"Measure for Measure," Shakespeare's final comedy, depicts the whole of life, as it is, politics included. Vincentio is a duke with a passion for learning and a lax attitude toward enforcing the law. Confronting a society gone out of control, and fearful that a sudden about-face would appear too brutal, he chooses to take a vacation, and appoints his deputy, Angelo, to the task of restoring order.
Angelo, a judge so severe that "when he makes water his urine is congealed ice," makes it his first order of business to enforce the statute against extramarital fornication, and condemns to death a young man, Claudio, for getting his fiancee pregnant. When Claudio's sister, Isabella, a novice nun, appeals to Angelo for mercy, the magistrate is staggered by a lightning bolt of lust, and offers her a deal: her brother's freedom in exchange for her body. But unbeknownst to Angelo or anyone else, Duke Vincentio hasn't gone anywhere. He's disguised himself as a monk, to monitor the fallout of his shaky plan to shore up the morality of his subjects. His well-meaning yet incompetent interventions only make matters worse, and the relatively happy ending is due in part to luck.
This play clearly shows how incompetent leadership can degrade society and the state, how power corrupts, how justice and mercy are often contradictory, incompatible, yet necessary sides of the same coin, and how difficult it is to fix a failed state. Ah, Shakespeare, still timely (perhaps unfortunately.)