Act I, scene ii
Synopsis of Act I scene ii
The scene changes to a street (or, as often played on stage, an ale-house) as we move away from the court of the Duke to meet some of the more disreputable inhabitants of Vienna (usually known to critics as ‘the low-life characters').
We first meet Lucio, a dissolute young man who, while a gentleman in rank, is corrupt in character. He is discussing with two other young men the rumour that the Duke has left Vienna to negotiate a peace-treaty with the King of Hungary. They tease each other about contracting venereal disease at brothels such as the one run by Mistress Overdone, who enters to tell them the news that their friend Claudio has been arrested. This is because Claudio has got his fiancée Juliet pregnant; Angelo, as the Deputy Duke, has introduced rigorous laws against any sexual immorality. Pompey, who is a bawd who works for Mistress Overdone, enters to tell her that all the brothels are to be demolished.
Claudio is brought along the street on his way to prison. He explains to Lucio what has happened to him, accepting that he has lacked restraint in his sexual behaviour but pointing out that he regards Juliet as his wife. He asks Lucio to go to find Isabella, who is Claudio's sister; she is about to enter a nunnery. Claudio wants her to go to Angelo and to plead for mercy for her brother.
Commentary on Act I scene ii
Went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scrap'd one out – Lucio jokes that, just as pirates ignore the biblical command in the Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not steal' (Exodus 20:15) so soldiers don't like to pray for peace as they prefer fighting (when they would get paid).
Where grace was said … Grace is grace … despite of all grace – The men joke and pun about the word ‘grace' which can refer to a prayer of thanks for food said before a meal. However, ‘grace' is also an important word in the serious discussions of the play about justice and mercy, since ‘grace' also means ‘the undeserved forgiveness of God' offered to repentant sinners. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven.)
Velvet… three-pile…French velvet…French crown…dolours – Another group of puns with more serious undertones, suggesting that they all suffer from sexually-transmitted diseases.More on sexually transmitted diseases?
Within these three days his head to be chopped off … the proclamation – Angelo has started to impose strict morality laws, and Claudio is the first to suffer under them. It is ironic, however, that Claudio, who is in love with Juliet, and totally faithful to her, should suffer when he is surrounded by people like Lucio, Pompey and Mistress Overdone who manage to escape the rigour of the law.
What has he done? A woman..Groping for trouts – The coarseness of Pompey's language immediately shows the audience his gross attitude to sexual morality.
The demi-god, Authority – Claudio comments on the enormous powers held by earthly rulers, which in Shakespeare's time were often seen as God-given. This was particularly a view held by James I. (See also Religious/philosophical context > Divine right of kings).
Make us pay down for offence by weight – Claudio suggests that punishments are in proportion to the crime, but the title of the play suggests that, for this very reason, we should be wary of judging others, since we too will be judged. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven.)
The word of heaven; On whom it will, it will. / On whom it will not, so – A reference to Exodus 33:19 where God says:
‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.' (AV)
Claudio says that although God may choose to show mercy, Claudio acknowledges that it is ‘just' for him to suffer for his sins.
Too much liberty … every scope by the immoderate use / Turns to restraint – Claudio accepts that his sexual freedom has now led to his lack of liberty. The play examines such issues in detail: both Isabella and Angelo seem at times to demand of themselves an excess of ‘restraint'. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The role of government; and Settings > The prison; and Characterisation > Angelo; Isabella; Claudio.)
What but to speak of would offend again – Claudio has a delicacy of mind and speech which is far removed from that of coarser characters such as Lucio and Pompey.
Upon a true contract I got possession of Julietta's bed ... she is fast my wife – Although technically they are not married, Claudio has made faithful promises to Juliet, which he regards as binding; he acknowledges her as his wife.
More on marriage: In Shakespeare's time, a promise of marriage made before witnesses, when followed by physical consummation of the relationship, constituted a legal marriage. It is this practice which gives also Mariana a particular claim on Angelo later in the play. (For further details, see Social/political context > The Stuart monarchy).
Our most mutual entertainment – Unlike Angelo's threat to Isabella, which is akin to rape, Claudio and Juliet have both wanted to sleep together. Shakespeare makes it quite clear that Angelo condemns Claudio for offences of which he, Angelo, is guilty – and in fact Angelo's are much worse.
