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Measure for Measure

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Act III, Scene 1

A room in the prison.


[Enter DUKE VINCENTIO disguised as before, CLAUDIO,] [p]and Provost]

  • Vincentio. So then you hope of pardon from Lord Angelo?
  • Claudio. The miserable have no other medicine
    But only hope: 1225
    I've hope to live, and am prepared to die.
  • Vincentio. Be absolute for death; either death or life
    Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:
    If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
    That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art, 1230
    Servile to all the skyey influences,
    That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st,
    Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death's fool;
    For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun
    And yet runn'st toward him still. Thou art not noble; 1235
    For all the accommodations that thou bear'st
    Are nursed by baseness. Thou'rt by no means valiant;
    For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
    Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
    And that thou oft provokest; yet grossly fear'st 1240
    Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;
    For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains
    That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
    For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get,
    And what thou hast, forget'st. Thou art not certain; 1245
    For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
    After the moon. If thou art rich, thou'rt poor;
    For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
    Thou bear's thy heavy riches but a journey,
    And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none; 1250
    For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
    The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
    Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
    For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
    But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep, 1255
    Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth
    Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
    Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
    Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
    To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this 1260
    That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
    Lie hid moe thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
    That makes these odds all even.
  • Claudio. I humbly thank you.
    To sue to live, I find I seek to die; 1265
    And, seeking death, find life: let it come on.
  • Isabella. [Within] What, ho! Peace here; grace and good company!
  • Provost. Who's there? come in: the wish deserves a welcome.
  • Vincentio. Dear sir, ere long I'll visit you again.
  • Claudio. Most holy sir, I thank you. 1270


  • Isabella. My business is a word or two with Claudio.
  • Provost. And very welcome. Look, signior, here's your sister.
  • Provost. As many as you please. 1275
  • Vincentio. Bring me to hear them speak, where I may be concealed.

[Exeunt DUKE VINCENTIO and Provost]

  • Claudio. Now, sister, what's the comfort?
  • Isabella. Why,
    As all comforts are; most good, most good indeed. 1280
    Lord Angelo, having affairs to heaven,
    Intends you for his swift ambassador,
    Where you shall be an everlasting leiger:
    Therefore your best appointment make with speed;
    To-morrow you set on. 1285
  • Isabella. None, but such remedy as, to save a head,
    To cleave a heart in twain.
  • Isabella. Yes, brother, you may live: 1290
    There is a devilish mercy in the judge,
    If you'll implore it, that will free your life,
    But fetter you till death.
  • Isabella. Ay, just; perpetual durance, a restraint, 1295
    Though all the world's vastidity you had,
    To a determined scope.
  • Isabella. In such a one as, you consenting to't,
    Would bark your honour from that trunk you bear, 1300
    And leave you naked.
  • Isabella. O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake,
    Lest thou a feverous life shouldst entertain,
    And six or seven winters more respect 1305
    Than a perpetual honour. Darest thou die?
    The sense of death is most in apprehension;
    And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
    In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
    As when a giant dies. 1310
  • Claudio. Why give you me this shame?
    Think you I can a resolution fetch
    From flowery tenderness? If I must die,
    I will encounter darkness as a bride,
    And hug it in mine arms. 1315
  • Isabella. There spake my brother; there my father's grave
    Did utter forth a voice. Yes, thou must die:
    Thou art too noble to conserve a life
    In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,
    Whose settled visage and deliberate word 1320
    Nips youth i' the head and follies doth emmew
    As falcon doth the fowl, is yet a devil
    His filth within being cast, he would appear
    A pond as deep as hell.
  • Isabella. O, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,
    The damned'st body to invest and cover
    In prenzie guards! Dost thou think, Claudio?
    If I would yield him my virginity,
    Thou mightst be freed. 1330
  • Isabella. Yes, he would give't thee, from this rank offence,
    So to offend him still. This night's the time
    That I should do what I abhor to name,
    Or else thou diest to-morrow. 1335
  • Isabella. O, were it but my life,
    I'ld throw it down for your deliverance
    As frankly as a pin.
  • Isabella. Be ready, Claudio, for your death tomorrow.
  • Claudio. Yes. Has he affections in him,
    That thus can make him bite the law by the nose,
    When he would force it? Sure, it is no sin,
    Or of the deadly seven, it is the least. 1345
  • Claudio. If it were damnable, he being so wise,
    Why would he for the momentary trick
    Be perdurably fined? O Isabel!
  • Claudio. Death is a fearful thing.
  • Claudio. Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
    To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
    This sensible warm motion to become 1355
    A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
    To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
    In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
    To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
    And blown with restless violence round about 1360
    The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
    Of those that lawless and incertain thought
    Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
    The weariest and most loathed worldly life
    That age, ache, penury and imprisonment 1365
    Can lay on nature is a paradise
    To what we fear of death.
  • Claudio. Sweet sister, let me live:
    What sin you do to save a brother's life, 1370
    Nature dispenses with the deed so far
    That it becomes a virtue.
  • Isabella. O you beast!
    O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
    Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? 1375
    Is't not a kind of incest, to take life
    From thine own sister's shame? What should I think?
    Heaven shield my mother play'd my father fair!
    For such a warped slip of wilderness
    Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance! 1380
    Die, perish! Might but my bending down
    Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed:
    I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death,
    No word to save thee.
  • Claudio. Nay, hear me, Isabel. 1385
  • Isabella. O, fie, fie, fie!
    Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade.
    Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd:
    'Tis best thou diest quickly.


