Act III - Act III, Scene 1


SCENE I. A Room in the prison.


So, then you hope of pardon from Lord Angelo?

The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope:
I have hope to live, and am prepar'd to die.

Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life,--
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,
Servile to all the skiey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st
Hourly afflict; mere'y, thou art death's fool;
For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun,
And yet runn'st toward him still. Thou art not noble;
For all the accommodations that thou bear'st
Are nurs'd by baseness. Thou art by no means valiant;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself:
For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get;
And what thou hast, forgett'st. Thou art not certain;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
After the moon. If thou art rich, thou art poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;
For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both: for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What's yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid more thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

I humbly thank you.
To sue to live, I find I seek to die;
And, seeking death, find life. Let it come on.

[Within.] What, ho! Peace here; grace and good company!

Who's there? come in: the wish deserves a welcome.

Dear sir, ere long I'll visit you again.

Most holy sir, I thank you.


My business is a word or two with Claudio.

And very welcome. Look, signior, here's your sister.

Provost, a word with you.

As many as you please.

Bring me to hear them speak, where I may be conceal'd.

[Exeunt DUKE and PROVOST.]

Now, sister, what's the comfort?

As all comforts are; most good, most good, in deed:
Lord Angelo, having affairs to heaven,
Intends you for his swift ambassador,
Where you shall be an everlasting leiger:
Therefore, your best appointment make with speed;
To-morrow you set on.

Is there no remedy?

None, but such remedy as, to save a head,
To cleave a heart in twain.

But is there any?

Yes, brother, you may live:
There is a devilish mercy in the judge,
If you'll implore it, that will free your life,
But fetter you till death.

Perpetual durance?

Ay, just; perpetual durance; a restraint,
Though all the world's vastidity you had,
To a determin'd scope.

But in what nature?

In such a one as, you consenting to't,
Would bark your honour from that trunk you bear,
And leave you naked.

Let me know the point.

O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake,
Lest thou a feverous life shouldst entertain,
And six or seven winters more respect
Than a perpetual honour. Dar'st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle that we tread upon
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

Why give you me this shame?
Think you I can a resolution fetch
From flowery tenderness? If I must die,
I will encounter darkness as a bride
And hug it in mine arms.

There spake my brother; there my father's grave
Did utter forth a voice! Yes, thou must die:
Thou art too noble to conserve a life
In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,--
Whose settled visage and deliberate word
Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew
As falcon doth the fowl,--is yet a devil;
His filth within being cast, he would appear
A pond as deep as hell.

The precise Angelo?

O, 'tis the cunning livery of hell
The damned'st body to invest and cover
In precise guards! Dost thou think, Claudio,
If I would yield him my virginity
Thou mightst be freed?

O heavens! it cannot be.

Yes, he would give it thee, from this rank offence,
So to offend him still. This night's the time
That I should do what I abhor to name,
Or else thou diest to-morrow.

Thou shalt not do't.

O, were it but my life,
I'd throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin.

Thanks, dear Isabel.

Be ready, Claudio, for your death to-morrow.

Yes.--Has he affections in him
That thus can make him bite the law by the nose
When he would force it? Sure it is no sin;
Or of the deadly seven it is the least.

Which is the least?

If it were damnable, he, being so wise,
Why would he for the momentary trick
Be perdurably fined?--O Isabel!

What says my brother?

Death is a fearful thing.

And shamed life a hateful.

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods or to reside
In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling!--'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

Alas, alas!

Sweet sister, let me live:
What sin you do to save a brother's life
Nature dispenses with the deed so far
That it becomes a virtue.

O you beast!
O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?
Is't not a kind of incest to take life
From thine own sister's shame? What should I think?
Heaven shield my mother play'd my father fair!
For such a warped slip of wilderness
Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance:
Die; perish! might but my bending down
Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed:
I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death,--
No word to save thee.

Nay, hear me, Isabel.

O fie, fie, fie!
Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade:
Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd:
'Tis best that thou diest quickly.


O, hear me, Isabella.

[Re-enter DUKE.]

Vouchsafe a word, young sister, but one word.

What is your will?

Might you dispense with your leisure, I would by and by have
some speech with you: the satisfaction I would require is
likewise your own benefit.

I have no superfluous leisure; my stay must be stolen out of
other affairs; but I will attend you awhile.

[To CLAUDIO aside.] Son, I have overheard what hath passed
between you and your sister. Angelo had never the purpose to
corrupt her; only he hath made an assay of her virtue to
practise his judgment with the disposition of natures; she,
having the truth of honour in her, hath made him that gracious
denial which he is most glad to receive: I am confessor to
Angelo, and I know this to be true; therefore prepare yourself
to death. Do not satisfy your resolution with hopes that are
fallible: to-morrow you must die; go to your knees and make ready.

