"Measure for Measure," Vocabulary from Act 1

According to both human and divine laws, which of the characters developed by William Shakespeare can measure up?

This list focuses on restraint. Here are links to our lists for the play: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, Act 5

Here is a link to the full text: Measure for Measure

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. thrifty
    mindful of the future in spending money
    Spirits are not finely touched
    But to fine issues, nor nature never lends
    The smallest scruple of her excellence
    But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
    Herself the glory of a creditor
    Both thanks and use.
  2. scruple
    uneasiness about the fitness of an action
    Nor need you, on mine honor, have to do
    With any scruple.
    The literal meaning of the Latin root refers to a sharp stone. This connects to the definition of "a unit of apothecary weight equal to 20 grains," which is suggested by the previous example. Here, the noun is used figuratively to suggest uneasiness (which can be caused by a stone in one's shoe); it also hints that the Duke is testing Angelo's scruples ("motivation deriving from moral principles").
  3. qualify
    make more specific
    Your scope is as mine own,
    So to enforce or qualify the laws
    As to your soul seems good.
    The verb also means "prove capable or fit; meet requirements." While this definition does not fit the example, it is suggested by the exchange: the Duke argues that nature gave Angelo good qualities that he must use, while Angelo replies that there should be more tests to prove his qualification for ruling Vienna (which, to flatter the Duke, Angelo qualifies with the adjectives "noble" and "great").
  4. discretion
    the trait of judging wisely and objectively
    I do not relish well
    Their loud applause and aves vehement,
    Nor do I think the man of safe discretion
    That does affect it.
    The noun also means "knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress." While this trait can be seen as wise, too much of it can also be a sign of self-consciousness. In avoiding public appearances that should confirm his strength and protection, the Duke places his own insecurity above the needs of his people.
  5. sanctimonious
    excessively or hypocritically pious
    Thou conclud’st like the sanctimonious pirate that went to sea with the ten commandments but scraped one out of the table.
    In Latin, "sanctus" means "holy" and "monium" is a suffix meaning "state, condition" so the English adjective sounds like it should be a compliment. But it is used as an insult here to describe a pirate who changes religious laws to suit his own desires. Most of the characters who claim to be moral will be revealed as sanctimonious, especially the ironically named Angelo.
  6. poverty
    the state of having little or no money and possessions
    Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk.
  7. commit
    cause to be admitted, as a person to an institution
    Bear me to prison, where I am committed.
    As a participial adjective, "committed" also means "associated in an exclusive sexual relationship." While that is true for Claudio, he uses the word negatively here to describe being committed to prison. This is for committing ("perform an act, usually with a negative connotation") the crime of impregnating a woman he is emotionally committed to but has not yet publicly and legally married.
  8. authority
    persons who exercise control over others
    Thus can the demigod Authority
    Make us pay down for our offense, by weight,
    The words of heaven: on whom it will, it will;
    On whom it will not, so; yet still ’tis just.
  9. immoderate
    beyond reasonable limits
    As surfeit is the father of much fast,
    So every scope by the immoderate use
    Turns to restraint.
    The Latin verb "moderari" is related to "modus" which means "measure." Thus, to moderate something is to keep it within the properly set measure. Here, in comparing what he has done to surfeit, Claudio seems like he is sorry: just like someone who has eaten too much and needs to fast, he has enjoyed his freedoms too much and is now turning to restraint (there is a visual pun on the physical restraints of shackles or fetters).
  10. stealth
    avoiding detection by moving carefully
    But it chances
    The stealth of our most mutual entertainment
    With character too gross is writ on Juliet.
  11. spur
    a sharp prod on a rider's heel used to urge a horse onward
    Whether it be the fault and glimpse of newness,
    Or whether that the body public be
    A horse whereon the governor doth ride,
    Who, newly in the seat, that it may know
    He can command, lets it straight feel the spur
  12. tyranny
    government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator
    Whether the tyranny be in his place
    Or in his eminence that fills it up
  13. penalty
    the disadvantage or painful consequences of an action
    I stagger in—but this new governor
    Awakes me all the enrollèd penalties
    Which have, like unscoured armor, hung by th’ wall
    So long that nineteen zodiacs have gone round,
    And none of them been worn
  14. cloister
    residence that is a place of religious seclusion
    I prithee, Lucio, do me this kind service:
    This day my sister should the cloister enter
    And there receive her approbation.
  15. strict
    characterized by severity or restraint
    Acquaint her with the danger of my state;
    Implore her, in my voice, that she make friends
    To the strict deputy; bid herself assay him.
  16. imposition
    the act of enforcing something
    I pray she may, as well for the encouragement of the like, which else would stand under grievous imposition, as for the enjoying of thy life, who I would be sorry should be thus foolishly lost at a game of tick-tack.
