William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 3

— 4.3 —

In another room of the prison, Pompey said to himself, “I know as many people here as I did when I was in our house of the oldest profession. One would think it was Mistress Overdone’s own house of prostitution, because here are many of her old customers.

“First, here’s young Master Rash; he rashly borrowed money from an unscrupulous lender who wanted more than the 10 percent interest allowed by law. To get around the law, the unscrupulous lender made Master Rash take part of the loan in commodity. Master Rash paid a certain price for the commodity and was supposed to sell the commodity for ready money. Master Rash paid the lender 197 pounds for brown paper and old, stale ginger, and he sold the brown paper and old, stale ginger for around three pounds. Ginger was not much in demand because the old women, who love ginger, were all dead.

“Then there is here one Master Caper, a dancer, at the suit of Master Threepile, the seller of velvet and fine cloth, for some four suits of peach-colored satin, who now impeaches him as a beggar because he cannot pay for the clothing.

“We also have here young Dizy, the gambler at dice.

“We also have here young Master Deepvow. Quite a few people here deeply vow to pay back their debts if they are released from prison.

“We also have here young Master Copperspur, whose spurs are made of polished copper, which he hopes that a casual observer will mistake for gold.

“We also have here Master Starvelackey, the rapier-and-dagger man. He fights in the modern style, without a shield, and he is either too cheap or too impoverished to feed his servants well.

“We also have here young Dropheir, who killed fat, foolish Pudding. In addition to killing people, Dropheir takes advantage of young heirs, lending them money at usurious rates in anticipation of forthcoming inheritances. Often, the heir drops in wealth because of the loans.

“We also have here Master Forthright the tilter. He enjoys jousting with lances and charges forward on his horse.

“We also have here the brave Master Shoetie, the great traveller who ties his shoes with a yard and a quarter of ribbon in the most extravagant style.

“We also have here wild Halfcan, who drank half a beer, thought himself wildly drunk, and stabbed Pots, the server of beer.

“We also have here, I think, forty more people I know. All are great fornicators in our trade, and now they cry, ‘Give me food for the Lord’s sake,’ out the prison windows to passersby whom they hope will be charitable.”

Abhorson the executioner entered the room and said to Pompey, “Bring Barnardine here.”

Pompey shouted, “Master Barnardine! You must rise and be hanged. Master Barnardine!”

Abhorson also shouted, “Barnardine!”

Barnardine, who had been asleep, shouted back, “A pox on your throats! Go and catch the plague! Who is making that noise there? Who are you?”

“We are your friends, sir, including the hangman,” Pompey replied. “You must be so good, sir, as to rise and be put to death.”

Barnardine shouted back, “Go away, you rogue, go away! I am sleepy.”

Abhorson said, “Tell him he must wake up, and that quickly, too.”

Pompey shouted, “Please, Master Barnardine, wake up and stay awake until you are executed, and sleep afterwards.”

Abhorson said, “Go in to him, and fetch him out.”

“He is coming, sir, he is coming,” Pompey said. “I hear the straw of his bed rustle.”

“Is the axe upon the chopping block?” Abhorson asked.

“Everything is very ready, sir.”

Barnardine entered the room and said, “How are you now, Abhorson? What’s the news with you?”

“Truly, sir,” Abhorson replied. “I want you to quickly start your prayers because, you see, the warrant for your execution has come.”

“You rogue, I have been drinking all night; I am not ready to die,” Barnardine said.

“Actually, you are very ready to die,” Pompey said. “Anyone who drinks all night, and is hanged early in the morning, may sleep all the sounder the next day.”

“Look, Barnardine, sir; here comes your ghostly — spiritual — father. Do you think now that we are jesting?”

Duke Vincentio, still disguised as a friar, entered the room and said to Barnardine, “Sir, induced by my charity, and hearing how hastily you are to depart from this life, I have come to advise you, comfort you, and pray with you.”

“Friar, you do not need to advise, comfort, and pray with me,” Barnardine said. “I have been drinking hard all night, and I demand to have more time to prepare myself to die. If they will not give me more time, then they will have to beat out my brains with cudgels. I will not consent to die this day, that’s certain. Today I will not be hung or be beheaded.”

“But, sir, you must,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said, “and therefore I beg you to prepare for the journey you must go.”

“I swear I will not die today no matter what any man says.”

“Listen to me.”

“Not a word,” Barnardine replied. “If you have anything to say to me, come to my ward; for from there I will not go today.”

Barnardine exited.

The disguised Duke Vincentio said, “Barnardine is not fit either to live or to die. His stony heart is made of gravel! Go after him, fellows; bring him to the block so his head can be chopped off.”

Abhorson and Pompey went after Barnardine.

The Provost entered the room and asked, “Now, sir, how do you find the prisoner?”

The disguised Duke Vincentio replied, “Barnardine is a creature unprepared and unfit for death. To transport him in the mind and state he is in now would be damnable because he will certainly be damned.”

The Provost said, “Here in the prison, father, there died this morning from a cruel fever a man named Ragozine, who was a most notorious pirate. He is the same age as Claudio; his beard and hair are the same color as Claudio’s. What if we ignore this reprobate named Barnardine until he is well inclined and consents to die, and instead give Angelo the head of Ragozine, who resembles Claudio much more than Barnardine does?”

“Oh, this is a welcome accident that Heaven provides!” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “Send Ragozine’s head to Angelo quickly. The hour is quickly coming that Angelo set for Claudio’s death. See that this is done and the head sent just as Angelo ordered you to do. Meanwhile, I will persuade this rude wretch to die willingly.”