Let me ask my sister pardon. I am so out of love with life that I
will sue to be rid of it.

Hold you there. Farewell.


[Re-enter PROVOST.]

Provost, a word with you.

What's your will, father?

That, now you are come, you will be gone. Leave me a while with
the maid; my mind promises with my habit no loss shall touch her
by my company.

In good time.


The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good; the goodness
that is cheap in beauty makes beauty brief in goodness; but grace,
being the soul of your complexion, shall keep the body of it ever
fair. The assault that Angelo hath made to you, fortune hath
conveyed to my understanding; and, but that frailty hath examples
for his falling, I should wonder at Angelo. How will you do to
content this substitute, and to save your brother?

I am now going to resolve him; I had rather my brother die by the
law than my son should be unlawfully born. But, O, how much is the
good duke deceived in Angelo! If ever he return, and I can speak
to him, I will open my lips in vain, or discover his government.

That shall not be much amiss: yet, as the matter now stands, he
will avoid your accusation; he made trial of you only.--Therefore
fasten your ear on my advisings; to the love I have in doing good
a remedy presents itself. I do make myself believe that you may
most uprighteously do a poor wronged lady a merited benefit;
redeem your brother from the angry law; do no stain to your own
gracious person; and much please the absent duke, if peradventure
he shall ever return to have hearing of this business.

Let me hear you speak further; I have spirit to do anything that
appears not foul in the truth of my spirit.

Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful. Have you not heard
speak of Mariana, the sister of Frederick, the great soldier who
miscarried at sea?

I have heard of the lady, and good words went with her name.

She should this Angelo have married; was affianced to her by
oath, and the nuptial appointed: between which time of the
contract and limit of the solemnity her brother Frederick was
wrecked at sea, having in that perished vessel the dowry of his
sister. But mark how heavily this befell to the poor gentlewoman:
there she lost a noble and renowned brother, in his love toward
her ever most kind and natural; with him the portion and sinew of
her fortune, her marriage-dowry; with both, her combinate husband,
this well-seeming Angelo.

Can this be so? Did Angelo so leave her?

Left her in her tears, and dried not one of them with his
comfort; swallowed his vows whole, pretending, in her,
discoveries of dishonour; in few, bestow'd her on her own
lamentation, which she yet wears for his sake; and he, a
marble to her tears, is washed with them, but relents not.

What a merit were it in death to take this poor maid from the
world! What corruption in this life that it will let this man
live!--But how out of this can she avail?

It is a rupture that you may easily heal; and the cure of it not
only saves your brother, but keeps you from dishonour in doing it.

Show me how, good father.

This forenamed maid hath yet in her the continuance of her first
affection; his unjust unkindness, that in all reason should have
quenched her love, hath, like an impediment in the current, made
it more violent and unruly. Go you to Angelo; answer his requiring
with a plausible obedience; agree with his demands to the point:
only refer yourself to this advantage,--first, that your stay with
him may not be long; that the time may have all shadow and silence
in it; and the place answer to convenience: this being granted in
course, and now follows all. We shall advise this wronged maid to
stead up your appointment, go in your place; if the encounter
acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to her recompense:
and here, by this, is your brother saved, your honour untainted,
the poor Mariana advantaged, and the corrupt deputy scaled. The
maid will I frame and make fit for his attempt. If you think well
to carry this as you may, the doubleness of the benefit defends
the deceit from reproof. What think you of it?

The image of it gives me content already; and I trust it will
grow to a most prosperous perfection.

It lies much in your holding up. Haste you speedily to Angelo; if
for this night he entreat you to his bed, give him promise of
satisfaction. I will presently to Saint Luke's; there, at the
moated grange, resides this dejected Mariana. At that place call
upon me; and despatch with Angelo, that it may be quickly.

I thank you for this comfort. Fare you well, good father.

[Exeunt severally.]


  1. In Act III, Scene I of Shakespare's Hamlet, Hamlet expresses a similar thought in his soliloquy beginning with "To be, or not to be, that is the question." We cannot know what to expect when we are dead. It could be an eternal sleep, eternal paradise, eternal torment, a metamorphosis into a different type of being, or any other number of other theories or beliefs. The fear of the unknown that death inspires helps life seem more precious and meaningful.

    — William Delaney
  2. These words express a thought similar to that spoken by Achilles to Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey, when Odysseus goes to visit the Land of the Dead in Book XI

    As for you, Achilles, no one was ever yet so fortunate as you have been, nor ever will be, for you were adored by all us Argives as long as you were alive, and now that you are here you are a great prince among the dead. Do not, therefore, take it so much to heart even if you are dead.’

    ‘Say not a word,’ he answered, ‘in death's favor; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead. 

    The three great epic poems in which a hero visits the Land of the Dead are Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Dante's Inferno.

    — William Delaney