  • Vincentio. Vouchsafe a word, young sister, but one word.
  • Vincentio. Might you dispense with your leisure, I would by and
    by have some speech with you: the satisfaction I 1395
    would require is likewise your own benefit.
  • Isabella. I have no superfluous leisure; my stay must be
    stolen out of other affairs; but I will attend you awhile.

[Walks apart]

  • Vincentio. Son, I have overheard what hath passed between you 1400
    and your sister. Angelo had never the purpose to
    corrupt her; only he hath made an essay of her
    virtue to practise his judgment with the disposition
    of natures: she, having the truth of honour in her,
    hath made him that gracious denial which he is most 1405
    glad to receive. I am confessor to Angelo, and I
    know this to be true; therefore prepare yourself to
    death: do not satisfy your resolution with hopes
    that are fallible: tomorrow you must die; go to
    your knees and make ready. 1410
  • Claudio. Let me ask my sister pardon. I am so out of love
    with life that I will sue to be rid of it.
  • Vincentio. Hold you there: farewell.
    [Exit CLAUDIO]
    Provost, a word with you! 1415

[Re-enter Provost]

  • Vincentio. That now you are come, you will be gone. Leave me
    awhile with the maid: my mind promises with my
    habit no loss shall touch her by my company. 1420

[Exit Provost. ISABELLA comes forward]

  • Vincentio. The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good:
    the goodness that is cheap in beauty makes beauty
    brief in goodness; but grace, being the soul of 1425
    your complexion, shall keep the body of it ever
    fair. The assault that Angelo hath made to you,
    fortune hath conveyed to my understanding; and, but
    that frailty hath examples for his falling, I should
    wonder at Angelo. How will you do to content this 1430
    substitute, and to save your brother?
  • Isabella. I am now going to resolve him: I had rather my
    brother die by the law than my son should be
    unlawfully born. But, O, how much is the good duke
    deceived in Angelo! If ever he return and I can 1435
    speak to him, I will open my lips in vain, or
    discover his government.
  • Vincentio. That shall not be much amiss: Yet, as the matter
    now stands, he will avoid your accusation; he made
    trial of you only. Therefore fasten your ear on my 1440
    advisings: to the love I have in doing good a
    remedy presents itself. I do make myself believe
    that you may most uprighteously do a poor wronged
    lady a merited benefit; redeem your brother from
    the angry law; do no stain to your own gracious 1445
    person; and much please the absent duke, if
    peradventure he shall ever return to have hearing of
    this business.
  • Isabella. Let me hear you speak farther. I have spirit to do
    anything that appears not foul in the truth of my spirit. 1450
  • Vincentio. Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful. Have
    you not heard speak of Mariana, the sister of
    Frederick the great soldier who miscarried at sea?
  • Isabella. I have heard of the lady, and good words went with her name.
  • Vincentio. She should this Angelo have married; was affianced 1455
    to her by oath, and the nuptial appointed: between
    which time of the contract and limit of the
    solemnity, her brother Frederick was wrecked at sea,
    having in that perished vessel the dowry of his
    sister. But mark how heavily this befell to the 1460
    poor gentlewoman: there she lost a noble and
    renowned brother, in his love toward her ever most
    kind and natural; with him, the portion and sinew of
    her fortune, her marriage-dowry; with both, her
    combinate husband, this well-seeming Angelo. 1465
  • Isabella. Can this be so? did Angelo so leave her?
  • Vincentio. Left her in her tears, and dried not one of them
    with his comfort; swallowed his vows whole,
    pretending in her discoveries of dishonour: in few,
    bestowed her on her own lamentation, which she yet 1470
    wears for his sake; and he, a marble to her tears,
    is washed with them, but relents not.
  • Isabella. What a merit were it in death to take this poor maid
    from the world! What corruption in this life, that
    it will let this man live! But how out of this can she avail? 1475
  • Vincentio. It is a rupture that you may easily heal: and the
    cure of it not only saves your brother, but keeps
    you from dishonour in doing it.
  • Vincentio. This forenamed maid hath yet in her the continuance 1480
    of her first affection: his unjust unkindness, that
    in all reason should have quenched her love, hath,
    like an impediment in the current, made it more
    violent and unruly. Go you to Angelo; answer his
    requiring with a plausible obedience; agree with 1485
    his demands to the point; only refer yourself to
    this advantage, first, that your stay with him may
    not be long; that the time may have all shadow and
    silence in it; and the place answer to convenience.
    This being granted in course,—and now follows 1490
    all,—we shall advise this wronged maid to stead up
    your appointment, go in your place; if the encounter
    acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to
    her recompense: and here, by this, is your brother
    saved, your honour untainted, the poor Mariana 1495
    advantaged, and the corrupt deputy scaled. The maid
    will I frame and make fit for his attempt. If you
    think well to carry this as you may, the doubleness
    of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof.
    What think you of it? 1500
  • Isabella. The image of it gives me content already; and I
    trust it will grow to a most prosperous perfection.
  • Vincentio. It lies much in your holding up. Haste you speedily
    to Angelo: if for this night he entreat you to his
    bed, give him promise of satisfaction. I will 1505
    presently to Saint Luke's: there, at the moated
    grange, resides this dejected Mariana. At that
    place call upon me; and dispatch with Angelo, that
    it may be quickly.
  • Isabella. I thank you for this comfort. Fare you well, good father. 1510

[Exeunt severally]