Measure for Measure: double-double, substitutes and deputies

A couple of days back, I took a look at how Measure for Measure stands in terms of the Canon, talking a little about the concept of mercy in the play. I used the concordance over at OpenSource Shakespeare to find that “mercy” is used more in Measure for Measure than any other play in the Canon. That came as a surprise to me, as I really hadn’t noticed a preponderance of that word in my readings of the play. Instead, early on in my readings, I had noticed a couple of words that did seem emphasized, the related words of “substitute” and “deputed/deputy.”

According to the OpenSource Shakespeare concordance, “substitute” is used four times in Measure for Measure, one time more than the second-place play, The First Part of Henry the Fourth (with its Hal/Hotspur, Falstaff/Henry IV foils, I’m actually surprised it’s not used more). In Shakespeare’s day, the word’s most likely meanings were:

a. A person endowed with the authority to act on behalf of a superior in his or her absence; a deputy, a delegate; a proxy.
b. spec. A member of the clergy employed to carry out the duties of another (typically more senior) one in the latter’s absence; a layperson employed to perform a similar role.
a. A medicine or remedy that may be used in place of another that is unavailable, performing an almost identical function.
3. gen. An object, practice, action, etc., which takes the place of another; a replacement.
  • “substitute, n.”
    Oxford English Dictionary Online.
    Oxford University Press,
    September 2015.
    Web. 20 November 2015.


Meanwhile, we also have “deputy” and forms of the verb “depute.” Interestingly, these words appear only 33 times in all of the Canon, with both The First Part of Henry the Fourth (again, no surprise) and Richard the Third having three speeches containing the word. They tie for a distant second place. Measure for Measure, in comparison, has fifteen uses of the word in fourteen speeches, five times more than the play with the next highest frequency. Contemporary meanings included:


a. A person appointed or nominated to act for another or others, esp. to hold office or exercise authority instead of another; a substitute, lieutenant, vicegerent.
b. Law. A person authorized to exercise on behalf of another the whole of his office (general deputy), or some special function of it (special deputy), but having no interest in the office.
2. Special applications.
a. One deputed to exercise authority on behalf of the sovereign or of the sovereign power.
b. In the City of London, a member of the Common Council, who acts instead of an alderman in his absence; a deputy alderman.
3. A person elected to represent a constituency; a member of a representative legislative assembly.
  • “deputy, n.”
    OED Online


1. trans. To appoint, assign, ordain (a person or thing) to or for a particular office, purpose, or function. Obs.
2. To assign, impute, ascribe, attribute. Obs.
3. To consign, deliver over. Obs.
4. To assign (a charge); now, spec. to commit, give in charge (authority, etc.) to a deputy or substitute.
a. spec. To appoint (a person) as one’s substitute, delegate, or agent; to ordain to act on one’s behalf.
  • “depute, v.”
    OED Online

Denotatively, the two–“substitute” and “deputy”–are synonymous. Connotatively, however, there is greater substance, more symbolic heft, to “deputy.” It carries with it notions of appointment, office, power, and authority; “substitute,” while it can mean “deputy,” also means a mere “replacement.”

Let’s take a look at their uses throughout the play…

passage comments

What figure of us Think you he will bear?
For you must know, we have with special soul
Elected him our absence to supply,
Lent him our terror, dress’d him with our love,
And given his deputation all the organs
Of our own power: what think you of it?
  • I.i.16-21
 The duke speaks of a meaningful and powerful deputation, something “special” and “elected,” filled with “terror” and “love.”

 Unhappily, even so.
And the new deputy now for the duke—
  • I.ii.155-6


Implore her, in my voice, that she make friends
To the strict deputy; bid herself assay him:
  • I.ii.179-180
 In both these examples, Claudio references Angelo’s power (“for the duke” and “strict”), but there’s no doubt that he’s merely a substitute.

 Well, believe this,
No ceremony that to great ones ‘longs,
Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal’s truncheon, nor the judge’s robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
  • II.ii.58-63
 Before the proposition, for Isabella, the concept of deputing is powerful but still human in scale (king, marshal, judge).

