Measure for Measure condensed

England had a new monarch in 1603 and he was from Scotland.  Some said that regulations in London governing public conduct needed to be more tightly enforced and that that message needed to be delivered diplomatically to the new king.  This play is set in Vienna, some saying Vienna being a stand-in for London, some believing that Shakespeare was among those who wanted the message delivered.  The new king was James I, the son of the deceased Mary, Queen of Scots who had been executed some fifteen years earlier. 

Act 1. The Duke of Vienna publicly announces that he is transferring the “deputation of our power” to Angelo, the duke having plans to the leave the city for an extended period.  Angelo promptly has Claudio arrested for “getting Julietta with child” and that “within three days his head is to be chopped off,” Angelo acting quickly to let people know that he is in charge and that he is going to tighten things up.  Julietta is Claudio’s fiancée.  In fact, the duke hasn’t left Vienna at all, having caused people to believe that he “has traveled to Poland.”  Claudio has a very attractive sister, Isabella.  The duke plans to disguise himself as a friar and mingle with the public.  An imprisoned Claudio asks his buddy Lucio to convince Isabella to visit Angelo and to ask her to encourage Angelo to reconsider his arrest since “well she can persuade.” She is about to be accepted into the “sisterhood” as a nun, but agrees to Lucio’s request, saying “I’ll see what I can do.”

Act 2. A judge tells Angelo that perhaps he should release Claudio.  Angelo holds firm, snapping “Sir, he must die.” He says Claudio is “to be executed by nine tomorrow morning.” Isabella and Lucio meet with Angelo. He doesn’t budge. Lucio advises Isabella to be more passionate and aggressive, telling her “you are too cold.” Isabella steps up her arguments. She makes progress. Angelo admits to us that “my honor is at cross-purposes with my desire for her.”  Isabella visits Angelo a second time. He tells her there is a way for her brother to live, but he is too subtle. She comes to understand his plan, yelling “sign me a present pardon for my brother or I’ll tell the world aloud what man thou art.” He responds “Who will believe you, Isabella?”  She quietly accepts his reply, concluding that her honor is dearer than her brother’s life.

Act 3. Disguised as Friar Lodowick, the duke visits Claudio in jail, suggesting he not fear death. Claudio accepts the friar’s advice saying “I find I seek to die, and seeking death find life.”  Isabella enters the prison for “a word or two with Claudio.” The duke plans to overhear their conversation. Having reconsidered his thoughts about death, Claudio says “sweet sister, let me live.”  She snaps back “Is’t not a kind of incest to take life from thine own sister’s shame? I’ll pray for thy death.” She walks out. The duke comes up with a plan. Years ago, Angelo had a fiancée, named Mariana.  He abandoned her when her dowry was lost at sea. The duke suggests to Isabella that she agree to meet privately with Angelo that night, if Mariana will stand-in for her, so to speak.  Lucio tells the disguised duke that the duke is “a very superficial, ignorant, thoughtless fellow.” The duke as Friar Lodowick tells Lucio that he needs to let the duke know his thoughts, if the duke ever returns. Lucio says “I fear you not” and exits.  Lucio had a child with Kate Keepdown and abandoned them both. The duke lets us know how he plans to save Claudio.

Act 4. Isabella has made all the arrangements with Mariana. Mariana has told her “fear me not.”  The plan works just as designed. Claudio is now scheduled to be executed at four in the morning. The disguised duke hides Claudio “in a secret hold.”  The disguised duke tells Isabella that Claudio’s “head if off, and sent to Angelo.”  The head is the head of another prisoner. He tells Isabella that “the duke will be here tomorrow.”  Plans are made to have Isabella and Mariana near the duke when he enters the city. Angelo enters the city with the duke and the judge, having met them “a league below the city.”

Act 5. A kneeling Isabella cries out as the duke, Angelo and the judge enter the city.  She cries “Angelo is an adulterous thief, a hypocrite, a virgin-violator.”  The duke responds “away with her.”  She tells the men she is Claudio’s sister. Angelo claims she is “strange” and has been “a suitor to me for her brother.” She mentions the name “Friar Lodowick” and is led off. The duke asks “who knows that Lodowick?” Lucio jumps in saying “he spake against your Grace while you were away.” The duke says “words against me?” Another friar says “Lodowick is sick, my lord, of a strange fever.” Mariana removes her veil. Angelo acknowledges knowing her. The duke exits, returning as Friar Lodowick. Lucio pulls at the friar’s hood, revealing the duke.  Lucio tries to slip away, but fails. The duke tells Angelo to “marry Mariana immediately.” He comforts Isabella. The duke says “an Angelo for Claudio, death for death, measure for measure.”  Mariana cries out. The duke says “my decision is final.” Supporting Mariana, Isabella yells out “For Angelo, intents are merely thoughts.” The provost brings forward a muffled Claudio and “unmuffles” him. The duke pardons Claudio, proposes to Isabella, pardons Angelo and demands Lucio be whipped and hanged after he marries Kate Keepdown. Lucio responds “marrying Kate Keepdown is whipping and hanging.”  The duke says “joy to you, Mariana.” He says “love her, Angelo.” The duke and Isabella marry.