Act V, scene i

Synopsis of Act V scene i

The Duke arrives at the gates of Vienna, as if he has just returned. He greets Angelo and Escalus effusively, thanking them for their careful application of justice.

Isabella comes forward, calling for justice; the Duke says Angelo shall judge her case, but Isabella denounces Angelo as the devil. Angelo counters that she is mentally unbalanced because her brother has been executed by due process of law. Isabella retorts that Angelo is a murderer and has also sexually violated a virgin. She declares that, though he seems virtuous, he is actually a wicked hypocrite.

Isabella begins to tell her story. She explains how her brother was condemned to death for fornication. When she mentions how Lucio came to her at the nunnery, Lucio starts forward, insisting on adding his voice to her account; the Duke tells him to be silent. Isabella explains how Angelo demanded that she succumb to his lust in return for her brother's life. She says that she did as Angelo demanded, but he still gave the order for her brother's execution.

The Duke claims it would be very unlikely that Angelo would condemn someone for the very sin he himself was prepared to commit. Believing that she will not get justice from the Duke, Isabella prepares to leave, but the Duke has her arrested and taken to prison. Before she goes, she names Friar Lodowick as the man who encouraged her to appear before the Duke. Lucio then denounces Lodowick as a villain who had slandered the Duke. Friar Peter speaks up for Lodowick, claiming he is a holy man; he goes on to say that Lodowick is ill at the moment, but that he can produce a witness to disprove Isabella's testimony.

Mariana under veil, photo by chris.peplin available through Creative CommonsThe Duke says that Angelo shall now be in charge of the case.

Mariana arrives, veiled. She declares she will not uncover her face until her husband asks her to, and puzzles her hearers by saying that, though she has a husband, she is not married, and her husband does not know her. She adds that, at the very time Isabella claimed to be violated by Angelo, he was with her, Mariana, instead. Angelo asks her to unveil, which she does, revealing to him that she took Isabella's place in their assignation.

Angelo admits to the Duke that he once knew Mariana, but that all possibility of marriage between them ceased when he discovered that she was immoral. Angelo then suggests that the women have been persuaded by someone else to slander him. He asks to be given the power to investigate this, and the Duke agrees, leaving Angelo in charge, with Escalus as his adviser. The Duke also orders that Friar Lodowick shall be sent for. He then leaves.

Escalus asks Lucio about Friar Lodowick, and again Lucio denounces him as a villainous slanderer of the Duke. The Provost arrives with ‘Friar Lodowick' and with Isabella. When the ‘friar' says the Duke is unjust to leave Isabella's case to Angelo's judgement, Escalus is outraged, and orders that the friar should be tortured to make him confess how he is implicated in the perceived plot against Angelo. Lucio comes forward to denounce the friar as a slanderer of the Duke, and eventually pulls off the friar's hood. This action reveals the Duke.

Angelo, now realising that the Duke knows all about his appalling betrayal of trust, asks for immediate death. The Duke orders that he should first marry Mariana.

The Duke now speaks to Isabella; he is aware that she may wonder why he did not intervene to save Claudio, and he explains that the speed of the execution was so swift that he had no time to intervene.

Mariana returns with Angelo, who has now married her. The Duke condemns him to instant execution, but Mariana begs for his life. When the Duke refuses, Mariana urges Isabella to join her in pleading for her husband. The Duke points out that it would be ridiculous to expect Isabella to do this, since Angelo is to die because he was responsible for Claudio's unjust death. However, Isabella does ask for mercy for Angelo.

The Duke points out that Angelo was also responsible for having Claudio executed earlier than usual, and he then asks the Provost about his part in this affair. The Provost is then sent to fetch in Barnardine; he returns with Barnardine and Juliet - and Claudio, with his head covered. Claudio's identity is then revealed, and the Duke pardons him, at the same time asking for Isabella's hand in marriage. The Duke then turns to Lucio, ordering him to marry the prostitute by whom he had fathered a child. Finally the Duke thanks Escalus and the Provost for their good offices, and again turns to Isabella, asking her to marry him. She does not reply.

Watch Act V, scene i

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Commentary on Act V scene i

Act V, Scene i – There is only one scene in this Act; from this point on all the events contribute to a resolution of the situations set up in the earlier Acts.

O but your desert speaks loud – The Duke adds to Angelo's discomfiture by publicly praising him for his virtues.

To make them know / That outward courtesies would fain proclaim / Favours that keep within – The Duke, knowing that the reverse is in fact true in Angelo's case, ironically indicates that it is possible to judge a ruler's virtues by his outward reputation; this is another example of the theme of false appearances (see Imagery and symbolism > Disguise and seeming.)