“This shall be done, good father, immediately,” the Provost said. “But Barnardine must die this afternoon. How shall we keep Claudio alive and save me from the danger that might come if it were known that he is still alive?”

“Let this be done,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said, deciding that he really did not have enough time to persuade Barnardine to die just now. “Put both Barnardine and Claudio in secret cells. Before the Sun has made his daily greeting in the morning twice to the people outside this prison, you shall most definitely find that you are safe from persecution by Angelo.”

“I am your willing servant,” the Provost said.

“Quick, do what needs to be done, and send the head of Ragozine to Angelo.”

The Provost exited.

The disguised Duke Vincentio said to himself, “Now I will write letters to Angelo — the Provost shall carry the letters to him. The letters will tell Angelo that I am close to home, and that, for good reasons, I am bound to enter publicly. I will order Angelo to meet me at the consecrated spring a league from the city; and from there, coolly, step by step, and with due observance of all things necessary, we shall proceed with Angelo.”

The Provost returned, carrying the head of Ragozine.

He said, “Here is the head; I’ll carry it to Angelo myself.”

“This is convenient,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “Make a swift return because I want to talk with you about such things that no ears but yours should hear.”

“I will return as quickly as I can.”

He exited.

Isabella came to the door and said, “May Peace be found here!”

The disguised Duke Vincentio said to himself, “That is the voice of Isabella. She’s come to know if her brother’s pardon has come here yet; however, I will keep her ignorant that her brother is still alive. I will change her despair to Heavenly comforts when she least expects it.”

Duke Vincentio had a plan. He wanted Isabella to publicly accuse Angelo. In order for her to do that with the proper passion and fury, she would have to believe that Angelo had murdered her brother. That way, Angelo’s crimes would be revealed.

Isabella entered the room and said, “Here I am, with your permission.”

“Good morning to you, fair and gracious daughter.”

“The greeting is all the better because it was given to me by so holy a man,” Isabella replied. “Has Angelo sent my brother’s pardon yet?”

“Angelo has released Claudio, Isabella, from the world: An axe took off his head, which has been sent to Angelo.”

“No!” Isabella shrieked. “That is not possible!”

“Nothing else has occurred but what I told you,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “Show that you are wise, daughter, by quietly enduring this.”

“Oh, I will go to Angelo and pluck out his eyes!” she said, crying.

“You shall not be admitted to his sight.”

“Unhappy Claudio! Wretched Isabella! Injurious world! Most damned Angelo!”

“This neither hurts him nor helps you even a little,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “Stop crying out therefore; give your cause to Heaven. Listen to what I say, every syllable of which you shall find to be faithful and true.

“Duke Vincentio is coming home to Vienna — Isabella, dry your tears. A member of our convent, who is Duke Vincentio’s confessor, told me this news. Already he has carried notice of Duke Vincentio’s return to Escalus and Angelo, who are preparing to meet him at the gates of Vienna. There they will give up their power. If you can, put your wisdom on that good path that I would wish it to go. If you do, you shall get what your heart most desires. You will punish Angelo, get the friendship of Duke Vincentio, get as much revenge as you want, and gain general honor.”

“I will do as you wish,” Isabella replied.

The disguised Duke Vincentio gave her a letter and said, “Give this letter to Friar Peter. It is he who sent me news of Duke Vincentio’s return. Say, by this token, that I desire his company at Mariana’s house tonight. Her cause and yours I’ll give him full information about, and he shall bring you before Duke Vincentio, and you can accuse Angelo of all his crimes while you are face to face with him.

“As for my poor self, I am strongly bound by a sacred vow and shall be absent. Go now with this letter. Take command of your cheek-staining tears and give yourself a light heart. Never trust my holy order, if I have misled you about what will happen.”

He heard a noise and asked, “Who’s here?”

Lucio entered the room and said, “Good day, all. Friar, where’s the Provost?”

“He is not here, sir.”

Lucio said, “Oh, pretty Isabella, I am pale at heart to see your eyes so red. You must control yourself.

“I myself am compelled to dine and sup with water and bran; it is my punishment for lechery. I dare not fill my belly because of the punishment that would await me — I would lose my head. One good and fruitful meal would make me horny, and another act of lechery would make me headless. Truly, Isabella, I loved and respected your brother. If the old and eccentric Duke Vincentio — a Duke who knew dark corners — had been in Vienna, your brother would still be alive.”

Isabella exited.

The disguised Duke Vincentio said to Lucio, “Sir, the Duke would thank you but little for your reports of his doings in dark corners; the best thing about them is that they are completely incorrect.”

“Friar, you don’t know Duke Vincentio as well as I do. He’s a better woodman — chaser of skirts — than you take him for.”

“Well, you’ll pay the penalty for what you say about him one day. Fare you well.”

“No, wait; I’ll go along with you and give you company,” Lucio replied. “I can tell you pretty tales about Duke Vincentio.”

“You have told me too many stories about him already, sir, if they are true; if they are not true, none would have been enough.”

“I once appeared in court before him for getting a wench with child,” Lucio said.

“Were you guilty?”

“Yes, I was, but I lied about it under oath. I was forced to lie; otherwise, they would have married me to the rotten medlar.”

The word “medlar” was used as a term for prostitutes. A medlar was an apple that was eaten when it was half-rotten.

“Sir, your company is fairer than honest,” the disguised Duke Vincentio said. “You dress better than you speak. Rest you well.”

“Indeed, I’ll go with you to the lane’s end,” Lucio replied. “If bawdy talk offends you, we’ll have very little of it. Friar, I am a kind of burr; I shall stick to you.”

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