress Overdone declares that he has informed on her; these episodes make us realize that Lucio's Vienna is an ugly one. In 3.2 and 4.3 Lucio amuses himself by making up the libelous stories about the Duke for which he is punished in 5.1. He does not realize that the 'friar' with whom he converses is the disguised ruler himself.  While Lucio's slanderous lies are plainly malicious, he seems funny, not evil, to modern sensibilities. But abuse of a ruler—believed to be appointed by God to maintain order in society—was a much more serious matter in Shakespeare's day than in our own, and Lucio's offence, although comical, is decidedly criminal. 17th-century audiences would not have been surprised by the severity of the Duke's proposed punishment: 'Let him be whipp'd and hang'd' (5.1.511).  Nevertheless, Lucio remains wittily uncompromising at the end. This testifies to Shakespeare's sympathy with the rebellious individual, even in a play which stresses the importance of authority and the values of society at large.

Gentlemen

Gentleman are the friends of Lucio. The Gentlemen appear briefly in 1.2 where they help establish the ambience of the play's subplot, the atmosphere of  vice and degradation amid good spirits that characterizes the underworld of Vienna. They are soldiers who callously regret the prospects of peace and go on to jest about venereal disease, especially when Mistress Overdone appears. The Gentlemen have no distinct personalities and are not distinguishable from each other. After this brief scene they disappear from the play.

Provost

Provost is the warden of the prison in which Claudio is jailed. From his first appearance-when he exposes Claudio to public humiliation at the orders of Angelo but declares ‘I do it not in evil disposition' (1.2.110)—we see the Provost to be a kind and honorable man. He pleads with Angelo to be merciful towards Claudio and clearly presents a sensible view of the young man's offence thereby emphasizing Angelo's extremism.  Nevertheless, the Provost is prepared to do the duty of his office and oversee the young man's execution.  In this way, he offers a contrast to the moral laxity that created the problem in the first place.  In a telling episode the Provost demonstrates Shakespeare s position that social order has a high value. This clearly sympathetic character who obviously favors mercy for Claudio nevertheless resists the attempts of the disguised Duke to find a way to save the young man until the Duke produces letters that reveal his authority. Then, supported by the knowledge that he will not be opposing the ruler-Shakespeare and his original audiences believed that rulers were appointed by God—he can enthusiastically help. 

FRIAR PETER
Friar is the helper of the Duke of Vienna. In 1.3 the Duke asks the Friar to disguise him as another friar so that he can return to Vienna incognito and observe the administration of his deputy, Angelo
FRIAR THOMAS

In 4.5 the Duke revisits the Friar, who assists in his plans to expose the misconduct of Angelo, and in 4.6 the Friar escorts Isabella and Marianna as part of those plans. Finally, in 5.1 he introduces the two women as witnesses to Angelo's evil doings. Though the Duke speaks of him in 1.3 as an intimate friend, the relationship is not developed and the Friar serves merely to further the plot.

The Friar is named Thomas in the stage direction at the beginning of 1.3, but the name is never used elsewhere, and in a later appearance he is named Peter.  Shakespeare—who made such minor slips throughout the plays—apparently gave the Friar a name when he first created him, but then forgot about it before writing Act 4 where he gave him another one. The earliest text of the play, that of the Folio, was printed from a transcription of Shakespeare's manuscript, and his original note was erroneously included.

A Justice

Justice is a magistrate of Vienna. The Justice appears only in 2.1, speaking three lines to his superior, Escalus. This brief exchange serves to remind the audience of the condemned Claudio after the diversion of the long comic trial of Pompey. The Justice and Escalus depart together at the close of the scene.  Some scholars believe that the Justice's absence elsewhere in the play is evidence that it was considerably revised. Another theory supports only a tiny revision, holding that the Justice's lines had originally been written for the Provost, but that in production they had been reassigned. Normal stage practice in Shakespeare's day frowned on an immediate re-entrance after an exit, and since the Provost opens the next scene, he could not close this one by leaving with Escalus. So, possibly, a new character was invented by Shakespeare or someone else. As a matter of economy, the Justice is often cut from modern productions and his lines eliminated or given to the Provost.

