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Measure for Measure

William Shakespeare

Act 2 Scene 1

page Act 2 Scene 1 Page 1

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A hall in ANGELO’s house.
A hall in ANGELO’s house.
Enter ANGELO, ESCALUS, and a Justice, Provost, Officers, and other Attendants, behind
ANGELO and ESCALUS enter, followed by a justice, the Provost, officers, and other attendants.


We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.


We mustn’t let the law turn into a scarecrow—something you set up to scare away birds of prey but then never change, until the birds get so used to it that they sit on it rather than fear it.


5Ay, but yet
Let us be keen, and rather cut a little,
Than fall, and bruise to death. Alas, this gentleman
Whom I would save had a most noble father!
Let but your honour know,
10Whom I believe to be most strait in virtue,
That, in the working of your own affections,
Had time cohered with place or place with wishing,
Or that the resolute acting of your blood
Could have attain’d the effect of your own purpose,
15Whether you had not sometime in your life
Err’d in this point which now you censure him,
And pull’d the law upon you.


Yes, but we should also be precise. Better to use a scalpel than a hatchet, cutting carefully instead of chopping to death. This gentleman whose life I’d like to save had such a noble father. I know you’re a completely disciplined, virtuous man. But imagine you felt sexual stirrings for a woman, and you were in the right place at the right time, and by acting on that desire you could have her. If sometime in your life, you’d made the same mistake for which you now condemn him, you’d have brought the law down on yourself.


’Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall. I not deny,
20The jury, passing on the prisoner’s life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try. What’s open made to justice,
That justice seizes: what know the laws
That thieves do pass on thieves? ’Tis very pregnant,
25The jewel that we find, we stoop and take’t
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon, and never think of it.
You may not so extenuate his offence
For I have had such faults; but rather tell me,
30When I, that censure him, do so offend,
Let mine own judgment pattern out my death,
And nothing come in partial. Sir, he must die.


It’s one thing to be tempted, Escalus, but another thing to give in. I don’t deny that the twelve members of a jury might include a thief or two who are far guiltier than the prisoner they’re passing sentence on. But justice takes the opportunities it has; who knows what laws thieves pass against other thieves? Obviously, if we stumble across a jewel in the road, we’ll bend down and take it, because we see it. But things we don’t see, we step over and never think about. You can’t excuse his crime on the grounds that I could have done the same thing. Instead, if I—the man who’s condemning him—commit the same offense, let this verdict of mine act as a precedent for my death, and let no allowances be made for me. Sir, he must die.

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