Justice! Justice! Justice! Justice! – Isabella begins her accusation with this repeated cry for justice; by the end of the scene she is persuaded to beg for mercy for Angelo. The balance of justice and mercy in the application of both human and divine law is, as the audience will by this stage know, one of the most important themes of the play. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven.)

You bid me seek redemption of the devil – The word ‘redemption', which literally means ‘buying back', has a specific meaning in Christian terminology, referring to the forgiveness of sins, and salvation of the soul, offered to all humans through the death of Christ, the Son of God, on the cross. Isabella's comment is therefore shocking, since the devil is the enemy of God and of human souls.

She will speak most bitterly and strange … Most strange … is it not strange? – Isabella picks up Angelo's word ‘strange', by which he wants to imply that Isabella is deranged. Instead, her repetition of ‘strange' a further six times within the next nine lines stresses the outrageous nature of his behaviour. However, she insists that her ‘strange' accusation is ‘true'; this forms part of the theme of ‘seeming' within the play. (See also Imagery and symbolism > Disguise and seeming.)

‘tis not impossible but one ... May seem as shy, as grave ... As Angelo – Another example of ‘seeming'.

And when you have a business for yourself, / Pray heaven you then be perfect – Lucio will soon have to answer for his slandering of the Duke; however, the lines have added implications, reminding the audience that Lucio (and everyone else) will have to answer to ‘heaven' (i.e. God) for their sins at the Last Judgement.

His concupiscible intemperate lust – The rolling polysyllabic words ‘concupiscible intemperate', especially following a virtually monosyllabic line, are bound to strike the ears of the audience in a most forcible way.

My sisterly remorse – This phrase reminds the audience that she was also about to be a ‘sister' in the sense of a nun, making Angelo's offence even worse.

It imports no reason / That with such vehemency he should pursue / Faults proper to himself – The Duke pretends that Angelo could not have been so hypocritical as to condemn others for faults he shares. Since we - and Angelo - know that he has behaved in such a way, this comment underlines his injustice and ‘seeming'.

More about hypocrisy: The Duke's comment would also remind Shakespeare's audience of Christ's warning, recorded in the New Testament immediately after the reference to ‘measure for measure' from which Shakespeare took his title (see also Introduction) that we should first be aware of our own sins before condemning others: Matthew 7: 3-5.

He would have weigh'd thy brother by himself – A direct reference to the biblical quotation from which Shakespeare drew the play's title (to ‘mete' means to weigh out, or measure out a quantity): Matthew 7: 1-2

Bless'd be your royal Grace … your Grace – Escalus uses ‘Grace' as a courtesy title, but it reminds us that the ruler may be seen as God's deputy on earth. (See also Religious/philosophical context > Divine right of kings; Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven). Notice also that the term ‘Honour' is used with the dual meaning of both a title and a virtue throughout the play.

Be you judge of your own cause – Ironic, since Angelo has committed the same offence as Claudio (and worse) and should therefore condemn himself. We are reminded also of Angelo's self-satisfied comment in Act II sc ii:

When I that censure him do so offend,
Let mine own judgement pattern out my death,
And nothing come in partial.

Married ... a maid … a widow – Mariana claims Angelo as her husband by the tradition of ‘sponsalia per verba de futuro' – i.e., a verbal contract (see also Social/political context > The Stuart monarchy). However, she is not formally married by the church. Nor is she a ‘maid' (a virgin) as she has had sexual intercourse with Angelo. Her situation is completely anomalous until Angelo acknowledges her as his wife.

Know you this woman? Carnally, she says – In biblical language, to ‘know' a man or woman was often a euphemism for ‘having sexual relations with'.

I never spake with her … Upon my faith and honour – This is ironic, and grossly hypocritical of Angelo, since it is owing to his lack of ‘faith and honour' that he abandoned Mariana five years ago and has left her alone in her grief.

These … women are no more / But instruments of some more mighty member – Also ironic, since Angelo little realises how true his words are; the ‘more mighty member' is the Duke himself. As the unfolding events help Angelo to accept his own sinful nature, Isabella and Mariana may also be seen as instruments of God.

Think'st thou thy oaths ... Were testimonies against his worth and credit / That's seal'd in approbation? – The Duke puts forward the view that Angelo's good reputation is beyond question, and has been proved by experience. The Duke, of course, knows this to be untrue, but, by making this comment now, he will be able to show how false outward appearances can be, once Angelo's crimes are exposed. He is also giving Angelo the chance to confess at this point, but Angelo is happy to hide behind his reputation. (See also Imagery and symbolism > Disguise and seeming; Themes and significant ideas > The role of government.)