VARRIUS

Varrius is a follower of the Duke of Vienna. Varrius is addressed by the Duke in 4.5 and is mentioned in the stage direction opening 5.1, the Duke's formal entry to Vienna, but he does not speak, nor does he appear in the list of characters in the first published text of the play, in the First Folio. Some scholars believe that this is evidence that the play had been cut before it was published. On the other hand, Varrius may be seen as a representative of the Duke's entourage whose tiny part in 4.5 prepares the audience to perceive the Duke's return in 5.1 as a ceremonious occasion.

ELBOW

Elbow is a comic constable of Vienna. Elbow brings Pompey to court, in 2.1, and attempts to prosecute Froth for an unspecified insult to his, Elbow's, wife. However, with his comical mispronunciations and unconscious double meanings he is a stereotypical Clown, and he cannot make a sensible accusation. He is foiled by Pompey's humorous evasions, which result in the dismissal of the case. The episode serves as comic relief from the increasingly tense main plot. It also illustrates vividly the SUB-PLOT'S world of petty vice and crime, standing in striking contrast with the more rigid world of the Duke, Angelo, and Isabella. In 3.2 Elbow has the satisfaction of bringing Pompey to prison, though his triumph is not so humorous as his defeat. Compared to his better-known predecessor Dogberry, Elbow is a less successful version of an ancient character type—the bumbling, foolish constable. His is a familiar figure in traditional English drama: in 2.1.169, Escalus compares Elbow and Pompey to Justice and Iniquity, characters in a Morality Play.

FROTH Froth is a customer of Mistress Overdone's bordello and bar who is arrested by the comical constable, Elbow. In an episode of comic relief, Froth is brought to court along with Mistress Overdone's accomplice, Pompey, in 2.1. Froth says very little and serves only as the subject of the humorous dispute between Elbow and Pompey. Dismissed by the judge Escalus, Froth makes his only substantial remark, a joke that seems to account for his name. He jests that he never enters a tap-room willingly, but is drawn in; a reference to the foam, or froth, 'drawn' by a tapster in the course of serving ale.
POMPEY

Is a pimp for Mistress Overdone is a humorous petty criminal, a representative of the underworld of Vienna, and the major figure in the comic subplot, which contrasts with the main story and offers relief from its tensions. Tried as a procurer by Escalus, in 2.1, he outwits Constable Elbow, who testifies for the prosecution, with long-winded evasions and subtle double entendres. He sassily asks the judge if he intends, through laws against prostitution, 'to geld and splay all the youth of the city' (2.1. 227-228). His bawdy wit makes a mockery of the court, helping to establish that the authority of the Duke has degenerated due to his lax regime. Pompey is eventually jailed in the same prison as Claudio, whose condemnation for illicit sex is at the centre of the main plot's conflict. As assistant to Abhorson, the executioner—a position taken in return for a promise of parole—Pompey continues to jest, and his comedy lightens the oppressive atmosphere as Claudio's execution approaches.

As Escalus observes in 2.1.169, Pompey resembles Iniquity, a character from the medieval Morality Play. He represents a type that was well known, the clownish criminal (he is designated as a Clown throughout the Folio text of the play). A comic subplot featuring a madam and her servant was found by Shakespeare in a principal source for Measure for Measure, George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578), and its appeal was surely immediate for the creator of Falstaff. Pompey's preposterous name was  Shakespeare's invention: an ancient Roman hero, Pompey the Great, is provided with a surname that is slang for buttocks.

