A room in the prison.
(Provost; Pompey; Abhorson; Claudio; Duke; Messenger)
Pompey agrees to act as aid to the hangman, Abhorson, in return for his freedom. Abhorson is not best pleased at having to use a pimp as assistant, afraid this will dishonor the trade of executioner. The Duke arrives, waiting with the Provost for Claudio’s reprieve to arrive; instead, a message from Angelo commands that Claudio be beheaded forthwith. The Duke pleads that Barnardine, another prisoner condemned to die that afternoon, should be executed instead and his head sent to Angelo. The Provost does not wish to disobey the direct order he received from Angelo until the Duke shows him a letter, signed and sealed by himself, announcing his return within two days. The Provost then consents. (110 lines)
Enter Provost and Clown Pompey.
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 wive’s head, and I can never cut off a woman’s head.
Come, sir, leave me your snatches, and yield me a direct answer. Tomorrow 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 tomorrow 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; for 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 favor—for surely, sir, a good favor 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 hang’d, 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.
Are you agreed?
Sir, I will serve him; for I do find your hangman is a more penitent trade than your bawd: he doth oft’ner ask forgiveness.
You, sirrah, provide your block and your axe tomorrow, four a’ clock.
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 Abhorson and Pompey.
Th’ one has my pity; not a jot the other,
Being a murderer, though he were my brother.
Look, here’s the warrant, Claudio, for thy death.
’Tis now dead midnight, and by eight tomorrow
Thou must be made immortal. Where’s Barnardine?
As fast lock’d up in sleep as guiltless labor
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?
Heaven give your spirits comfort!
By and by.—
I hope it is some pardon or reprieve
For the most gentle Claudio.
Enter Duke disguised as a friar.
The best and wholesom’st spirits of the night
Envelop you, good Provost! Who call’d here of late?
None since the curfew rung.
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 pow’r
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.
This is a gentle Provost: seldom when
The steeled jailer is the friend of men.
How now? What noise? That spirit’s possess’d with haste
That wounds th’ unsisting postern with these strokes.
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 tomorrow?
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.
This is his pardon, purchas’d by such sin
For which the pardoner himself is in.
Hence hath offense 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 th’ 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 us’d it before.
Pray you let’s hear.
Reads the letter.
“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 perform’d, 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 th’ afternoon?
A Bohemian born; but here nurs’d up and bred, one that is a prisoner nine years old.
How came it that the absent Duke had not either deliver’d 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 touch’d?
A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep, careless, reakless, 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 awak’d him, as if to carry him to execution, and show’d him a seeming warrant for it; it hath not mov’d 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 sentenc’d 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 favor.
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 bar’d before his death. You know the course is common. If any thing 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 offense, 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 tenor, perchance of the Duke’s death, perchance entering into some monastery, but by chance nothing of what is writ. Look, th’ 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 amaz’d, but this shall absolutely resolve you. Come away, it is almost clear dawn.