"Then shalt thou se clearly": the hypocrites, law and mercy in Measure for Measure

Roberta Kwan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Measure for Measure has evoked much critical disquiet and discontent, especially regarding the Duke’s theatricality and seeming displacement of justice by mercy in the drama’s final act. Given both the biblical discourse alluded to from Measure’s title and thenceforth, and the influence of the Reformation upon the early modern theatrum mundi, this essay engages with these responses through a theologically inflected frame. I argue that, as a play-actor, it is not the want of justice in the Duke’s actions but his inability to clearly see the signs of and enact genuine mercy that may account for the dis-ease he and his theatre engenders. In a dual sense, the Duke is a hypocrite. This suggests significant parallels with his obviously hypocritical Deputy: in Measure, their mutual hypocrisy is exposed by the hermeneutic condition of the law. Moreover, their hypocrisy impedes their perception of mercy and its archetype—divine mercy—that, as explicated by the reformers, is itself unsettling and requires a reversal in humanity’s way of seeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-243
Number of pages21
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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