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Measure for Measure

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Act IV, Scene 2

A room in the prison.


[Enter Provost and POMPEY]

  • Provost. Come hither, sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head?
  • Pompey. If the man be a bachelor, sir, I can; but if he be a
    married man, he's his wife's head, and I can never
    cut off a woman's head.
  • Provost. Come, sir, leave me your snatches, and yield me a 1890
    direct answer. To-morrow morning are to die Claudio
    and Barnardine. Here is in our prison a common
    executioner, who in his office lacks a helper: if
    you will take it on you to assist him, it shall
    redeem you from your gyves; if not, you shall have 1895
    your full time of imprisonment and your deliverance
    with an unpitied whipping, for you have been a
    notorious bawd.
  • Pompey. Sir, I have been an unlawful bawd time out of mind;
    but yet I will be content to be a lawful hangman. I 1900
    would be glad to receive some instruction from my
    fellow partner.
  • Provost. What, ho! Abhorson! Where's Abhorson, there?


  • Provost. Sirrah, here's a fellow will help you to-morrow in
    your execution. If you think it meet, compound with
    him by the year, and let him abide here with you; if
    not, use him for the present and dismiss him. He
    cannot plead his estimation with you; he hath been a bawd. 1910
  • Abhorson. A bawd, sir? fie upon him! he will discredit our mystery.
  • Provost. Go to, sir; you weigh equally; a feather will turn
    the scale.


  • Pompey. Pray, sir, by your good favour,—for surely, sir, a 1915
    good favour you have, but that you have a hanging
    look,—do you call, sir, your occupation a mystery?
  • Pompey. Painting, sir, I have heard say, is a mystery; and
    your whores, sir, being members of my occupation, 1920
    using painting, do prove my occupation a mystery:
    but what mystery there should be in hanging, if I
    should be hanged, I cannot imagine.
  • Abhorson. Every true man's apparel fits your thief: if it be
    too little for your thief, your true man thinks it
    big enough; if it be too big for your thief, your
    thief thinks it little enough: so every true man's
    apparel fits your thief. 1930

[Re-enter Provost]

  • Pompey. Sir, I will serve him; for I do find your hangman is
    a more penitent trade than your bawd; he doth
    oftener ask forgiveness. 1935
  • Provost. You, sirrah, provide your block and your axe
    to-morrow four o'clock.
  • Abhorson. Come on, bawd; I will instruct thee in my trade; follow.
  • Pompey. I do desire to learn, sir: and I hope, if you have
    occasion to use me for your own turn, you shall find 1940
    me yare; for truly, sir, for your kindness I owe you
    a good turn.
  • Provost. Call hither Barnardine and Claudio:
    [Exeunt POMPEY and ABHORSON]
    The one has my pity; not a jot the other, 1945
    Being a murderer, though he were my brother.
    [Enter CLAUDIO]
    Look, here's the warrant, Claudio, for thy death:
    'Tis now dead midnight, and by eight to-morrow
    Thou must be made immortal. Where's Barnardine? 1950
  • Claudio. As fast lock'd up in sleep as guiltless labour
    When it lies starkly in the traveller's bones:
    He will not wake.
  • Provost. Who can do good on him?
    Well, go, prepare yourself. 1955
    [Knocking within]
    But, hark, what noise?
    Heaven give your spirits comfort!
    [Exit CLAUDIO]
    By and by. 1960
    I hope it is some pardon or reprieve
    For the most gentle Claudio.
    [Enter DUKE VINCENTIO disguised as before]
    Welcome father.
  • Vincentio. The best and wholesomest spirts of the night 1965
    Envelope you, good Provost! Who call'd here of late?
  • Provost. None, since the curfew rung.
  • Vincentio. They will, then, ere't be long. 1970
  • Provost. What comfort is for Claudio?
  • Vincentio. Not so, not so; his life is parallel'd
    Even with the stroke and line of his great justice: 1975
    He doth with holy abstinence subdue
    That in himself which he spurs on his power
    To qualify in others: were he meal'd with that
    Which he corrects, then were he tyrannous;
    But this being so, he's just. 1980
    [Knocking within]
    Now are they come.
    [Exit Provost]
    This is a gentle provost: seldom when
    The steeled gaoler is the friend of men. 1985
    [Knocking within]
    How now! what noise? That spirit's possessed with haste
    That wounds the unsisting postern with these strokes.

[Re-enter Provost]

  • Provost. There he must stay until the officer 1990
    Arise to let him in: he is call'd up.
  • Vincentio. Have you no countermand for Claudio yet,
    But he must die to-morrow?
  • Vincentio. As near the dawning, provost, as it is, 1995
    You shall hear more ere morning.
  • Provost. Happily
    You something know; yet I believe there comes
    No countermand; no such example have we:
    Besides, upon the very siege of justice 2000
    Lord Angelo hath to the public ear
    Profess'd the contrary.
    [Enter a Messenger]
    This is his lordship's man.
  • Vincentio. And here comes Claudio's pardon. 2005
  • Messenger. [Giving a paper]
    My lord hath sent you this note; and by me this
    further charge, that you swerve not from the
    smallest article of it, neither in time, matter, or
    other circumstance. Good morrow; for, as I take it, 2010
    it is almost day.

