Measure for Measure abbreviated

The setting for the play is Vienna, yet it was widely believed at the time that Vienna was just a stand-in for London. It’s been said that the play was written to be a guide for England’s new king, James I.  James the First was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. He became England’s king in 1603, succeeding Elizabeth I, he becoming the first man from Scotland to become England’s king.  It was said by some at the time the play was first performed that London needed tighter enforcement of its civil regulations; perhaps Shakespeare was one of those who felt that way.

The play opens when the Duke of Vienna publicly announces that he is transferring the “deputation all the organs of our own power” to a man named Angelo; Angelo to be his deputy; the duke having plans to immediately leave the city.  He tells Angelo “to enforce the laws as to your soul seems good.” (Legitimacy, Act 1, Scene 1) When asked by the duke “what think you of it,” Escalus, a judge, replies “If any in Vienna be worth to undergo such ample grace and honor, it is Lord Angelo.”

We soon learn that Angelo, acting quickly as the duke’s deputy, has had Claudio arrested for “getting Julietta with child” and that “within these three days his head is to be chopped off” and that “all houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down.”  Claudio is just a regular guy whose fiancée is pregnant. As well, Claudio just happens to have a good-looking sister, Isabella. (Resignation, Act 1, Scene 2) Angelo’s plan is to present a tough law-and-order front.  Claudio has been arrested to serve as an example of Angelo’s toughness.  By his own admission, the duke has told us that he has enforced Vienna’s laws too leniently, saying to himself “’twas my fault to give the people scope;” he having now led all to believe that he “has traveled to Poland.” 

But in fact the duke hasn’t left town at all.  He meets secretly with Friar Thomas with plans to disguise himself as a “brother of your order” and then to “visit both Angelo and the people.” (Disclosure, Act 1, Scene 3)

The imprisoned Claudio, meanwhile, has asked his friend Lucio to convince his sister Isabella to visit Angelo and to encourage him to reconsider her brother’s arrest since “well she can persuade.”  (Request, Act 1, Scene 4) Well-meaning Isabella is about to be accepted into the “sisterhood” as a nun.  Nonetheless she agrees to Lucio’s request, telling him “I’ll see what I can do.”

Escalus, the judge, suggests to Angelo that he be moderate when enforcing the laws and to reconsider Claudio’s arrest.  But Angelo holds firm, saying “Sir, he must die.” He calls for Claudio to “be executed by nine tomorrow morning.”  Later, Isabella, along with Lucio, begins her effort-to-save-her-brother conversation with Angelo.  Angelo doesn’t budge. (Pleading, Act 2, Scene 2) Aside, Lucio advises Isabella to be more passionate and aggressive with her arguments, telling her “you are too cold.”  Isabel steps it up.  Her arguments are effective.  Finally, Angelo says “Why do you put these sayings on me?”  She and Lucio exit. (Introspection, Act 2, Scene 2) Angelo lets us know that he has fallen for her, saying “my honor is at cross-purposes with my desire for her.” 

Now disguised as Friar Lodowick, the duke visits the pregnant Julietta in prison, the two having a nice conversation.  Isabella soon revisits Angelo and continues to make her case.  Angelo tries to tell her that there is a way for her brother to live, but he is too subtle and she is slow to pick up on his plan: he wants her for himself in exchange for her brother’s life. In time she recognizes his depraved motive and says “sign me a present pardon for my brother or with an outstretched throat I’ll tell the world aloud what man thou art.”  His response: “Who will believe you, Isabella?” (Confidence, Act 2, Scene 4) Isabella accepts his argument, but holds firm to her values, concluding her honor is dearer than her brother’s life. (Acceptance, Act 2, Scene 4)

Still disguised as a friar, the duke now visits Claudio in prison and deftly counsels him not to fear death; Claudio finally saying “I find I seek to die, and seeking death find life.” (Death, Act 3, Scene 1.1)

Isabella soon reenters and asks the prison’s provost for “a word or two with Claudio.”  The disguised duke exits, but plans to find a way to overhear their conversation.  Isabella tells Claudio that he must die for the sake of her honor, and at first he agrees, but after thinking it over comes to have second thoughts.  Later he says “Sweet sister, let me live.”  Angrily she says “Is‘t not a kind of incest to take life from thine own sister’s shame?  I’ll pray for thy death.” (Death, Act 3, Scene 1.2) Upset as she is, she walks away from her brother.  The disguised duke comes up with a plan and tells her about it.        

We then learn that several years earlier Angelo had had a fiancée, Mariana, but he had abandoned her when her dowry was lost at sea.  The duke’s plan is to have Isabel agree to meet Angelo that night and that she is to tell him “that your stay with me may not be long, that the time may have all shadow and silence in it, and the place answer to convenience.”  The duke tells her that if it works as planned “Mariana will go in your place.”  Isabel likes the idea of Mariana standing in, so to speak, as her substitute that night with Angelo. 

Separately, Claudio’s friend Lucio gossips with the duke, thinking he is Friar Lodowick, telling him that the duke chases women, drinks too much, and that he is “a very superficial, ignorant, thoughtless fellow.”   The duke-as-a-friar calmly says to Lucio “If ever the duke return, let me desire you to make your answer before him.”  Lucio says “I fear you not. I know what I know. But no more of this.” He exits. The duke then further reveals to us his plan to deal with Angelo and how, through the plan’s execution, he will save Claudio. (Introspection, Act 3, Scene 2)

Isabella, having been introduced to Mariana, lets the duke-as-Friar Lodowick know that she has made certain arrangements with Angelo, and that Mariana has readily accepted her role in the grand scheme.  Mariana has told Isabella “Fear me not.”  The plan works as planned. Meanwhile the duke-as-a-friar again visits the prison to see what he can do.  The duke-friar and the provost hear a knock while talking, the provost saying “I hope it some pardon or reprieve for the most gentle Claudio.”  It is not.  Claudio is now scheduled to be executed at four in the morning.  Shakespeare here creates the duke as being both sensitive and clever as he goes about a drawn out process to save Claudio’s life.  Having hidden Claudio “in a secret hold,” the duke-as-a-friar tells Isabella when she arrives that Claudio’s “head is off, and sent to Angelo.”  The head he sends to Angelo is of another prisoner; the other prisoner earlier identified as “a man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless of what’s past present or to come; insensitive of mortality and desperately mortal.”  The duke/friar diplomatically gives her some advice, suggesting what he believes to be the best way for her to deal with Angelo.  He tells her that he has heard that “the duke will be here tomorrow.”  Through letters, he has told Angelo to meet him “at the consecrated fount a league below the city” and that they are to enter Vienna together.  Friar Peter, a duke confidant, makes arrangements with various people, including Isabella and Mariana, to be near the duke when he enters the city.  The duke has put the pieces together. As Act four ends, Friar Peter alerts Isabella that “The duke is entering.” (Remorse, Act 4, Scene 4)

The duke warmly greets Angelo and Escalus just south of town and the three of them enter Vienna together.  A kneeling Isabella cries out to the duke that Angelo is “an adulterous thief, a hypocrite, a virgin-violator.”  The duke says “away with her.”  She tells him she is Claudio’s sister; the duke listens; Angelo claims she’s “strange” and has been “a suitor to me for her brother.”  The duke says “fond wretch, thou know’st not what thou speak’st.”  She mentions the name “Friar Lodowick” as she’s led off.  The duke a