How are religion and morality presented and used in the play?
We first meet Isabella at the convent of St Clares, home to a particularly strict order of nuns called the ‘Poor Clares’. This scene, immediately following the duke’s visit to a monastery, creates an important contrast to the vibrant scenes on the streets of Vienna with Pompey and Mistress Overdone and sets up a world of moral rules that the characters in the play can follow or break.
The duke himself also uses the guise of a friar to lie to and deceive Isabella, Mariana and other characters, while he is spying in Vienna. Angelo, also deeply religious, uses his faith to justify the harsh penalties he puts in place to punish crimes like adultery.
Take a look at the Things to Consider and investigate the different ways we’ve created this theme on stage in past productions in this picture gallery.
As you look through the images from past productions of Measure for Measure, think about:
- The duke's disguise. In the images of the duke dressed as a friar, how has his outward appearance been changed? Do you think this works as an effective disguise? Being dressed this way helps the duke to gain access to the prison, where the prisoners might need or want prayer and religious guidance.
- The presentation of the Poor Clares and Isabella. Several of these images show the nuns at the convent in the opening scenes of the play, when Isabella learns what has happened to Claudio. How have different productions sought to show the strict nature of the order and Isabella's commitment? In what ways does this contrast with the world of the brothels and the prison that the play also shows? Is there a contrast in colour, costume or lighting that draws out the comparison between the immoral and the morally righteous world of religion?
- How would you choose to create a contrast or comparison between the convent and the religious world that Isabella inhabits and the world of the streets and the brothels? Religion and a sense of morality motivates so many of the characters, including Angelo and Isabella, so how would you try to show the presence of 'faith' and religion in your staging of the play? How important might the duke's disguise be in reminding the audience of that influence?