The city streets

Drinking and whoring

Men in the streetsThe second scene of the play is deliberately a complete contrast to the first (see Structure > Juxtaposition of scenes). The action moves to the ‘low-life' of Vienna. It is not clear exactly where this scene is set: it must be on the streets, in some public place, since Claudio passes by later in the scene, being led through the streets to be ‘shown to th'world' as an example because of his crime. However, since Lucio and his friends are discussing drinking, theatre directors sometimes set it outside a tavern. This would also make sense of the fact that Claudio had arranged to meet Lucio ‘two hours since', and some specific meeting-place would be implied.

During the conversation Lucio has in Act I sc ii with Mistress Overdone, we hear that there are ‘suburbs' in Vienna where the brothels – ‘houses of resort' - are situated. (This is a direct reflection of the situation in Shakespeare's London.)

Outside prison

The streets of Vienna again seem to be the setting for the scene which modern editors usually denote as Act III sc ii, whereas in the 1623 Folio edition there is no scene division, even though the action moves from inside to outside the prison. Shakespeare's audience would have understood this merely by the words of the characters and the appearance of Elbow and Pompey on their way to the gaol; that this is outside prison is clear from the fact that Lucio (who is not under arrest) happens to pass by and is noticed by Pompey.

Beneath the walls

One other aspect of Vienna which is made clear from the text is that the city – like many cities in Shakespeare's time – is enclosed by defensive walls in which are gates (as can still be seen in the English cities of York and Chester, for example). In the final Act, the Duke chooses to set up a public tribunal by one of these, as the audience gathers from the comments of Angelo to Escalus on Act IV sc iv:

‘And why meet him at the gates and redeliver our authorities there?'

In Act IV sc vi Friar Peter comments that

‘The generous and gravest citizens
Have hent the gates'

- that is, they have taken up position there. Hence the streets of Vienna become a public forum where justice can be seen to be done.

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