Act IV, scene i

Synopsis of Act IV scene i

MarianaMariana is sitting listening to a song sung by her page-boy, when the Duke (still disguised a friar) arrives. Isabella then arrives to meet the ‘friar', and Mariana leaves them alone while Isabella reports on her meeting with Angelo. She has pretended to agree to his sexual demands, and is due to meet him in his garden, but has stipulated that she must arrive in the dark and will not stay long. The Duke asks her to explain the situation to Mariana, who agrees to go in Isabella's place. Isabella urges her to remember to mention Claudio, and the Duke assures Mariana that what she is to do is not sinful.

Commentary on Act IV scene i

A man of comfort, whose advice hath often still'd my brawling discontent – This line presents the audience with another problem: it now seems that this is not the first time the Duke has disguised himself as a friar. How ethical is it for him to act as a confessor to Mariana when he is not in fact a priest?

A repair in the dark – The plan relies on the fact that, in the dark, Angelo will not notice the substitution of Mariana for Isabella. Realism is not called for here, as the ‘bed-trick' was a familiar theatrical device.

More about the bed-trick: In another, earlier ‘problem-play', All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare had already used the idea of one woman taking another's place'. (See also Structure > The bed-trick.)

O place and greatness! – This speech, both in its content and in its verse format, seems to continue the one begun by the Duke at the end of his conversation with Lucio in Act III sc i. Its ideas are irrelevant here, and it seems to have been moved to this scene at some stage when it was realised that a soliloquy by the Duke was needed to fill up the time while Isabella explains the situation to Mariana (though in reality the time taken by these lines would be too short).

He is your husband on a pre-contract – Just as Claudio regards Juliet as his wife, because they have exchanged promises before sleeping together, so Mariana, once betrothed to Angelo, can be regarded as his wife once she has had sexual relations with him. The parallel between them reinforces the point that Angelo is as guilty of sin as the man he has condemned. (See also Social/political context > The Stuart monarchy.)

Our corn's to reap, for yet our tithe's to sow – The Duke means that they have work to do before they can achieve the result they want.

More on harvest imagery: Since a ‘tithe' or ‘tenth' of farm produce was given by parishioners to their priest, this is an appropriate image for the ‘friar' to use. However, it may also remind the audience of the image used by Lucio in Act I sc iv when he described how ‘the bare fallow' comes ‘to teeming foison' (harvest), and as such forms part of the theme of creation in the play. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The nature of humanity).
Investigating Act IV scene i
  • Read through the song at the start of this scene
    • How do the words reflect Mariana's situation? (To be ‘forsworn' means ‘to have broken a promise'.)
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