The theme of Measure for Measure is the temperance of justice with mercy. Merciful justice is juxtaposed throughout with strict enforcement of the law. The duke, Isabella, Escalus, Mariana, and the Provost all advocate mercy. Only Angelo demands strict adherence to the law, even to recommending his own execution when his deeds are discovered.
Treated with mercy, the play's criminals respond with repentance, making forgiveness and repentance another theme. Also considered thematic is the question of hypocrisy versus true virtue. Measure for Measure has been called satirical of hypocritical, self-righteous Puritanism. The playwright must certainly have been aware of Puritanism, a religious movement on the rise in his time, since Puritans loudly denounced the theater as immoral.