Diving into Act 2 today, we learned all sorts of interesting bits,* as we carefully worked our way through scenes 1 and 2. Here's a quick recap of the two scenes, courtesy of SparkNotes.com:
Scene 1. Angelo tells Escalus that they "must not make a scarecrow of the law," meaning that they must not waver in their decisions. Escalus argues that they should "cut a little" rather than "fall, and bruise to death," comparing law enforcement to pruning a tree; it is better to trim the tree than to cut it down. Escalus brings up Claudio's case, asking Angelo to consider whether Angelo could have erred in the same way at some point in his life. Angelo admits that he himself is capable of transgression, but adds that he hopes to be treated with the same strictness should he do wrong. He tells the provost that Claudio is to be executed before nine o'clock the next morning.
The Duke's constable, Elbow, enters with Pompey and Froth. Angelo asks Elbow what he is doing, and he replies that he has brought two "notorious benefactors" to Angelo. Angelo asks if they are not "malefactors" instead. Angelo asks Pompey what he is, and Elbow calls him a "parcel-bawd," or a partial bawd. It becomes clear that Elbow confuses words a lot, so Angelo has difficulty questioning him. Elbow does say that he found Pompey and Froth at a brothel. Froth confesses to working for Mistress Overdone, and Escalus tells him that prostitution is an illegal and punishable occupation, warning him not to be seen at the brothel again. Escalus questions Elbow about other constables, telling him to bring the names of other worthy people. He then mourns the fate of Claudio, but says that there is no remedy for it.
Scene 2. The provost goes to see Angelo, hoping to convince him to change his mind about Claudio. He mentions Juliet, saying that she is going to give birth soon.
Isabella arrives and asks Angelo to condemn Claudio's fault (fornication) instead of him. Angelo argues that the person who commits a crime must be punished for the crime. Isabella exclaims, "O just but severe law!"—showing that she approves of the law and is already mourning her brother's death. Lucio whispers to her that she should not give up so easily and tells her to kneel before Angelo and act more warmly towards him. Isabella continues to plead with Angelo, and Lucio again whispers to her that she is too cold. She argues that Claudio would have mercy on Angelo if the roles were reversed. Angelo tells Isabella to leave. Lucio tells Isabella to touch Angelo more, and Angelo tells her that she is wasting her time. Angelo finally tells Isabella that he'll think about it, and that she should return tomorrow. Isabella calls out, "Hark how I'll bribe you" and Angelo grows interested, replying, "How?" Isabella responds that she will pray for him, and Angelo again tells her to come back tomorrow. Isabella agrees to return before noon.
The scene ends with a soliloquy in which Angelo realizes that he desires Isabella in a sexual way and ponders why. He says, "Dost thou desire her foully for those things that make her good? Oh, let her brother live. . ."
*Other interesting bits we discovered along the way:
• Edie, in summing up Act 1 for us: "Angelo, who is filling in for the Duke, is something of a . . . Type A personality."
• Jerry told us how Elizabethan houses were built of oak logs which were notched and marked with Roman numerals as soon as they were cut (because the cut oak got too hard as it dried). (The original pre-fab houses!) When a house needed to be brought down, folks could remove the pegs and "pluck down" the walls.
. . . whose house, sir, was, as they say, plucked down in the suburbs.
• The word "pregnant," in Shakespeare's time, per Jerry and the OED, meant clear or obvious.
. . . 'Tis very pregnant,• And what to do with the phrase "brakes of ice"?
The jewel that we find, we stoop and take't
Because we see it;
Some run from brakes of ice, and answer none:We shared and compared notes and glosses in all of the editions represented but it seems that there is no definitive answer. "Breaks of ice" = a kind of fault line? Brakes of vice? (Please, anyone who wants to, feel free to weigh in on this one!)
And some condemned for a fault alone.
Takeaway quotes of the day
"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall." —Escalus
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Please join us next week—at the Santa Fe University for Art and Design (directions will be posted on this site soon) as we pick up with Act 2, scene 3!
Above: John Gielgud as Angelo in Peter Brook's 1950 production of Measure for Measure.
"Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
Another thing to fall." —Angelo