CowlCucullus non facit monachum – A hood (that is the ‘cowl' worn by a monk) does not make a monk: ironic, since Lucio little realises that the ‘friar' is actually the Duke. His comment is also part of the ‘false appearances' theme of the play, and another example of the clothing imagery. (See also Clothing and Appearance and reality under Imagery and symbolism > Disguise and seeming.)

Respect to your great place; and let the devil / Be sometime honour'd for his burning throne – The Duke implies that even the worst of rulers command some respect. His remark reminds the audience of the debate about authority and tyranny which runs throughout the play. (See also Themes and significant ideas > The role of government.)

Vienna, / Where I have seen corruption boil and bubble ... laws for all faults,/ But faults so countenanc'd – The Duke here seems to be acknowledging his own laxity in not enforcing the laws during all the years of his reign. This poses a problem, however, since when he re-appears later in the scene in his own person, no mention is made of this situation in the state, nor is there any indication of what he will do to amend it. (See ‘Measure for Measure' as a ‘problem play' in Introduction).

I perceive your Grace, like power divine, / Hath looked upon my passes – The Duke is here equated with God, who sees all human actions. The idea of a ruler as God's deputy on earth is one that King James I especially promoted: see also Religious / philosophical context > Divine right of kings. Although the word ‘Grace' is a title given in courtesy to the Duke, it has added implications here of the grace of God (see also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven).

Your brother's death, I know, sits at your heart – The Duke still does not let Isabella know that Claudio is alive; it is important for the plot and for the issues which the play promotes, that Isabella should not know that Claudio is safe when she is asked to plead for Angelo. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on heaven and on earth.)

An Angelo for Claudio; death for death. / Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure – These epigrammatic rhyming lines sum up the Old Testament view of the law of God, which tended to stress vengeance: Exodus 21:23-25. The Duke, however, wishes to show that mercy is important. By creating a situation in which Isabella is asked to pray for mercy for the man who has wronged her, the Duke promotes the New Testament view: Matthew 5:38-45.

Against all sense you do importune her. Should she kneel down in mercy of this fact … He dies for Claudio's death – The idea of ‘an eye for an eye' seems logical, but mercy is above this.

They say best men are moulded out of faults – Human beings need to acknowledge, and learn by their mistakes. Until now, Angelo has not admitted that he had weaknesses.

My brother had but justice, / In that he did the thing for which he died – Isabella points out that, under the strict letter of the law, Claudio deserved the death penalty. Like Angelo, Claudio has had to face up to the consequences of his actions and also to face up to the fact of mortality; both men have thought they were about to die, and were about to face the judgement of God. (See also Themes and significant ideas > Judgement on earth and in heaven.)

Give me your hand and say you will be mine – This proposal of marriage by the Duke to Isabella comes as a surprise to the audience – and to Isabella, who does not respond.

Thy slanders I forgive, and therewithal / Remit thy other forfeits … Slandering a prince deserves it – Lucio's penalty (marrying the prostitute he wronged) makes satisfying justice, especially as he has got away with his sins while Pompey and Mistress Overdone were imprisoned on his evidence. However, the Duke's remark that he deserves to be punished for ‘slandering a prince' reminds the audience that the Duke shares some characteristics with James I, who was particularly sensitive to ‘back-wounding calumny' (Act III sc ii). (See also Religious/philosophical context > Divine right of kings.)

I have confess'd her – Again, we hear of the Duke, who is not in fact a friar, acting as a priest. (See Act II sc iii, Act III sc i, Act IV sc i.) The Duke's actions in this regard pose ethical problems (see also Characterisation > The Duke).

Dear Isabel, I have a motion much imports your good – Again the Duke indicates that he wants to marry Isabella. Again Shakespeare gives her no lines of reply. This poses a problem for directors, who have to decide what attitude she will show by her body-language at the end of the play. (See also Structure > The ambiguous ending.)

Investigating Act V scene i
  • How satisfactory is this scene as a ‘denouement' (which means the ‘unknotting' of the plot at the end of a play)?
    • Make a note of any areas which you feel Shakespeare has left unresolved.
  • Look at the role of Lucio in this scene
    • How do his words and actions create humour?
    • What is the effect of that humour in the midst of such serious issues?
  • Write a paragraph summing up the main attitudes to justice and mercy which have emerged from this final Act.
  • The Duke dominates this Act in his dual role as ruler and friar What is your opinion of him and of his actions by the end of the play?
    • Make a list of points for and against him.
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