A room in Angelo’s house.
(Angelo; Servant; Isabella)
Angelo ruminates on how he is fixated on Isabella. When she arrives, he makes her a proposal: if she sleeps with him, he will spare Claudio. Isabella indignantly refuses, and threatens to tell the world, but Angelo points out that no-one will believe one little nun against the virtuous ruler. Left alone, Isabella considers the matter and decides that she holds her chastity dearer than her brother’s life. (199 lines)
When I would pray and think, I think and pray
To several subjects. Heaven hath my empty words,
Whilst my invention, hearing not my tongue,
Anchors on Isabel; heaven in my mouth,
As if I did but only chew his name,
And in my heart the strong and swelling evil
Of my conception. The state, whereon I studied,
Is like a good thing, being often read,
Grown sere and tedious; yea, my gravity,
Wherein (let no man hear me) I take pride,
Could I, with boot, change for an idle plume,
Which the air beats for vain. O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming! Blood, thou art blood.
Let’s write “good angel” on the devil’s horn,
’Tis not the devil’s crest.
How now? Who’s there?
One Isabel, a sister, desires access to you.
Teach her the way.
Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,
Making both it unable for itself,
And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?
So play the foolish throngs with one that swounds,
Come all to help him, and so stop the air
By which he should revive; and even so
The general subject to a well-wish’d king
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love
Must needs appear offense.
How now, fair maid?
I am come to know your pleasure.
That you might know it, would much better please me
Than to demand what ’tis. Your brother cannot live.
Even so. Heaven keep your honor!
Yet may he live a while; and it may be
As long as you or I. Yet he must die.
Under your sentence?
When, I beseech you? That in his reprieve,
Longer or shorter, he may be so fitted
That his soul sicken not.
Ha? Fie, these filthy vices! It were as good
To pardon him that hath from nature stol’n
A man already made, as to remit
Their saucy sweetness that do coin heaven’s image
In stamps that are forbid. ’Tis all as easy
Falsely to take away a life true made
As to put metal in restrained means
To make a false one.
’Tis set down so in heaven, but not in earth.
Say you so? Then I shall pose you quickly.
Which had you rather, that the most just law
Now took your brother’s life, or, to redeem him,
Give up your body to such sweet uncleanness
As she that he hath stain’d?
Sir, believe this,
I had rather give my body than my soul.
I talk not of your soul; our compell’d sins
Stand more for number than for accompt.
How say you?
Nay, I’ll not warrant that; for I can speak
Against the thing I say. Answer to this:
I (now the voice of the recorded law)
Pronounce a sentence on your brother’s life;
Might there not be a charity in sin
To save this brother’s life?
Please you to do’t,
I’ll take it as a peril to my soul,
It is no sin at all, but charity.
Pleas’d you to do’t at peril of your soul,
Were equal poise of sin and charity.
That I do beg his life, if it be sin,
Heaven let me bear it! You granting of my suit,
If that be sin, I’ll make it my morn-prayer
To have it added to the faults of mine,
And nothing of your answer.
Nay, but hear me,
Your sense pursues not mine. Either you are ignorant,
Or seem so craftily; and that’s not good.
Let me be ignorant, and in nothing good,
But graciously to know I am no better.
Thus wisdom wishes to appear most bright
When it doth tax itself; as these black masks
Proclaim an enshield beauty ten times louder
Than beauty could, displayed. But mark me:
To be received plain, I’ll speak more gross:
Your brother is to die.
And his offense is so, as it appears,
Accountant to the law upon that pain.
Admit no other way to save his life
(As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
But in the loss of question), that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desir’d of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-binding law; and that there were
No earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer—
What would you do?
As much for my poor brother as myself:
That is, were I under the terms of death,
Th’ impression of keen whips I’ld wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death, as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I’ld yield
My body up to shame.
Then must your brother die.
And ’twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die forever.
Were not you then as cruel as the sentence
That you have slander’d so?
Ignomy in ransom and free pardon
Are of two houses: lawful mercy
Is nothing kin to foul redemption.
You seem’d of late to make the law a tyrant,
And rather prov’d the sliding of your brother
A merriment than a vice.
O, pardon me, my lord, it oft falls out,
To have what we would have, we speak not what we mean.
I something do excuse the thing I hate,
For his advantage that I dearly love.
We are all frail.
Else let my brother die,
If not a fedary, but only he,
Owe and succeed thy weakness.
Nay, women are frail too.
Ay, as the glasses where they view themselves,
Which are as easy broke as they make forms.
Women? Help heaven! Men their creation mar
In profiting by them. Nay, call us ten times frail,
For we are soft as our complexions are,
And credulous to false prints.
I think it well;
And from this testimony of your own sex
(Since I suppose we are made to be no stronger
Than faults may shake our frames), let me be bold.
I do arrest your words. Be that you are,
That is a woman; if you be more, you’re none;
If you be one (as you are well express’d
By all external warrants), show it now,
By putting on the destin’d livery.
I have no tongue but one; gentle my lord,
Let me entreat you speak the former language.
Plainly conceive, I love you.
My brother did love Juliet,
And you tell me that he shall die for’t.
He shall not, Isabel, if you give me love.
I know your virtue hath a license in’t,
Which seems a little fouler than it is,
To pluck on others.
Believe me, on mine honor,
My words express my purpose.
Ha? Little honor to be much believ’d,
And most pernicious purpose! Seeming, seeming!
I will proclaim thee, Angelo, look for’t!
Sign me a present pardon for my brother,
Or with an outstretch’d throat I’ll tell the world aloud
What man thou art.
Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil’d name, th’ austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’ th’ state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report,
And smell of calumny. I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein.
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite,
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes
That banish what they sue for. Redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will,
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To ling’ring sufferance. Answer me tomorrow,
Or by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can: my false o’erweighs your true.
To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,
Who would believe me? O perilous mouths,
That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof,
Bidding the law make curtsy to their will,
Hooking both right and wrong to th’ appetite,
To follow as it draws! I’ll to my brother.
Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood,
Yet hath he in him such a mind of honor
That had he twenty heads to tender down
On twenty bloody blocks, he’ld yield them up,
Before his sister should her body stoop
To such abhorr’d pollution.
Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die;
More than our brother is our chastity.
I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,
And fit his mind to death, for his soul’s rest.