Shakespeare's interpretation of women in Measure for Measure very much reflects society's opinion of women at the time, which was that men have more freedom and should be given more respect that women. The society of the time was a patriarchal one, where a male God was the ultimate leader, and below him came the king, then the nobles. However, although the society gave men more rights than women, Measure for Measure demonstrates that they also had more responsibilities. This is shown through the situation with Claudio and Juliet, as although they are both equally to blame for Juliet's pregnancy, it is Claudio facing the death penalty.
Shakespeare shows the Duke's opinion of women in act 5, scene 1, when the Duke talks to Mariana and says "Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow nor wife." This shows that a women is only something if she has either a husband or her purity, and without both of these she is worthless. This opinion of women is confirmed by Isabella's determination to hold on to her virginity and its importance to her, as if she loses her virginity before marriage, she will be regarded as nothing in society.
Isabella is used in the play as an example of a perfect woman to the Jacobean society, as she is the epitome of purity and chastity within the play, and the fact that she wants to become a nun shows her to be a very religious person, which is what would have been important to Shakespeare's audience. At the same time, Isabella shows herself to be someone who is very easily controlled, especially by the men in the play, such as agreeing with the plan when the Duke disguised as the friar suggests using Mariana to sleep with Angelo instead. Although this is still wrong according to Isabella's beliefs and morals, she does not contest the Duke's idea. This could also be interpreted as Isabella being very selfish, and that she does not care if other people do wrong and what the consequences for them might be, as long as she is safe. This could be Shakespeare taking some inspiration from the Bible, as Eve is associated with taking the apple from the Garden of Eden, and her selfishness causes suffering for everyone else. Isabella can also be seen to be controlled by religion, as it is her religious beliefs that prevent her from saving her brother's life. This helps to give the audience the impression that she is very easily led, and it is easy for others, especially men, to manipulate her.
Shakespeare demonstrates his opinion of the importance of women in the play through the characters alone. There are a total of eighteen male characters in the play, but only five female ones. As well as this, although Juliet is crucial to the plotline, she only has a speaking part in one scene, which is Shakespeare showing that he wants only the minimum amount of female appearances in the play to make it work. Juliet's lack of appearances and speech within the play shows that her opinion is very unimportant compared to the...