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Scene 4

Vienna. A nunnery.

(Isabella; Francisca; Lucio)

Isabella discusses the restrictions that the nuns of her order face with Sister Francisca, and wishes they were more stringent. Lucio arrives; as Isabella is still only a novice, she is allowed to speak to the man, while Francisca is not. Lucio explains to Isabella that her brother is in jail and likely to die, and explains the cause; Isabella is not overly sympathetic, though at first thinks that the easiest solution is simply that Claudio and Juliet marry. Lucio agrees that would be the best idea, but explains that the Duke is gone and the punctilious Angelo is ruling instead. Though she doubts she will have any effect, Isabella agrees to plead with Angelo for her brother’s life. (99 lines)

Enter Isabel and Francisca, a nun.


And have you nuns no farther privileges?


Are not these large enough?


Yes, truly; I speak not as desiring more,

But rather wishing a more strict restraint

Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare.



Ho! Peace be in this place!


Who’s that which calls?


It is a man’s voice. Gentle Isabella,

Turn you the key, and know his business of him;

You may, I may not; you are yet unsworn.

When you have vow’d, you must not speak with men

But in the presence of the prioress;

Then if you speak, you must not show your face,

Or if you show your face, you must not speak.

He calls again; I pray you answer him.



Peace and prosperity! Who is’t that calls?

Enter Lucio.


Hail, virgin, if you be, as those cheek-roses

Proclaim you are no less! Can you so stead me

As bring me to the sight of Isabella,

A novice of this place, and the fair sister

To her unhappy brother Claudio?


Why “her unhappy brother”? Let me ask,

The rather for I now must make you know

I am that Isabella, and his sister.


Gentle and fair, your brother kindly greets you.

Not to be weary with you, he’s in prison.


Woe me! For what?


For that which, if myself might be his judge,

He should receive his punishment in thanks:

He hath got his friend with child.


Sir, make me not your story.


’Tis true.

I would not—though ’tis my familiar sin

With maids to seem the lapwing, and to jest,

Tongue far from heart—play with all virgins so.

I hold you as a thing enskied, and sainted,

By your renouncement an immortal spirit,

And to be talk’d with in sincerity,

As with a saint.


You do blaspheme the good in mocking me.


Do not believe it. Fewness and truth, ’tis thus:

Your brother and his lover have embrac’d.

As those that feed grow full, as blossoming time

That from the seedness the bare fallow brings

To teeming foison, even so her plenteous womb

Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry.


Some one with child by him? My cousin Juliet?


Is she your cousin?


Adoptedly, as school-maids change their names

By vain though apt affection.


She it is.


O, let him marry her.


This is the point.

The Duke is very strangely gone from hence;

Bore many gentlemen (myself being one)

In hand, and hope of action; but we do learn

By those that know the very nerves of state,

His givings-out were of an infinite distance

From his true-meant design. Upon his place,

And with full line of his authority,

Governs Lord Angelo, a man whose blood

Is very snow-broth; one who never feels

The wanton stings and motions of the sense;

But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge

With profits of the mind: study and fast.

He (to give fear to use and liberty,

Which have for long run by the hideous law,

As mice by lions) hath pick’d out an act,

Under whose heavy sense your brother’s life

Falls into forfeit; he arrests him on it,

And follows close the rigor of the statute,

To make him an example. All hope is gone,

Unless you have the grace by your fair prayer

To soften Angelo. And that’s my pith

Of business ’twixt you and your poor brother.


Doth he so seek his life?


H’as censur’d him

Already, and as I hear, the Provost hath

A warrant for ’s execution.


Alas, what poor ability’s in me

To do him good!


Assay the pow’r you have.


My power? Alas, I doubt—


Our doubts are traitors,

And makes us lose the good we oft might win,

By fearing to attempt. Go to Lord Angelo,

And let him learn to know, when maidens sue,

Men give like gods; but when they weep and kneel,

All their petitions are as freely theirs

As they themselves would owe them.


I’ll see what I can do.


But speedily.


I will about it straight;

No longer staying but to give the Mother

Notice of my affair. I humbly thank you.

Commend me to my brother. Soon at night

I’ll send him certain word of my success.


I take my leave of you.


Good sir, adieu.

Exeunt severally.


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