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Measure for Measure


ACT II SCENE IVA room in ANGELO’s house.
ANGELOWhen 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 fear’d and tedious; yea, my gravity,
Wherein–let no man hear me–I take pride, 10
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.
Enter a Servant.
How now! who’s there?
ServantOne Isabel, a sister, desires access to you.
ANGELOTeach her the way.
Exit Servant.
O heavens!
Why does my blood thus muster to my heart, 20
Making both it unable for itself,
And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?
So play the foolish throngs with one that swoons;
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 offence.
How now, fair maid? 30
ISABELLAI am come to know your pleasure.
ANGELOThat you might know it, would much better please me
Than to demand what ’tis. Your brother cannot live.
ISABELLAEven so. Heaven keep your honour!
ANGELOYet may he live awhile; and, it may be,
As long as you or I yet he must die.
ISABELLAUnder your sentence?
ISABELLAWhen, I beseech you? that in his reprieve,
Longer or shorter, he may be so fitted 40
That his soul sicken not.
ANGELOHa! fie, these filthy vices! It were as good
To pardon him that hath from nature stolen
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.
ISABELLA‘Tis set down so in heaven, but not in earth. 50
ANGELOSay 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?
ISABELLASir, believe this,
I had rather give my body than my soul.
ANGELOI talk not of your soul: our compell’d sins
Stand more for number than for accompt.
ISABELLAHow say you?
ANGELONay, I’ll not warrant that; for I can speak
Against the thing I say. Answer to this: 60
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?
ISABELLAPlease you to do’t,
I’ll take it as a peril to my soul,
It is no sin at all, but charity.
ANGELOPleased you to do’t at peril of your soul,
Were equal poise of sin and charity.
ISABELLAThat I do beg his life, if it be sin,
Heaven let me bear it! you granting of my suit, 70
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.
ANGELONay, but hear me.
Your sense pursues not mine: either you are ignorant,
Or seem so craftily; and that’s not good.
ISABELLALet me be ignorant, and in nothing good,
But graciously to know I am no better.
ANGELOThus wisdom wishes to appear most bright
When it doth tax itself; as these black masks
Proclaim an enshield beauty ten times louder 80
Than beauty could, display’d. But mark me;
To be received plain, I’ll speak more gross:
Your brother is to die.
ANGELOAnd his offence is so, as it appears,
Accountant to the law upon that pain.
ANGELOAdmit 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, 90
Finding yourself desired of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-building 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?
ISABELLAAs much for my poor brother as myself:
That is, were I under the terms of death, 100
The 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.
ANGELOThen must your brother die.
ISABELLAAnd ’twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die for ever.
ANGELOWere not you then as cruel as the sentence
That you have slander’d so? 110
ISABELLAIgnomy in ransom and free pardon
Are of two houses: lawful mercy
Is nothing kin to foul redemption.
ANGELOYou seem’d of late to make the law a tyrant;
And rather proved the sliding of your brother
A merriment than a vice.
ISABELLAO, 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. 120
ANGELOWe are all frail.
ISABELLAElse let my brother die,
If not a feodary, but only he
Owe and succeed thy weakness.
ANGELONay, women are frail too.
ISABELLAAy, 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.
ANGELOI think it well: 130
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 destined livery.
ISABELLAI have no tongue but one: gentle my lord,
Let me entreat you speak the former language. 140
ANGELOPlainly conceive, I love you.
ISABELLAMy brother did love Juliet,
And you tell me that he shall die for it.
ANGELOHe shall not, Isabel, if you give me love.
ISABELLAI know your virtue hath a licence in’t,
Which seems a little fouler than it is,
To pluck on others.
ANGELOBelieve me, on mine honour,
My words express my purpose.
ISABELLAHa! little honour to be much believed,
And most pernicious purpose! Seeming, seeming! 150
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.
ANGELOWho will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil’d name, the austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’ the 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: 160
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 lingering sufferance. Answer me to-morrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you, 169
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.
ISABELLATo 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 court’sy to their will:
Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,
To follow as it draws! I’ll to my brother:
Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood,
Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour.
That, had he twenty heads to tender down 180
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. 200


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 4

From Measure for Measure. Ed. William J. Rolfe. New York: Harper & Brothers., 1899.

