Summary: Act 4: Scene 3

Pompey remarks that he is as well acquainted with the prison as with Mistress Overdone's brothel. He adds that many of the same people frequent both places, and lists them.

Abhorson enters, telling Pompey to bring Barnadine. Barnadine tells them that he has been drinking all night and does not want to die today. The Duke comes to offer prayer, and Barnadine holds firm, saying that he will not die.

The Provost tells the Duke that a notorious pirate, of about Claudio's age, died in prison the night before, and that they can use his head instead of Barnadine's. The Duke says that it "is an accident that heaven provides" (IV.iii.76). He tells the provost to hide both Barnadine and Claudio and send the head immediately to Angelo.

Isabella enters, asking if the pardon has arrived. The Duke tells her that her brother has already been executed, his head sent to Angelo. Isabella wants to go to Angelo, but the Duke tells her that she will not be admitted. Instead, he says, she should wait until the Duke's return and have Angelo punished by his superior. He gives her a letter to take to Friar Peter.

Lucio enters and tells Isabella that he is mourning her brother's death. He also says that if the Duke had been in Vienna, Claudio would not have died. Isabella exits, and Lucio begins to talk about the Duke's relations with women again. The Duke says that he does not want to hear more stories. Lucio tells him that he was once before the Duke for impregnating a woman, but that he denied it because he did not want to marry her.

Read a translation of Act 4: Scene 3.

Summary: Act 4: Scene 4

Angelo and Escalus discuss the Duke's letter. They do not understand why they have to meet him at the gates. The letter also orders them to proclaim that anyone with a complaint should present a petition in the street, ostensibly to ensure that no one lodges a complaint against Angelo later on. Escalus leaves, and Angelo wonders what Isabella might say. He hopes that she will be too modest to tell what has happened. He also says that he would have let Claudio go, but was worried about later revenge.

Read a translation of Act 4: Scene 4.

Summary: Act 4: Scene 5

The Duke arrives outside the town, in his own clothes, with Friar Peter. He tells the friar to deliver some letters, and also to bring Flavius to him. Varrius enters, and they walk together.

Read a translation of Act IV: Scene 5.

Summary: Act 4: Scene 6

Isabella and Mariana are standing by the city gate. Isabella is nervous about accusing Angelo, but Mariana tells her to obey the Duke and the Friar. Friar Peter approaches and tells them that he will find a place for them near the Duke.

Read a translation of Act 4: Scene 6.

Analysis: Act 4: Scenes 3-6

Things become more muddled just as they are on the verge of clarification. The Duke's plans are carried out, and he instigates a new scheme to save Claudio and Barnadine both. Barnadine refuses to be executed, perhaps even sensing that the Duke and the provost see his life as worthless. His assertion that he will not die is a statement of the sanctity of life in general. The convenient death of the pirate matches the convenient existence of Mariana in its incredibility, and the Duke's attitude encourages us simply to follow along as all the other characters do. Angelo emerges as quite an oblivious figure, as he is tricked by Mariana's substitution for Isabella and a pirate's substitution for Claudio all in the space of one night and morning. Here Shakespeare truly demands that we suspend our disbelief.

The Duke's lie to Isabella is undoubtedly unkind, causing her great distress and anger. There are some possible motivations for this; perhaps, for instance, he believed that she would not argue passionately against Angelo once the point became irrelevant. However, it is likely that he wants to surprise her dramatically before asking for her hand in marriage.

The Duke does not immediately reveal his dual identity, still enjoying the intrigue which only he fully comprehends. To some extent, he is playing with his subjects, making them believe that they act of their own volition while manipulating them. He is also testing them, perhaps to determine how worthy they are of their positions. Isabella no doubt falls into this examination of virtue, and she passes by refusing Angelo's proposals and obeying the Duke and Friar wholeheartedly.