Measure for Measure

Back to List of Characters


Angelo is a complex and intriguing character in William Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. As the Deputy to the Duke of Vienna, Angelo is granted the power to enforce strict moral laws in the city. He initially presents himself as a virtuous and righteous leader, committed to upholding justice and morality. However, as the play unfolds, Angelo's true nature is revealed, showcasing the depths of his hypocrisy and moral corruption.

Angelo is introduced as a strong advocate for the enforcement of the law. He is determined to clean up the city and rid it of any immoral behavior. When faced with the task of ruling over Vienna in the Duke's absence, Angelo takes a hardline stance against sexual immorality, particularly fornication. He decides to enforce an old and forgotten law that condemns the act of premarital sex, sentencing Claudio, a young man who impregnated his fiancée, to death.

Angelo's Moral Dilemma

It is through Angelo's interaction with Isabella, Claudio's sister, that we witness the unraveling of his virtuous façade. Isabella, a novice nun, pleads with Angelo to spare her brother's life. This encounter sparks an intense internal struggle within Angelo, as he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Isabella's beauty and purity. Unable to resist his desires, Angelo proposes a corrupt bargain to Isabella: he will spare her brother's life in exchange for her virginity.

This pivotal moment serves as a turning point for Angelo's character. It exposes his moral weakness and reveals the depths of his hypocrisy. Despite his strong outward appearance, Angelo succumbs to his carnal desires and is willing to sacrifice his principles for personal gain. This revelation challenges the audience's perception of Angelo and raises questions about the true nature of power and morality.

As the play progresses, Angelo's actions become increasingly questionable and morally reprehensible. He attempts to manipulate Isabella, threatening her with her brother's execution if she does not comply with his demands. However, Angelo's true nature is eventually exposed when the Duke, disguised as a friar, orchestrates a plan to reveal Angelo's corruption.

Angelo's character arc in Measure for Measure serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the corrupting influence of desire. Shakespeare masterfully crafts a character who initially presents himself as a paragon of virtue, only to reveal the dark underbelly of his morality. Angelo's journey highlights the complexities of human nature and the inherent flaws that lie within us all.