Act IV - Act IV, Scene 2

SCENE II. A Room in the prison.

[Enter PROVOST and CLOWN.]

Come hither, sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head?

If the man be a bachelor, sir, I can: but if he be a married man,
he's his wife's head, and I can never cut off a woman's head.

Come, sir, leave me your snatches and yield me a direct answer.
To-morrow morning are to die Claudio and Barnardine. Here is in
our prison a common executioner, who in his office lacks a helper;
if you will take it on you to assist him, it shall redeem you from
your gyves; if not, you shall have your full time of imprisonment,
and your deliverance with an unpitied whipping; for you have been
a notorious bawd.

Sir, I have been an unlawful bawd time out of mind; but yet I
will be content to be a lawful hangman. I would be glad to receive
some instruction from my fellow-partner.

What ho, Abhorson! Where's Abhorson, there?


Do you call, sir?

Sirrah, here's a fellow will help you to-morrow in your
execution. If you think it meet, compound with him by the year,
and let him abide here with you; if not, use him for the
present, and dismiss him. He cannot plead his estimation with
you; he hath been a bawd.

A bawd, sir? Fie upon him; he will discredit our mystery.

Go to, sir; you weigh equally; a feather will turn the scale.


Pray, sir, by your good favour,--for, surely, sir, a good favour
you have, but that you have a hanging look,--do you call, sir,
your occupation a mystery?

Ay, sir; a mystery.

Painting, sir, I have heard say, is a mystery; and your whores,
sir, being members of my occupation, using painting, do prove
my occupation a mystery: but what mystery there should be in
hanging, if I should be hanged, I cannot imagine.

Sir, it is a mystery.


Every true man's apparel fits your thief: if it be too little for
your thief, your true man thinks it big enough; if it be too big
for your thief, your thief thinks it little enough; so every true
man's apparel fits your thief.

[Re-enter PROVOST.]

Are you agreed?

Sir, I will serve him; for I do find your hangman is a more
penitent trade than your bawd; he doth oftener ask forgiveness.

You, sirrah, provide your block and your axe to-morrow four

Come on, bawd; I will instruct thee in my trade; follow.

I do desire to learn, sir; and I hope, if you have occasion to
use me for your own turn, you shall find me yare; for truly,
sir, for your kindness I owe you a good turn.

Call hither Barnardine and Claudio.

[Exeunt CLOWN and ABHORSON.]

One has my pity; not a jot the other,
Being a murderer, though he were my brother.

[Enter CLAUDIO.]

Look, here's the warrant, Claudio, for thy death:
'Tis now dead midnight, and by eight to-morrow
Thou must be made immortal. Where's Barnardine?

As fast lock'd up in sleep as guiltless labour
When it lies starkly in the traveller's bones:
He will not wake.

Who can do good on him?
Well, go, prepare yourself. But hark, what noise?
[Knocking within.]
Heaven give your spirits comfort!


By and by!--
I hope it is some pardon or reprieve
For the most gentle Claudio.--Welcome, father.

[Enter DUKE.]

The best and wholesom'st spirits of the night
Envelop you, good provost! Who call'd here of late?

None, since the curfew rung.

Not Isabel?


They will then, ere't be long.

What comfort is for Claudio?

There's some in hope.

It is a bitter deputy.

Not so, not so: his life is parallel'd
Even with the stroke and line of his great justice;
He doth with holy abstinence subdue
That in himself which he spurs on his power
To qualify in others: were he meal'd
With that which he corrects, then were he tyrannous;
But this being so, he's just.--Now are they come.

[Knocking within--PROVOST goes out.]

This is a gentle provost: seldom when
The steeled gaoler is the friend of men.--
How now? what noise? That spirit's possess'd with haste
That wounds the unsisting postern with these strokes.

[PROVOST returns, speaking to one at the door.]

There he must stay until the officer
Arise to let him in; he is call'd up.

Have you no countermand for Claudio yet,
But he must die to-morrow?

None, sir, none.

As near the dawning, Provost, as it is,
You shall hear more ere morning.

You something know; yet I believe there comes
No countermand; no such example have we:
Besides, upon the very siege of justice,
Lord Angelo hath to the public ear
Profess'd the contrary.