ABHORSON

Abhorson is an executioner. Abhorson appears in 4.2, where he undertakes to train the pimp Pompey as his assistant, and in 4.3, where he and Pompey summon the condemned criminal Barnadine to be executed, only to be comically frustrated by the victim's refusal to cooperate.  Abhorson is part of the comic subplot-in 4.2 he drolly claims the status of 'mystery' for his profession—but he serves chiefly to help create the ominous atmosphere of the prison. Abhorson's name, which suggests both the verb 'abhor' and the insulting noun 'whoreson', serves the same two purposes. It conveys clearly the repellent aspects of the man's profession, thereby reinforcing the atmosphere of impending doom that has been established earlier in the play, even as its absurdity helps defuse that tension.

BARNARDINE

Barnardine is a condemned criminal whose undeserved pardon epitomizes the play's theme of unqualified mercy. Barnardine is a comical brute who is 'drunk many times a day, if not many days entirely drunk' (4.2.147-148).  He declares he will not come forward to be executed on the day appointed—when he is to substitute for Claudio—because he has 'been drinking hard all night, and [needs] more time to prepare. . .' (4.3.52-53). The Duke postpones the execution, saying that under the circumstances it could only send the victim to instant damnation, a responsibility the Duke will not take. In 5.1 the ruler pardons Barnardine and remands him into the custody of the Friar as part of the mercy and forgiveness of the play's denouement.  Barnardine is funny in his stubborn refusal to be killed and helps provide relief from the oppressiveness of the prison, where much of the middle of the play is set. Yet he is a callous murderer 'unfit to live or die' (4.3.63). Although Barnardine is specifically designated as a proper subject for execution, he is pardoned as part of the play's final conciliation; his evilness then highlights the magnanimity of the Duke's mercy.

ISABELLA

Isabella Character in Measure/or Measure, a would-be nun and the object of the illicit lust of Angelo.  Isabella pleads with Angelo to pardon her brother Claudio, who has been sentenced to death for sexual immorality; in doing so, she arouses the official's desire, and he demands sex of her in exchange for the pardon. She refuses and asserts that to avoid such a sin is worth a life; she objects hysterically when Claudio begs her to give in. She is, in her strict insistence on morality, as extreme as Angelo was when he sentenced Claudio. She realises her error by the end of the play and requests mercy for Angelo when he is condemned to death by the Duke. Finally, she abandons her earlier intention to become a nun and agrees to marry the Duke, thus bringing about the play's happy ending in marriage, the traditional closing of a Comedy.

Isabella undergoes a great change of heart in the course of the play, for neither acceptance nor leniency seem part other nature at first. Like Angelo, before he succumbs to her beauty, she is strictly insistent on virtue. Not only is she about to enter a nunnery, she regrets that its rules are not strict enough. Like Angelo, she wants to see her own ideals applied to others, 'wishing a more strict restraint / Upon the sisters stood' (1.4.4-5) and demanding that Claudio 'Take my defiance, / [and] Die, perish!' (3.1.142-143).  When she seeks mercy for Claudio, she holds fast to her morals, pleading that the fault be condemned rather than the doer of it. When this fails to work, she goes on to demand that Angelo behave as God would. Her strict attitudes appeal to Angelo's obsessiveness, sparking his lust as no simple offer of a sexual bribe could. Her extremism matches his.

As with other Shakespearean heroines, Isabella's assertiveness is an attractive feature to audiences, but here it is counterproductive and brings nearer the potential tragedy of Claudio's death. This serves, of course, to further the plot, but it also emphasizes an important point: mercy may not be brought about through evil means. If Claudio is to be saved it must be through the action of good, and Isabella, concerned wholly with a rigid sense of morality, cannot provide that action.  Isabella's obsession with her virginity covers her own strong sexuality, which is startingly apparent in her response to Angelo's proposition. She declares that she'd rather die under torture, saying, 'Th'im-pression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies, / And strip myself to death as to a bed / That longing have been sick for . . .' (2.4.101-103). The strength other subconscious passion suggests—as does her assertiveness—that she is not a good candidate for the convent, and at the end of the play when her judgemental attitude has softened, her assent to the Duke's marriage proposal seems appropriate, a step towards fulfillment.