 This outward-sainted deputy,
Whose settled visage and deliberate word
Nips youth i’ the head and follies doth emmew
As falcon doth the fowl, is yet a devil
His filth within being cast, he would appear
A pond as deep as hell.
  • III.i.88-93
 After the proposition, however, the concept of deputy is “outward(ly)-sainted” but really less than human, “a devil” filled with “filth” in Isabella’s mind.

The assault that Angelo hath made to you, fortune hath conveyed to my understanding; and, but that frailty hath examples for his falling, I should wonder at Angelo. How will you do to content this substitute, and to save your brother?
  • III.i.182-6
 When the duke first references Angelo’s position after hearing of his abuse of power against Isabella, the duke calls Angelo his “substitute,” not his “deputy.” I’d argue this is more the duke talking without a filter, rather than in the guise of the friar.

This being granted in course,—and now follows all,—we shall advise this wronged maid to stead up your appointment, go in your place; if the encounter acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to her recompense: and here, by this, is your brother saved, your honour untainted, the poor Mariana advantaged, and the corrupt deputy scaled. The maid will I frame and make fit for his attempt. If you think well to carry this as you may, the doubleness of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof. What think you of it?
  • III.i.246-255
 In the same conversation as the previous example, the duke seems to correct his diction as the friar, now calling Angelo a deputy, albeit a “corrupt” one.

Marry, sir, he hath offended the law: and, sir, we take him to be a thief too, sir; for we have found upon him, sir, a strange picklock, which we have sent to the deputy.
  • III.ii.13-16


He must before the deputy, sir; he has given him warning: the deputy cannot abide a whoremaster: if he be a whoremonger, and comes before him, he were as good go a mile on his errand.
  • III.ii.32-35
 In these two uses, the constable Elbow uses the more powerful, more respectful “deputy.”

 Very well met, and well come.
What is the news from this good deputy?
  • IV.i.25-6
 When the duke greets Isabella after she sets up the Bed Trick with Angelo, he uses “good deputy” in what appears to be a sarcastic or ironic fashion.

It is a bitter deputy.
  • IV.ii.76
 When talking to the friar, the provost uses the more respectful “deputy” but undercuts it with the adjective “bitter.”

Were you sworn to the duke, or to the deputy?


To him, and to his substitutes.
  • IV.ii.179-180
 Later in his continued conversation with the friar, the provost drops the reverence from his reference of Angelo to call him a mere “substitute,” after the duke asks if the provost will follow the orders of the “deputy” (still maintaining the friar’s facade of respect).

 What if we do omit
This reprobate till he were well inclined;
And satisfy the deputy with the visage
Of Ragozine, more like to Claudio?
  • IV.iii.72-75
 When the provost next references Angelo, he’s back to using “deputy,” but in a sentence that also includes the words “reprobate,” “visage,” and “Ragozine,” the tone feels less than respectful.

The better, given me by so holy a man.
Hath yet the deputy sent my brother’s pardon?
  • IV.iii.112-13


 I went
To this pernicious caitiff deputy,—
  • V.i.88-9
 In these two examples, Isabella–a woman very comfortable in a tiered social structure–will not call Angelo a “substitute,” but always uses “deputy” (thought she’s willing to modify it with a negative adjective).

Words against me? this is a good friar, belike!
And to set on this wretched woman here
Against our substitute! Let this friar be found.
  • V.i.132-4


Friar Peter

Blessed be your royal grace!
I have stood by, my lord, and I have heard
Your royal ear abused. First, hath this woman
Most wrongfully accused your substitute,
Who is as free from touch or soil with her
As she from one ungot.
  • V.i.138-143
 By the time we reach the accusations of Act Five, others in the play–including the duke himself–are no longer willing to call Angelo a “deputy,” instead calling him a “substitute,” even when quasi-defending him.

Angelo begins the play as a conceptual deputy but ends it a mere substitute. Regardless, he’s a proxy, a stand-in, a double.


I think this may be a key for the play… if nothing else maybe for the casting of the play.

Measure for Measure: breakdown of which characters appear in what scenes
Measure for Measure: breakdown of which characters appear in what scenes

There are some very interesting things here: Isabella and Juliet never appear on stage together (save for Juliet’s assumed but silent appearance at the end of the final scene); could that role be double-cast? And there I’m thinking there might even be a way to double-cast Angelo and Claudio. Save for the final minutes, they never appear on stage together. If I could find a way to cut or present this, it would also support the doubling theme in the play…

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