Vienna. A monastery.
(Duke; Friar Peter)
The Friar is suspicious that the Duke has hidden himself away to pursue a love affair, but the duke insists that the real reason is that he is aware that he has been too lenient a ruler, and that therefore Vienna has sunk into depravity. Since he does not think he would be able to suddenly begin enforcing the laws, he has handed over government to Angelo, who is a stickler for the rules. At the same time, the Duke is curious to see how Angelo rules, and whether holding power will corrupt him. (57 lines)
Enter Duke and Friar Peter.
No; holy father, throw away that thought;
Believe not that the dribbling dart of love
Can pierce a complete bosom. Why I desire thee
To give me secret harbor, hath a purpose
More grave and wrinkled than the aims and ends
Of burning youth.
May your Grace speak of it?
My holy sir, none better knows than you
How I have ever lov’d the life removed,
And held in idle price to haunt assemblies
Where youth, and cost, witless bravery keeps.
I have deliver’d to Lord Angelo
(A man of stricture and firm abstinence)
My absolute power and place here in Vienna,
And he supposes me travel’d to Poland
(For so I have strew’d it in the common ear,
And so it is receiv’d). Now, pious sir,
You will demand of me why I do this.
Gladly, my lord.
We have strict statutes and most biting laws
(The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds),
Which for this fourteen years we have let slip,
Even like an o’ergrown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threat’ning twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children’s sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock’d than fear’d; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead,
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.
It rested in your Grace
To unloose this tied-up justice when you pleas’d:
And it in you more dreadful would have seem’d
Than in Lord Angelo.
I do fear—too dreadful;
Sith ’twas my fault to give the people scope,
’Twould be my tyranny to strike and gall them
For what I bid them do; for we bid this be done,
When evil deeds have their permissive pass,
And not the punishment. Therefore indeed, my father,
I have on Angelo impos’d the office,
Who may, in th’ ambush of my name, strike home,
And yet my nature never in the fight
To do in slander. And to behold his sway,
I will, as ’twere a brother of your order,
Visit both prince and people; therefore I prithee
Supply me with the habit, and instruct me
How I may formally in person bear
Like a true friar. More reasons for this action
At our more leisure shall I render you;
Only, this one: Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows; or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see
If power change purpose: what our seemers be.