Angelo and Isabella Character Analysis

This Angelo and Isabella character analysis delves into the central relationship in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Let us begin with Angelo.


Angelo is appointed as the Duke’s deputy to enforce the laws of immorality. He does this in a rather heavy handed way.

He orders the imprisonment and death of Claudio for getting his fiancé pregnant. This is an enforceable punishment for this crime. He may have been justified in this action, had he had been totally virtuous himself.

However, we discover that he has left his previously betrothed Mariana in a situation where she has no dowry and a bad reputation. He propositions a desperate and chaste woman who just wants to save her brother and even when he thinks he has got what he wanted with ‘Isabella’, he still orders Claudio’s death.

It is Angelo’s hypocrisy that is his downfall. The Duke threatens Angelo by saying that he will be punished for his wrong doing in the same way that he has punished;

For this new-married man approaching here,
Whose salt imagination yet hath wrong'd
Your well defended honour, you must pardon
For Mariana's sake: but as he adjudged your brother,--
Being criminal, in double violation
Of sacred chastity and of promise-breach
Thereon dependent, for your brother's life,--
The very mercy of the law cries out
Most audible, even from his proper tongue,
'An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!'
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and MEASURE still FOR MEASURE.
Then, Angelo, thy fault's thus manifested;
Which, though thou wouldst deny, denies thee vantage.
We do condemn thee to the very block
Where Claudio stoop'd to death, and with like haste.
Away with him!

The Duke gives Angelo the impression that he will be executed, but fortunately for Angelo, Claudio has not been killed despite Angelo’s best efforts and as such neither will be killed for his wrongdoing.

The characters are married off as is in the ‘comedy’ convention but the play could so easily be rewritten as a tragedy; the fates of the characters are so in the balance.

Angelo’s actions are so underhand that the death sentence would have been justified, when compared to Claudio’s more minor indiscretion for which the death penalty was in place.


Isabella is a very spiritual person who wishes to become a nun. She is chaste and virtuous. When Isabella discovers that her brother has got his betrothed pregnant and faces beheading for it, she agrees to try and help him. However, she insists that she does not condone her brother’s behaviour.

When Angelo propositions her, Isabella is shocked and immediately refuses to sleep with him. This enflames Angelo’s passions even more. Isabella begs Angelo to be compassionate towards her brother but Angelo insists that the only way to free him would be for Isabella to become his mistress.

For a modern audience, Isabella’s stance to put her virtue above her brother’s life is a difficult one. However, ingeniously Shakespeare ensures that Angelo would have ordered Claudio’s death even if Isabella had truly consented. (After sleeping with her ‘stand in’; Mariana, he still orders the beheading) This exonerates her somewhat, no matter how liberal an audience.

Isabella is also prepared for Mariana to do her ‘dirty work’.

However, Mariana has been promised that having been ruined by Angelo she will be restored by him and therefore Isabella is ‘helping her’ in this.

It is difficult to say whether Isabella will consent to marry the Duke. Her dealings with him so far have mainly been while he is disguised as the Friar. He has saved her brother’s life, for which we assume she would be grateful… but grateful enough to marry him? Marrying a Duke would offer her a good life, but her only ambition that we are aware of is her wish to become a nun.