2. Several. Separate, different; as in Temp. iii. i. 42, M. W. iii. 5. 110, etc.
3. Invention. Imagination, or “mental activity in general” (Schmidt). Cf. Much Adoy pp. 156, 167. Pope changed the word to “intention.”
4. Anchors on Isabel. For the figure, cf. Cymb. v. 5. 393: “Posthumus anchors upon Imogen.”
9. Sear’d. Coll. says that Lord Ellesmere’s copy of the 1st folio has scar’d, not ” fear’d,” which is the reading of other copies. The misprint seems to have been corrected while the book was being printed. Heath conjectured “sear.”
11. With boot. Giving something to boot; as in Lear, v. 3. 301, etc.
12. For vain. Idly, to no purpose.
13. Case. Covering, outward garb. Cf. L. C, 116: “Accomplish’d in himself, not in his case.”
15.Thou art blood. Pope, for the sake of the measure, reads “thou art but blood,” and Malone “thou art still blood.”
16. Good angel. Mr. Crosby suggests that Angelo here plays upon his own name. The meaning, of course, is: Though we may write good angel on the devil’s horn, it is not his proper crest. Hanmer, not seeing this, made it read “Is’t not,” and Johnson conjectured “‘T is yet.”
27. The general. The multitude, the populace. Cf. Ham. ii. 2. 457: “caviare to the general.” See also J. C. p. 142. Some of the editors have been in doubt whether general or subject is the noun here. On the passage, see p. 10 above.
28. Fondness. See on ii. 2. 186 above. The Coll. MS. has “path” for part.
43. That hath from nature stolen, etc. That is, that hath deprived of life, or murdered.
45. Saucy sweetness. Impudent self-indulgence. Hanmer changes sweetness to “lewdness.” Cf. sweet uncleanness just below.
47. Falsely to take away, etc. “Falsely is the same with dishonestlyillegally; so false in the next line but one is illegal, illegitimate(Johnson). On the use of saucy in S., see Cymd. p. 179.
48. Restrained. Forbidden. Means has been suspected. Steevens conjectures “mints,” and Malone “moulds.”
56. Give my body. That is, to death.
57. Compell’d. Accented on the first syllable because preceding the noun. See on i. 3. 3 above.
Malone paraphrases the passage thus: “Actions to which we are compelled, however numerous, are not imputed to us by heaven as crimes. If you cannot save your brother but by the loss of your chastity, it is not a voluntary but compelled sin, for which you cannot beaccountable;” or, more simply, these compelled sins may be counted as sins, but are not to be accounted for as such.
58. How say you? What do you say.? Cf v. i. 273 below: “Say you?”
73. Nothing of your answer. Nothing that you must answer for.
75. Craftily. The folios have “crafty;” corrected by Rowe (after Davenant).
76. Me. Omitted in the 1st folio, but supplied in the 2nd.
79. Tax. Accuse, reproach. Cf. A.Y.L. p. 164.
These black masks. That is, the masks now generally worn. Cf. R. and J. i. 1.236:

“These happy masks that kiss fair ladies’ brows.
Being black, put us in mind they hide the fair.”

80. Enshield. Enshielded, enclosed. For the form, see Gr. 342.
82. Received. Taken, understood. Cf. T.N. iii. I. 131: “one of your receiving” (that is, understanding).
86. Pain. Penalty, punishment; as in the phrase “on pain of death,” etc.
89. As I subscribe not that, etc. Though I admit not that nor any other except for the sake of argument. The as is what Dr. Ingleby (S. the Man and the Book, Part I. p. 145) aptly calls “the conjunction of reminder, being employed by S. and his contemporaries to introduce a subsidiary statement, qualifying, or even contradicting, what goes before, which the person addressed is required to take for granted.” Cf. A. and C. p. 180, note on Patch a quarrel.
Schmidt makes in the loss of question = “as no better arguments present themselves to my mind, to make the point clear;” and J. H. explains it “without disowning the right of calling him to answer for his crime.” W. points the passage thus:

“Admit no other way to save his life,
(As I subscribe not that nor any other)
But— in the loss of question— that you,” etc.