[Exit Messenger]

  • Vincentio. [Aside] This is his pardon, purchased by such sin
    For which the pardoner himself is in. 2015
    Hence hath offence his quick celerity,
    When it is born in high authority:
    When vice makes mercy, mercy's so extended,
    That for the fault's love is the offender friended.
    Now, sir, what news? 2020
  • Provost. I told you. Lord Angelo, belike thinking me remiss
    in mine office, awakens me with this unwonted
    putting-on; methinks strangely, for he hath not used it before.
  • Provost. [Reads] 2025
    'Whatsoever you may hear to the contrary, let
    Claudio be executed by four of the clock; and in the
    afternoon Barnardine: for my better satisfaction,
    let me have Claudio's head sent me by five. Let
    this be duly performed; with a thought that more 2030
    depends on it than we must yet deliver. Thus fail
    not to do your office, as you will answer it at your peril.'
    What say you to this, sir?
  • Vincentio. What is that Barnardine who is to be executed in the
    afternoon? 2035
  • Provost. A Bohemian born, but here nursed un and bred; one
    that is a prisoner nine years old.
  • Vincentio. How came it that the absent duke had not either
    delivered him to his liberty or executed him? I
    have heard it was ever his manner to do so. 2040
  • Provost. His friends still wrought reprieves for him: and,
    indeed, his fact, till now in the government of Lord
    Angelo, came not to an undoubtful proof.
  • Provost. Most manifest, and not denied by himself. 2045
  • Vincentio. Hath he born himself penitently in prison? how
    seems he to be touched?
  • Provost. 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; insensible of 2050
    mortality, and desperately mortal.
  • Provost. He will hear none: he hath evermore had the liberty
    of the prison; give him leave to escape hence, he
    would not: drunk many times a day, if not many days 2055
    entirely drunk. We have very oft awaked him, as if
    to carry him to execution, and showed him a seeming
    warrant for it: it hath not moved him at all.
  • Vincentio. More of him anon. There is written in your brow,
    provost, honesty and constancy: if I read it not 2060
    truly, my ancient skill beguiles me; but, in the
    boldness of my cunning, I will lay myself in hazard.
    Claudio, whom here you have warrant to execute, is
    no greater forfeit to the law than Angelo who hath
    sentenced him. To make you understand this in a 2065
    manifested effect, I crave but four days' respite;
    for the which you are to do me both a present and a
    dangerous courtesy.
  • Provost. A lack, how may I do it, having the hour limited,
    and an express command, under penalty, to deliver
    his head in the view of Angelo? I may make my case
    as Claudio's, to cross this in the smallest.
  • Vincentio. By the vow of mine order I warrant you, if my 2075
    instructions may be your guide. Let this Barnardine
    be this morning executed, and his head born to Angelo.
  • Provost. Angelo hath seen them both, and will discover the favour.
  • Vincentio. O, death's a great disguiser; and you may add to it.
    Shave the head, and tie the beard; and say it was 2080
    the desire of the penitent to be so bared before his
    death: you know the course is common. If any thing
    fall to you upon this, more than thanks and good
    fortune, by the saint whom I profess, I will plead
    against it with my life. 2085
  • Provost. Pardon me, good father; it is against my oath.
  • Vincentio. Were you sworn to the duke, or to the deputy?
  • Provost. To him, and to his substitutes.
  • Vincentio. You will think you have made no offence, if the duke
    avouch the justice of your dealing? 2090
  • Provost. But what likelihood is in that?
  • Vincentio. Not a resemblance, but a certainty. Yet since I see
    you fearful, that neither my coat, integrity, nor
    persuasion can with ease attempt you, I will go
    further than I meant, to pluck all fears out of you. 2095
    Look you, sir, here is the hand and seal of the
    duke: you know the character, I doubt not; and the
    signet is not strange to you.
  • Vincentio. The contents of this is the return of the duke: you 2100
    shall anon over-read it at your pleasure; where you
    shall find, within these two days he will be here.
    This is a thing that Angelo knows not; for he this
    very day receives letters of strange tenor;
    perchance of the duke's death; perchance entering 2105
    into some monastery; but, by chance, nothing of what
    is writ. Look, the unfolding star calls up the
    shepherd. Put not yourself into amazement how these
    things should be: all difficulties are but easy
    when they are known. Call your executioner, and off 2110
    with Barnardine's head: I will give him a present
    shrift and advise him for a better place. Yet you
    are amazed; but this shall absolutely resolve you.
    Come away; it is almost clear dawn.