Internet Shakespeare Editions


Religious orders

In contrast to its prisons and brothels, Measure for Measure also portrays life in religious orders. Isabella first appears as a novice in the "votarists of Saint Clare" (1.4.5), an order of nuns known for their strict discipline. Taking religious vows was, prior to the Reformation, a way for women to have some measure of control over their lives, since the alternative was usually marriage and pregnancy. Isabella begins the play with the intention to renounce the life of a secular woman, but she is betrothed to the Duke in the last scene.

Duke Vincentio, disguised as a friar, uses his privilege as a confessor to spy on various characters. The role allows him to "visit both prince and people" (1.3.45), but also suits his own inclinations to live "the life removed" (1.3.8).