    The noun also means "an uncalled-for burden." Both definitions fit: it can refer to Angelo who is enforcing the law, and it can refer to all the people who would feel the burden of this law that seeks to control their private lives. Especially since the act of fornication has not been punished for 19 years. sentencing Claudio to death for it now seems uncalled for.
  17. dribble
    run or flow slowly, as in drops or in an unsteady stream
    Believe not that the dribbling dart of love
    Can pierce a complete bosom.
  18. idle
    silly or trivial
    My holy sir, none better knows than you
    How I have ever loved the life removed,
    And held in idle price to haunt assemblies
    Where youth and cost witless bravery keeps.
    The adjective also means "lacking a sense of restraint or responsibility" and "not yielding a return." All the definitions can fit. The Duke thinks that social gatherings are wasteful activities for the young and stupid. But his perspective is due to his old age and self-consciousness. He could also be described as idle ("not in action or at work"), since he prefers living a quiet, secluded life to enforcing the laws.
  19. abstinence
    the trait of refraining from something, especially alcohol
    I have delivered to Lord Angelo,
    A man of stricture and firm abstinence,
    My absolute power and place here in Vienna,
    And he supposes me traveled to Poland,
    For so I have strewed it in the common ear,
    And so it is received.
  20. curb
    the act of restraining power or action or limiting excess
    We have strict statutes and most biting laws,
    The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,
    Which for this fourteen years we have let slip,
    Even like an o’ergrown lion in a cave
    That goes not out to prey.
    The literal meaning of "curb" intended by the Duke is "a bit with an attached chain or strap to check a horse" (a bit is "a piece of metal held in horse's mouth by reins"). This metaphor was used earlier by Claudio (see "spur"), but it would be more complete here if "weeds" were replaced by "steeds."
  21. bound
    secured with a cover or binding
    Now, as fond fathers,
    Having bound up the threat’ning twigs of birch
    Only to stick it in their children’s sight
    For terror, not to use—in time the rod
    More mocked than feared
  22. infliction
    the act of imposing something (as a tax or an embargo)
    so our decrees,
    Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead
  23. decorum
    propriety in manners and conduct
    And liberty plucks justice by the nose,
    The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
    Goes all decorum.
  24. gall
    irritate or vex
    Sith ’twas my fault to give the people scope,
    ’Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them
    For what I bid them do
    The word is used as a verb here. As a noun, it can mean "an open sore on the back of a horse caused by a saddle" (this would continue the horse and rider/people and law enforcement metaphor). In humans, gall is "a digestive juice secreted by the liver" which was once thought to produce "a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will." Because the Duke wants his people to think highly of him, he does not punish them when they break the rules. Instead, he sends in Angelo to do his job.
  25. permissive
    not strict in discipline
    for we bid this be done
    When evil deeds have their permissive pass
    And not the punishment.
  26. precise
    sharply exact or accurate or delimited
    Lord Angelo is precise,
    Stands at a guard with envy, scarce confesses
    That his blood flows or that his appetite
    Is more to bread than stone.
  27. privilege
    a special advantage or benefit not enjoyed by all
    And have you nuns no farther privileges?
  28. restraint
    a rule or condition that limits freedom
    I speak not as desiring more,
    But rather wishing a more strict restraint
    Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare.
    The noun also means "discipline in personal and social activities." This is how Claudio used it earlier. Here, Isabella says she wants strict rules, which suggests that she might have trouble disciplining herself. Although the audience is never told why Isabella is considering entering a nunnery, the Duke's words to the friar suggest that one reason can be a broken heart. For 17th century women, life as a nun can be freer and safer than being a wife and mother.
  29. vow
    dedicate to a deity by a promise
    When you have vowed, you must not speak with men
    But in the presence of the Prioress.
    Then, if you speak, you must not show your face;
    Or if you show your face, you must not speak.
  30. renounce
    turn away from; give up
    I hold you as a thing enskied and sainted,
    By your renouncement an immortal spirit,
    And to be talked with in sincerity
    As with a saint.
  31. blunt
    make less lively, intense, or vigorous
    Upon his place,
    And with full line of his authority,
    Governs Lord Angelo, a man whose blood
    Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
    The wanton stings and motions of the sense,
    But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
    With profits of the mind: study and fast.
  32. rigor
    excessive sternness
    He arrests him on it,
    And follows close the rigor of the statute
    To make him an example.
    The noun also means "the quality of being strictly valid." From the perspective of Angelo, this definition would describe all the laws that the Duke has entrusted him to enforce. But for Lucio and Claudio, the rigor of the fornication law is "something hard to endure."
  33. censure
    rebuke formally
    Has censured him already,
    And, as I hear, the Provost hath a warrant
    For’s execution.
  34. assay
    make an effort or attempt
    Assay the power you have.
  35. doubt
    the state of being unsure of something
    Our doubts are traitors
    And makes us lose the good we oft might win
    By fearing to attempt.

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