From Harrison's Description of England (1877).
University of Victoria Library.

Measure for Measure depicts the seedy underside of life in Vienna, as well as the legal system that was in place to regulate it. Prostitutes, pickpockets, and public forms of punishment were familiar sights to theatre-goers in Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare's primary theatre, The Globe, was located in one of the rougher suburbs of London, near brothels (like Mistress Overdone's) and beyond the range of the Lord Mayor's authority.

The long arm of the law, however, was still evident to anyone passing under the severed heads that adorned the gate of London Bridge. Executions (like the one faced by Lucio) were sometimes public and regarded as entertaining spectacle.