William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

Duke Vincentio, who was now disguised as a friar, met the Provost.

“Hail to you, Provost!” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. Then, realizing that he was disguised as a friar and was not supposed to personally know the Provost, he added, “At least I think you are the Provost.”

“I am the Provost. What do you want, good friar?”

“Bound by my duty to do charity and by my blessed order, I have come to visit the afflicted spirits here in the prison. Grant me the common right of all clerics to see them and tell me the nature of their crimes, so that I may minister to them accordingly.”

“I am willing to do more than that, if more is needed,” the Provost replied.

Juliet walked over to them.

The Provost said, “Look, here comes one of the prisoners: a gentlewoman in my care, who, falling into a common fault of youth, has blistered her reputation. She is pregnant, and the young man who got her pregnant has been sentenced to death, although he is more suitable to do another such offence and father another child than to die for fathering his first child.”

“When must he die?” the disguised Duke Vincentio asked.

“He is sentenced to die tomorrow,” the Provost said.

He then said to Juliet, “I have arranged a place for you to give birth. Stay here awhile, and you shall be conducted to that place.”

The disguised Duke Vincentio asked Juliet, “Do you repent, fair one, of the sin you carry?”

“I do, and I bear the shame most patiently.”

“I’ll teach you how to examine your conscience and test your penitence to see if it is sound and genuine, or merely a pretense.”

“I’ll gladly learn that,” Juliet replied.

“Do you love the man who wronged you?” the disguised Duke Vincentio asked.

“Yes, as I love the woman who wronged him. I love him the way that I love myself.”

“So then it seems your most offensive act was mutually committed?”

“Yes, mutually.”

“Then your sin is of heavier kind than his.”

Juliet’s sin was literally heavier — her body grew heavier with her pregnancy. Also, she had a heavy burden to bear — she had to carry the fetus in her womb and then give birth to the child.

Some people may think that the woman is more to blame for giving birth outside marriage. Such people think that men always say “Yes,” and so it is up to the woman to say “No.” However, in their sexist society, men were thought to be more rational than women. Being more rational, men were better able to realize the consequences of their actions and men had the greater responsibility to say “No” to illicit sex.

“I do confess it, and repent it, father,” Juliet said.

“It is fitting that you do so, daughter,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said, “but perhaps you are repenting because you fear being punished and shamed for your sin. Perhaps you are not repenting because of your love of God. Often, we fear punishment and shame for ourselves, and we do not fear causing pain in Heavenly beings —”

Juliet replied, “I repent because what I did is an evil, and I take the shame with joy. I love the baby whom I will give birth to.”

“That is as it should be,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “Your partner, I hear, has been condemned to die, and I am going to give spiritual instruction to him. May grace go with you. Benedicite! May God bless you!”

The disguised Duke Vincentio departed to visit Claudio.

“Claudio must die!” Juliet said. “Love injures me. My life has been spared because I am pregnant, but while I live I will always mourn the horror of Claudio’s death.”

“Claudio is to be pitied,” the Provost said.

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