[Enter a Messenger.]

This is his lordship's man.

And here comes Claudio's pardon.

My lord hath sent you this note; and by me this further charge,
that you swerve not from the smallest article of it, neither in
time, matter, or other circumstance. Good morrow; for as I take
it, it is almost day.

I shall obey him.

[Exit Messenger.]

[Aside.] This is his pardon, purchas'd by such sin,
For which the pardoner himself is in:
Hence hath offence his quick celerity,
When it is borne in high authority:
When vice makes mercy, mercy's so extended
That for the fault's love is the offender friended.--
Now, sir, what news?

I told you: Lord Angelo, belike thinking me remiss in mine
office, awakens me with this unwonted putting-on; methinks
strangely, for he hath not used it before.

Pray you, let's hear.

[Reads.] 'Whatsoever you may hear to the contrary, let Claudio be
executed by four of the clock; and, in the afternoon, Barnardine:
for my better satisfaction, let me have Claudio's head sent me by
five. Let this be duly performed; with a thought that more
depends on it than we must yet deliver. Thus fail not to do your
office, as you will answer it at your peril.'
What say you to this, sir?

What is that Barnardine who is to be executed in the afternoon?

A Bohemian born; but here nursed up and bred: one that is a
prisoner nine years old.

How came it that the absent duke had not either delivered him to
his liberty or executed him? I have heard it was ever his manner
to do so.

His friends still wrought reprieves for him; and, indeed, his
fact, till now in the government of Lord Angelo, came not to an
undoubtful proof.

It is now apparent?

Most manifest, and not denied by himself.

Hath he borne himself penitently in prison? How seems he to be

A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken
sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless, of what's past, present,
or to come; insensible of mortality and desperately mortal.

He wants advice.

He will hear none; he hath evermore had the liberty of the
prison; give him leave to escape hence, he would not: drunk many
times a-day, if not many days entirely drunk. We have very oft
awaked him, as if to carry him to execution, and showed him a
seeming warrant for it: it hath not moved him at all.

More of him anon. There is written in your brow, Provost, honesty
and constancy: if I read it not truly, my ancient skill beguiles me;
but in the boldness of my cunning I will lay myself in hazard.
Claudio, whom here you have warrant to execute, is no greater
forfeit to the law than Angelo who hath sentenced him. To make you
understand this in a manifested effect, I crave but four days'
respite; for the which you are to do me both a present and a
dangerous courtesy.

Pray, sir, in what?

In the delaying death.

Alack! How may I do it? having the hour limited; and an express
command, under penalty, to deliver his head in the view of Angelo?
I may make my case as Claudio's, to cross this in the smallest.

By the vow of mine order, I warrant you, if my instructions may
be your guide. Let this Barnardine be this morning executed,
and his head borne to Angelo.

Angelo hath seen them both, and will discover the favour.

O, death's a great disguiser: and you may add to it. Shave the
head and tie the beard; and say it was the desire of the penitent
to be so bared before his death. You know the course is common.
If anything fall to you upon this, more than thanks and good
fortune, by the saint whom I profess, I will plead against it with
my life.

Pardon me, good father; it is against my oath.

Were you sworn to the duke, or to the deputy?

To him and to his substitutes.

You will think you have made no offence if the duke avouch the
justice of your dealing?

But what likelihood is in that?

Not a resemblance, but a certainty. Yet since I see you fearful,
that neither my coat, integrity, nor persuasion, can with ease
attempt you, I will go further than I meant, to pluck all fears
out of you. Look you, sir, here is the hand and seal of the duke.
You know the character, I doubt not; and the signet is not
strange to you.

I know them both.

The contents of this is the return of the duke; you shall anon
over-read it at your pleasure, where you shall find within these
two days he will be here. This is a thing that Angelo knows not:
for he this very day receives letters of strange tenour: perchance
of the duke's death; perchance entering into some monastery; but,
by chance, nothing of what is writ. Look, the unfolding star calls
up the shepherd. Put not yourself into amazement how these things
should be: all difficulties are but easy when they are known. Call
your executioner, and off with Barnardine's head: I will give him
a present shrift, and advise him for a better place. Yet you are
amazed: but this shall absolutely resolve you. Come away; it is
almost clear dawn.