Resolution is only made possible by the substitution of Mariana in the 'bed trick', permitting the entrapment of the villain without compromising the heroine Shakespeare's introduction of this device, which is not present in his sources, suggests his attitude towards Isabella. In the original story, the Angelo figure sleeps with the Isabella figure and then is forced to marry her and restore her honor. However, Angelo and Isabella have been shown in the first halt of the play to be enemies, and their obsessiveness has been presented with powerful realism. Even within the play's aura of forgiveness, these two characters simply cannot be made to accept each other without losing their dramatic power. Mariana therefore replaces Isabella, and a resolution becomes possible. What is more, Isabella participates in the resolution. She makes the arrangements for the assignation with Angelo, though a message would have sufficed, and then tells Mariana of the plot, a task that could have been performed by the Duke. Shakespeare kept Isabella in the action at this point, thus making her an active force.

Most important, Isabella pleads for Angelo. As the Duke points out, 'Her brother's ghost . would . . . take her hence in horror' (5.1.433-434). Isabella's intercession opposes her natural feelings towards Angelo, her intended rapist and the apparent killer of her brother, but she supports Mariana's plea. She argues in rational terms for mercy, in a fashion suited to the case, rather than in the absolute terms in which she had pleaded for Claudio. Isabella is no longer a moral extremist. Perhaps she is under the influence of Mariana's example of love, or perhaps she remembers her claim, in 2.2, that she would be merciful if she had power, or, possibly, she wishes to atone for her willingness to sacrifice Claudio for a principle. Her act flies in the face of common morality with its demand for justice, just as does Christ's command in the Sermon on the Mount to love one's enemies. Isabella has arrived at the giving of a full measure in the spirit of the biblical text that inspired the play's title.

While the play's ending often seems arbitrary to modern readers, its convenient resolution of the impending tragedy was not only perfectly acceptable in Shakespeare's day, it was highly satisfying: the triumph of good, in a clear and traditional manner, gratified the sentimental feelings of audiences. While Isabella is somewhat diminished as a character by her symbolic quality in the play's denouement, she is nonetheless sufficiently well developed to rank among Shakespeare's most interesting heroines.

MARIANA

Mariana is  the abandoned fiancee and eventual wife of Angelo.  By means of the 'bed trick' instituted by the Duke, Mariana replaces Isabella—from whom Angelo has attempted to extort sex—in Angelo's bed. When Angelo's evil is exposed, the Duke orders Angelo to marry Mariana—thereby legitimizing her action—following which he will be executed. Mariana pleads for mercy, convincing Isabella to join her, and the Duke finally relents in the atmosphere of reconciliation and forgiveness that closes the play. Aside from her rather formal melancholy as she pines for Angelo in seclusion when we first meet her, in 4.1, Mariana is not a developed character, though her plea, in 5.1, is touchingly expressive of the play's charitable point of view.  She insists that 'best men are moulded out of faults, /And . . . become much more the better / For being a little bad'(5.1.437-39).

Her plea gives her special significance, for with it she triggers the sequence of pardons and forgiveness that close the play. Perhaps most important, she persuades Isabella to join her. Though Isabella's intercession goes against her natural enmity towards Angelo, she nevertheless proceeds to offer a sensible case for mercy. It is her conversion to this forgiving point of view—one quite removed from her earlier insistence on morality even if it meant the death other brother—that is the play's climax. Mariana's plea is essentially selfish; she wishes to preserve the husband she has so long sought. But Isabella is totally objective, and it is this that makes her action impressive. Only the existence of Mariana as a proper mate for Angelo makes this possible.

