Act II, scene iii

Synopsis of Act II scene iii

The Duke, now disguised as a friar, comes to the prison. He questions Claudio's fiancée, Juliet, about her physical relationship with Claudio, which both Juliet and the Duke regard as sinful. Juliet is grieved that the blessing of having a child has resulted in the horror of Claudio's death-sentence.

Commentary on Act II scene iii

Enter the Duke disguised as a Friar – From here, until almost the end of the play, the Duke is dressed as a Friar. Does this reflect the idea of a ruler as being ‘God's deputy on earth' (see also Religious/philosophical context > Divine right of kings) or does it reveal hypocrisy and deviousness in the Duke, who is prepared to pretend he is a priest in order to spy on his subjects?

Repent you … of the sin you carry? – Because Juliet and Claudio had a sexual relationship before marriage, the child Juliet is bearing is seen as the result of sin. Juliet is genuinely repentant about this. She also confirms that she and Claudio ‘mutually' committed the sin. This underlines for the audience the much greater sin of Angelo, who intends to force Isabella to have sexual intercourse.

Then was your sin of heavier kind than his – The Duke's statement represents the double standards of Shakespeare's day regarding sexual morality, whereby men were not expected to be as chaste as women (i.e., for a woman to have intercourse outside marriage was worse than for a man to do so).

Investigating Act II scene iii
  • Why does Shakespeare include this scene?
    • Consider the nature of Claudio's sin in comparison with Angelo's later attempt to subject Isabella to his lustful desires.
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