Nineteen zodiacs have gone round – These laws about sexual morality have not been enforced for nineteen years. This is one of the problems of the play: what do we think of the Duke who has allowed vice to become widespread in Vienna because of his own laxity?
This day my sister should the cloister enter – By depicting Isabella as a young woman who wants to become a nun, Shakespeare introduces a new range of ideas. Her insistence on purity and physical chastity is important, and her outrage at the idea of sexual relations becomes more significant; (see also Themes and significant ideas > The nature of humanity).
More on the terminology used of relationships: As Isabella is a ‘sister' both in the sense of a nun and a sibling, and as the Duke is dressed as a friar, or ‘brother', while Claudio is Isabella's sibling, Shakespeare is able to play on these dual meanings. (See also Shakespeare's Language > Language as a weapon.)
She hath a prosperous art / When she will play with reason and discourse – Isabella is depicted as a strong character who has considerable powers of rhetoric; in her theological discussions with Angelo she covers a range of significant points, putting her ideas very forcefully.
Investigating Act I scene ii
- This is a scene full of contrasts – of characters, themes, language (including the use of prose as well as blank verse – see Shakespeare's Language). List examples of different types of contrast
- What is the effect of these contrasts on the audience?
- We have not yet met Isabella but by the end of this scene we have heard of her. What first impressions are the audience given of her?
- What ideas about justice have been presented to the audience in this scene?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1And God spoke all these words, saying, 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3You shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's. 18Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19and said to Moses, You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die. 20Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin. 21The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. 22And the Lord said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. 23You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. 26And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.
1And God spake all these words, saying, 2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 13Thou shalt not kill. 14Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15Thou shalt not steal. 16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. 17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's. 18And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. 22And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. 24An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. 25And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. 26Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1The Lord said to Moses, Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, To your offspring I will give it. 2I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people. 4When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5For the Lord had said to Moses, Say to the people of Israel, You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you. 6Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward. 7Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. 12Moses said to the Lord, See, you say to me, Bring up this people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight. 13Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people. 14And he said, My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. 15And he said to him, If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth? 17And the Lord said to Moses, This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name. 18Moses said, Please show me your glory. 19And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name The Lord. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. 21And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.
1And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: 2And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: 3Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way. 4And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. 5For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. 6And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb. 7And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. 8And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. 9And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. 10And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. 11And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. 12And Moses said unto the LORD, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. 13Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. 14And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. 15And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. 16For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. 17And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. 18And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. 19And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. 21And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: 22And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: 23And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
A woman in charge of a brothel, also known as a madam
A religious house where nuns ' women who have devoted themselves to the worship of God, and have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience ' live and pray (also called a Convent).
Relating to, or contained in, the Bible. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament.
Also called 'The Decalogue' (Ten Words). Instructions said to have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, which have not only shaped Jewish and Christian belief and practice but also strongly influenced the legal systems of many countries.
A play on the meaning of words, often for comic effect.
Undeserved favour. The Bible uses this term to describe God's gifts to human beings.
1. The quality of being just. 2. Fairness. 3. The administration of the law.
The showing of pity and compassion; in particular, the grace and forgiveness offered by God to sinful humans if they repent of their wrong-doings.
1. The action of forgiving; pardon of a fault, remission of a debt.
2. Being freed from the burden of guilt, after committing a sin or crime, through being pardoned by the one hurt or offended.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
Being sorry for one's actions and desiring to act differently in the future.
Someone who disobeys God's will by their actions or failure to act. The Bible regards all human beings as predisposed to sin.
Relating to irony, in which a comment may mean the opposite of what is actually said.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
A woman who has chosen to enter a religious order for women, and taken the appropriate vows.
The state of being sexually pure; it is often used with reference to virginity, but also refers to remaining faithful within marriage.
A man belonging to a Christian religious group who, instead of living within an enclosed religious house, travelled round teaching the Christian faith, and sustaining himself by begging for charity.
Originally, the art of using language orally to persuade, and the formulation of various devices.
Related to theology, the study of God.
In written text, the ordinary plain form of language, not organised into verse form. It is often contrasted with the term 'poetry'.
Unrhymed verse, in lines of ten syllables with an underlying stressed / unstressed rhythm.