William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 1

MATTHEW 7:1-5

King James Version (KJV)

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

We may not give judgment of our neighbors.

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again.

3 And why seest thou the mote, that is in thy brother’s eye, and perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4 Or how sayest thou to thy brother, Suffer me to cast out the mote out of thine eye, and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5 Hypocrite, first cast out that beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

MALE CHARACTERS

VINCENTIO, the Duke of Vienna.

ANGELO, Lord Deputy in the Duke’s absence.

ESCALUS, an old Lord, joined with Angelo in the deputation.

CLAUDIO, a young Gentleman.

LUCIO, a Fantastic. Lucio often talks when he should keep his mouth shut.

Two other Gentlemen similar to Lucio.

VARRIUS, a Gentleman attending on the Duke.

PROVOST. The job of a Provost is to apprehend, keep in custody, and punish criminals.

THOMAS and PETER, two Friars

A Justice.

ELBOW, a simple Constable.

FROTH, a foolish Gentleman.

POMPEY BUM, Tapster to Mistress Overdone.

ABHORSON, an Executioner.

BARNARDINE, a dissolute Prisoner.

FEMALE CHARACTERS

ISABELLA, sister to Claudio.

MARIANA, betrothed to Angelo.

JULIET, beloved of Claudio.

FRANCISCA, a Nun.

MISTRESS OVERDONE, a Bawd.

MINOR CHARACTERS

Lords, Officers, Citizens, Boy, and Attendants.

SCENE

Vienna. 

CHAPTER 1

— 1.1 —

In a room in the Duke of Vienna’s palace, Duke Vincentio and Escalus, an important advisor, were speaking. Other lords were also present.

“Escalus,” Duke Vincentio said.

“My lord.”

“If I were to explain to you the essential qualities of ruling, I would appear to be in love with hearing myself talk. I know that your knowledge of that subject exceeds the boundaries of all the advice that my intellectual powers can give you. No more remains but that to your competence is added power that is as ample as your worth, and then your power and your competence can work together.

“You are as well versed in the nature of our people, the established laws and customs of our city, and the conditions for administering general justice as learning and practical experience has made anyone whom we can remember.”

Duke Vincentio handed Escalus a document and said, “There is our commission for you, from which we would not have you deviate.”

Duke Vincentio had highly praised Escalus’ knowledge of government, and yet he was not going to let Escalus be the main ruler of Vienna during his absence. For that position, he had a different man in mind.

Duke Vincentio, using the royal plural, said to one of the other lords, “Call Angelo to come here before us.”

The lord exited to carry out his task.

Duke Vincentio asked Escalus, “What do you think Angelo will be like as my representative when I am gone? You need to know that we have with special soul — after careful intellectual and spiritual consideration — selected him to be the ruler of Vienna in our absence. We have lent him our terror, dressed him with our love, and given his deputation all the organs of our own power. As my deputy, he will have all my power to give capital punishment, to show mercy, and to do all the things that we do as Duke of Vienna.

“What do you think about Angelo ruling Vienna in my absence?”

“If anyone in Vienna is worthy to undertake such ample grace and honor, it is Lord Angelo,” Escalus replied.

“Angelo is coming,” Duke Vincentio said.

Angelo entered the room.

“I am always obedient to your grace’s will,” Angelo said, “and I have come to know your pleasure. What do you want me to do?”

“Angelo, there is a kind of behavior in your life that to the observer fully unfolds your history. By looking at you and by observing your actions, people know that you are a man of good character. However, your virtuous attributes do not belong to you; they are not to be indulged in and enjoyed by only an individual. Heaven does with us as we do with torches. We do not light them only for ourselves; instead, we use them to provide light for everyone around us. If our virtues and talents do not help the people around us, it is as if we do not have them. We cannot simply concentrate on perfecting ourselves and not try to help other people.

“Our spirits are not greatly moved unless they are moved by great deeds or great causes. We are given great qualities so that we can accomplish great things in the public sphere. Nature never lends to any of us the smallest unit of her excellence unless, like a thrifty goddess, she makes sure that she has the glory of a creditor — she makes sure that she receives thanks for the loan as well as interest for the loan. Anyone to whom Nature lends virtues and talents must use them rather than waste them.

“But I am addressing my speech to a person who can well perform the role that I am giving to him. Stay consistent to your principles, Angelo. In our absence you will take our place as ruler of Vienna. You will have the loan of all my power. You will decide whether to give death or mercy when you serve as judge; mortality and mercy in Vienna live in your tongue and heart. Old Escalus, although he was the first person I considered to take my place, is your second-in-command.”

Duke Vincentio handed a document to Angelo, saying, “Take your commission.”

“My good lord, let there be some more test made of my metal, before so noble and so great a figure be stamped upon it,” Angelo said, holding his commission.

He was punning on “metal” and “mettle.” He realized that he was young, and he wanted his mettle, or character, to be better tested before he exercised so much power. Also, Viennese coins were made of metal, and the picture of the Duke was stamped upon them.

“Let there be no more evasion of the duty that I am giving to you,” Duke Vincentio replied. “We have after mature and careful consideration decided to make you ruler of Vienna in our absence; therefore, accept your honors.

“We must leave Vienna so quickly and urgently that our departure must be given priority and so I leave undiscussed important matters. We shall write to you as time and our important affairs shall allow us. We will tell you how it goes with us, and we want you to keep us informed about what happens in Vienna.

“So, fare you well, Angelo and Escalus. To both of you I leave your commissions, and I hope that you perform them well.”

“Give us permission, my lord,” Angelo said, “to accompany you part of the way on your journey.”

“My haste to leave does not allow you to accompany me during even part of my journey,” Duke Vincentio said. “Nor need you, on my honor, have to worry about accompanying me. Worry instead about governing Vienna. Your freedom to act is as my own. You can enforce or qualify the laws as to your soul seems good. You can be strict or be merciful as to you seems best.

“Give me your hand.”

Duke Vincentio and Angelo shook hands.

Duke Vincentio continued, “I will leave secretly and quietly. I love the people, but I do not like to appear before them in public. That can be good public relations, but I do not relish their loud applause and vehement shouts of greeting, nor do I consider a man who enjoys such things to be of sound judgment.

“Once more, fare you well.”

“May the Heavens help you accomplish your purposes!” Angelo said.

“May the Heavens conduct you in your journey and bring you back in happiness!” Escalus said.

“I thank you. Fare you well,” Duke Vincentio said, and then he exited.

Escalus said to Angelo, “I shall desire you, sir, to give me permission to have free and frank speech with you. I need information. I need to find out the full extent of my power while Duke Vincentio is gone. I know that I have some power, but I do not know its strength and extent.”

This was wise of Escalus. To obey the rules, you need to know what the rules are. Once Escalus knew for certain the limits of his power, he could be careful not to exceed those limits.

“The same is true of me,” Angelo said. “Let us withdraw together, and both of us should soon know how much power we have.”

“I will go with your honor,” Escalus said.

They left to consult the commissions that Duke Vincentio had given to them.

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