He thinks that “the but must not be shut out of the direct construction.” Of course it is grammatically required in that construction; but the irregularity with our pointing is not unlike what we often find in S. when the construction is broken by a parenthesis. Cf. Gr. 415.
95. Mean. S. often uses the singular, though oftener the plural. Cf. R.and J.
103. That longing I’ve been, etc. The folio reads “That longing haue bin sicke for,” etc. The emendation in the text is Rowe’s. Capell reads “I have,” K. “had,” and D. “long I had.” Delius considers the folio reading an instance of the ellipsis of the nominative. Cf. Gr. 401.
111. Ignomy. “Ignominy” (the reading of the later folios). Ignomy is found in the folio in i Hen. IV. v. 4. 100 and T. and C. v. 10. 33. See I Hen. IV. p. 202. In the present passage ignominy perhaps suits the measure better, though the line would be a lame one even then.
Malone remarks that Davenant’s alteration of the passage may prove a reasonably good comment on it:

“Ignoble ransom no proportion bears
To pardon freely given.”

122. If not a fedary, etc. “If he has not one associate in his crime; if no other person own and follow the same criminal courses which you are now pursuing” (Malone). For fedary = accomplice, see Cymb. p. 188. The word (spelled “feodary” in the later folios) signifies originally a feudal vassal, and Clarke thinks that it here combines that sense with the other, meaning “one who holds by common tenure, and one of the human fraternity.” He paraphrases the passage thus: “Unless we are all frail, let my brother die; if he do not, as one of his human brethren, holding by their common tenure (but simply as he himself alone) possess and succeed to the inheritance of that weakness which you allow is yours as well as all men’s.” On the whole, this is to be preferred to Malone’s exegesis. J. H. puts it more concisely thus: ” Otherwise, let my brother die, if instead of being a mere vassal like other men he alone has frailty for his inheritance.” Some change thy to “this.”
127. Men their creation mar, etc. Men spoil women by taking advantage of their weakness; Steevens accepts an explanation given in the Edin.Rev. Nov. 1786: “men debase their nature by taking advantage of such weak pitiful creatures.” Clarke combines the two interpretations: “men impair their own natures and injure women by taking advantage of them.” Schmidt says: “men spoil women by that which these learn from them.” He gives as parallel uses o{ profit by (=be instructed by, learn from) A. Y. L. iv. 3. 84 and T. and C. v. i. 16; but in both the expression may as well have its ordinary meaning.
130. Credulous to false prints. “That is, take any impression” ( Warb.). Malone compares T.N. ii. 2. 31:

“How easy is it for the proper false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!”

139. I have no tongue but one, etc. “Isabella answers to his circumlocutory courtship that she has but one tongue, she does not understand this new phrase, and desires him to talk his former language that is, to talk as he talked before” (Johnson). Clarke remarks: “The poet’s conduct of this difficult scene is a marvel of skill, and proves his insight into womanly nature to be little short of miraculous.”
145. I know your virtue, etc. “I know your virtue assumes an air of licentiousness which is not natural to you, on purpose to try me” (Edin. Rev. Nov. 1786); or “in order to draw me on to confess the like” (Clarke).
150. Seeming, seeming! “Hypocrisy, hypocrisy; counterfeit virtue” (Johnson).
153. Aloud. Pope carried the word to the next line, and some editors omit it.
156. My vouch against you. My assertion to the contrary, my denial of your charge.
159. Smell of calumny. Steevens sees here “a metaphor from a lamp or candle extinguished in its own grease!”
160. Race. “Natural disposition” (Schmidt); as in Temp. i. 2. 358: “thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures
Could not abide to be with.”
Heath misinterprets the passage thus: “And now I give my senses the rein in the race they are now actually running.”
162. Prolixious blushes. “What Milton [P.L. iv. 311] has called ‘sweet, reluctant, amorous delay'” (Steevens).
165. Die the death. Elsewhere used of a judicial sentence. See M. N. D, p. 126, and cf. Matt. xv. 4.
168. Affection. Impulse, feeling.
172. Perilous. Then, reads “most perilous.” Seymour conjectures “these perilous,” and Walker “pernicious.”

Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1