No hint of Mariana is to be found in Shakespeare's sources for Measure/or Measure, and the character has particular importance as she is an invention of the playwright that changes the nature of his story in a significant manner. In all of the sources for the play, the Angelo figure successfully extorts sex from the Isabella figure, and then, when exposed, he is forced to marry her. However, in Shakespeare's rendering of the tale, Isabella and Angelo have effectively been presented as intense figures whose opposing psychological strengths make such a union impossible to contemplate. Mariana therefore replaces Isabella. The bed trick, an ancient comedic device that Shakespeare also used in All's Well, accomplishes this end. Isabella is preserved as the virtuous counterpart to Angelo's corruption, and Mariana can influence her towards forgiveness as her rigidity relaxes. The device may seem arbitrary to modern readers—like a deus ex machina, it disposes of the impending tragedy with ease and convenience—but in Shakespeare's day this conclusion was not only perfectly acceptable, it was highly gratifying to the audience's sentimental feelings.

JULIET

Juliet is the pregnant fiancee of Claudio. Claudio's death sentence for having illicit sex with Juliet is the central element of the play's plot, but the young woman is nevertheless a shadowy and undeveloped character.  She speaks in only one of the three scenes in which she appears (2.3), and though she is touching in her combination of repentance and love, she remains a minor figure.  The role of Juliet is small, and this has suggested to some scholars that the play was at some point extensively revised—by Shakespeare or someone else—and her role was awkwardly cut. However, other commentators feel that her function as a pathetic victim is fully realized by her mere presence, and any enlargement of her role would be distracting.

FRANCISCA

Nun Minor is a member of the convent that Isabella intends to join. The Nun appears only briefly, in 1.4, when she listens to Isabella's complaint that the restrictions imposed on the nuns seem insufficient. When she hears Lucio’s voice she asks Isabella to receive him, for she may not speak to a man except in the presence of the prioress and then only while hiding her face; if showing her face, she must be quiet. Having established these regulations for the audience, the Nun disappears from the play; except for a momentary disturbance at the approach of Lucio, she displays only the quiet of the stereotypical nun. The episode illustrates Isabella's extremism, as we see that she is determined to adopt a sterner rule of withdrawal than that required of the Nun.  The Nun is named Francisca (or Francesca) in the stage direction at the beginning of 1.4, but the name is not used thereafter. Scholars believe that Shakespeare named his character when he created her but then never used the name. Its survival in the earliest published text, the First Folio (1623), is viewed as evidence that the printed text came from Shakespeare's manuscript.

MISTRESS OVERDONE

Mistress is the keeper of a bordello in Vienna. Mistress Overdone's principal role is as a stereotypical member of Vienna's underworld, which stands in contrast to the world of the major characters. Her servant Pompey is the most important figure of this comic subplot.  Mistress Overdone is a familiar figure to Lucio and his friends; her entrance inspires each Gentleman to jest about venereal disease, establishing the bawdy, depraved tone of the sub-plot. She also introduces a major element of the main plot when she first appears in 1.2 and tells of the prosecution of Claudio. She is comically presented as a typical innkeeper, worried about business, though this also includes worrying about the government's attempts to fight prostitution.  When she is imprisoned in 3.2 she complains that she has been informed against by Lucio. This reminds us that her world of petty vice is not truly a comic one.  A comic sub-plot featuring a bordello madam and her servant was found by Shakespeare in one of the sources for Measure/or Measure, George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578). However, Shakespeare invented the preposterous names they bear in his play, Mistress Overdone's name reflects her status as a veteran of her profession.

Servant

Servant is an attendant to Angelo. The Servant receives the Provost in 2.2 and announces Isabella’s arrival in 2.4. His presence reminds us of Angelo's importance and power.

Messenger Messenger is a servant of Angelo. In 4.2 the Messenger delivers to the Provost Angelo's command for the execution of Claudio, though a pardon has been expected. Angelo's employment of the Messenger makes his deed seem even more monstrous as he distances himself from it.
Boy

Boy is a servant of Mariana. At the opening of 4.1 the Boy sings a stanza of the Song 'Take, 0 take those lips away' and is dismissed. The Boy provides the relief of a song as the plot tightens and helps, by his presence, to indicate the social status of Mariana.

 

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