In Measure for Measure Shakespeare has Isabella denounce the Duke’s deputy for being corrupted by power, “it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant” (1623)

William Shakespeare

Found in Measure for Measure

In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare shows how those in power can easily become corrupted. The Duke appoints Angelo as his deputy while he is absent. Angelo decides to enforce the letter of the law and condemns Claudio to death for a crime which has not been enforced for a long time. His sister Isabella pleads for his life. Angelo accepts her plea in return for sexual favors but double-crosses her by ordering Claudio’s execution anyway. In pleading for her brother’s liife Isabella accuses Angelo of many things:

So you must be the first that gives this sentence, And he that suffers. O! it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.

The theme of the corrupting influence which power has on those who wield it is a common one in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare has a most Actonian sensitivity for the myriad ways in which this corruption can manifest itself. In this passage we see Angelo, a “pelting, petty officer” who enjoys “a little authority” while the true master is away, by enforcing a long unused law to remove a man whom he dislikes. He is justly rebuked by his sister Isabella who denounces the petty tyrant by wittily exclaiming “O! it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.”