Act III, scene ii

Synopsis of Act III scene ii

As he leaves the prison, the Duke encounters Elbow bringing in Pompey, who has been caught still practising his trade as a bawd. Elbow says that Pompey will be brought before Angelo. Lucio passes by, and Pompey is relieved to see him, as he thinks Lucio will pay his bail and save him from prison. However, Lucio sneers at Pompey, saying that he is certainly a bawd and richly deserves to go to prison.

As Pompey is taken away, Lucio starts talking to the disguised Duke about Angelo, whom he declares is unnaturally repressive. Lucio then talks about the Duke himself, asserting that the Duke is sexually promiscuous. When the Duke attempts to suggest otherwise, Lucio declares that he is an intimate friend of the Duke. Lucio also says that he will never deny what he has said even if the Duke should return to Vienna. He then leaves.

Just after he has gone, Escalus and the Provost arrive, bringing Mistress Overdone to prison. She declares that Lucio has given evidence against her; she also accuses Lucio of having fathered a prostitute's child and then abandoning the woman and her baby.

Left alone with Escalus and the Provost, the Duke is introduced as a helpful friar to Escalus. The ‘friar' then questions Escalus about the character of the Duke. Escalus praises the Duke, but comments on the extreme strictness of Angelo.

At the end of the scene, the Duke speaks in soliloquy of Angelo's hypocrisy and of the plan to substitute Mariana for Isabella.

Commentary on Act III scene ii

Buy and sell men and women like beasts – Another reference to the idea that, if people gratify only their baser instincts, for example through prostitution, they debase their humanity and move down the scale of creation. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The nature of humanity.) There are other references to ‘beastly touches' and ‘rude beast' within the first 35 lines of the scene.

That we were all, as some would seem to be, / From our faults, as faults from seeming, free! – Without mentioning Angelo's name to Elbow, the Duke comments on Angelo's hypocrisy, using the same word - ‘seeming'- with which Isabella accused Angelo in Act II sc iv.

More on the use of rhyme: The Duke here uses a rhyming couplet (see under Shakespeare's Language) to convey this idea, which is expressed as an epigram.

She is herself in the tub - That is, she is suffering from venereal disease. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The nature of humanity.)

Does Bridget paint still, Pompey? - Lucio asks whether a particular prostitute uses make-up: this is a variant on the Appearances and reality theme.

It was a mad, fantastical trick of him to steal from the state – Many of the audience may agree with Lucio, especially in view of what we now know about Angelo. On the other hand, the Duke has definite purposes in leaving Angelo in charge and ensuring that he has to face up to his own nature. (See also Characterisation > The Duke.)

Angelo was not made by man and woman after this downright way of creation – Lucio's comment is scurrilous, but nevertheless reminds the audience of the whole question of human nature investigated throughout the play. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The nature of humanity.)Man wearing a codpiece

The rebellion of a codpiece – A codpiece was a padded pocket (often heavily padded, for show) covering a man's sexual organs. Lucio's language, as usual, is coarse and graphic.

The sport ... the service – Lucio sees lechery as a game.

I was an inward of his ... well known to the Duke – The dramatic irony of Lucio's lie will come back to haunt him when he has to confront the Duke at the end of the play.

Unweighing fellow – A man without judgement – another of the ‘weighing and measuring' images that run through the play.

Must ... give him a better proclamation. Let him be but testimonied in his own bringings-forth – The disguised Duke claims to have a good reputation, supported by the record of his deeds. This does not appear to be boastfulness, since Escalus reports the same later in the scene.

A scholar, a statesman and a soldier - The Duke claims to be an archetype of the ideal ruler and courtier. (See also Religious/philosophical context > The Renaissance).

I can do you little harm – The Duke feels that Lucio is thoroughly bad.

Would eat mutton on Fridays – Since Friday was the day of Christ's crucifixion, Christians often observed a partial fast on that day, by not eating meat. Lucio implies that the Duke did not follow such religious practices. (But Lucio may also be punning on the fact that ‘mutton' could mean ‘a prostitute'; he implies again that the Duke was lecherous.)

No might nor greatness in mortality - These four rhyming lines may be incomplete. In Act IV sc i, the Duke again speaks in rhyme, continuing the same commentary on slander. Some critics feel these extra lines have been moved to Act IV from here.

He promised her marriage – Lucio is punished for this at the end of the play. Meanwhile, however, Lucio's lechery and abandonment of the girl provide an ironic echo of Angelo's behaviour.

If my brother wrought by my pity, it should not be so with him – Escalus is prepared to show the mercy which he and Angelo (his ‘brother' officer, not sibling) were told by the Duke that they could exercise (see Act I sc i).

One that above all other strifes contended especially to know himself – The importance of self-knowledge and self-discovery is one of the major themes of the play. The Duke's plan assists Angelo to face his true nature by the end of the play. (See also Characterisation > Isabella; Angelo).

A gentleman of all temperance - ‘Temperance' means ‘self-restraint and moderation'. If this is the Duke's character, then he is a model of the balance between excessive, repressive restraint and too much liberty which we see in other characters in the play. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The role of Statue of Justice on the Old Bailey, photo by Colin Smith, available through Creative Commonsgovernment).

So severe that ... he is indeed Justice – Justice should be counterbalanced by mercy, as Isabella reminded Angelo at their first meeting. Angelo exercises only half of the true role of a ruler (whose nature, as God's deputy on earth, should reflect God's). (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven; Religious/philosophical context > Divine right of kings). The same thought begins the Duke's last speech in this scene: He who the sword of heaven will bear / Should be as holy as severe.

More nor less to others paying / Than by self-offences weighing – The Duke paraphrases ‘Judge not that you be not judged' – the quotation from Matthew 7:1-2 which supplies the title Measure for Measure.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (AV)
Investigating Act III scene ii
  • This scene develops further our view of the Duke, especially by giving us Escalus' opinion. What do you think of the Duke by the end of this scene?
    • On what do you base your evidence?
  • Although he is undoubtedly a rogue, Lucio also supplies considerable humour. Look back through the scene and decide where the audience would find words or events humorous
    • How might these be acted on stage?
  • The scene deals strongly with the question of reputation
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.