Measure for Measure

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene iv


Angelo considers his situation again, confused by the conflicting emotions he is experiencing regarding his laws about fornication and his desire for Isabella. His servant enters to announce Isabella's arrival, and he is concerned about his feelings.

Angelo tells Isabella that her brother will still die, but seems less firm. Isabella asks for clarification, and Angelo poses the question, "Which had you rather: the most just law now took your brother's life; or, to redeem him, give up your body to such sweet uncleanness as she that he hath stained?" (II.iv.52-54). In other words, would she sacrifice her virginity to save her brother?

Isabella replies, "I had rather give my body than my soul" (II.iv.56). Angelo clarifies his question, saying that he has sentenced Claudio to death. He asks, "Might there not be a charity in sin to save this brother's life?"--hypothetically asking whether she would sin to save him (II.iv.63).

She asks him to pardon her brother, saying that it would be worth a sin, but innocently assuming that he is speaking of the sin of forgiving him for his crime. Angelo tries to make her understand what he really means, saying that she is misinterpreting his words and thus either ignorant or crafty. He again tries to make his proposition, beginning by saying that Claudio will die. Isabella understands this much, and Angelo says that his crime warrants such a punishment. Isabella agrees. Then Angelo states his question more clearly, asking whether she would be willing to have sexual relations with a man in order to save Claudio.

Isabella says that she would rather die than commit such an act, so therefore her brother should die under the same conditions. Angelo replies that he will die. Isabella agrees to this, saying that it is better for him to die than for her soul to be tarnished by the sin. Angelo asks her whether she is not acting as cruelly as he is, and she argues that she cannot redeem her brother through further sin.

Angelo tells Isabella that he loves her, and she replies, "My brother did love Juliet, and you tell me that he shall die for't" (II.iv.143). Angelo replies that Claudio will not die if Isabella agrees to his proposition. Isabel grows irate when she realizes he is sincere, and says that she will blackmail him if he does not pardon her brother, telling everyone what he has asked of her.

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