Here's a fairly thorough (though not-so-juicy) recap of the plot, courtesy of Sparknotes.com.
Angelo and Escalus discuss the Duke's letter (saying that the Duke will be returning). They do not understand why they have to meet the Duke at the gates. The letter also orders them to proclaim that anyone with a complaint should present a petition in the street, ostensibly to ensure that no one lodges a complaint against Angelo later on. Escalus leaves, and Angelo wonders what Isabella might say. He hopes that she will be too modest to tell what has happened. He also says that he would have let Claudio live, except that he was worried about later revenge.
The Duke arrives outside the town with Friar Peter. Isabella and Mariana are standing by the city gate. Isabella is nervous about accusing Angelo, but Mariana tells her to obey the Duke and the Friar. Friar Peter approaches and tells them that he will find a place for them near the Duke. The Duke greets Angelo and Escalus at the city gates and thanks them. Friar Peter enters with Isabella and tells her to speak to the Duke. She begs him for justice. The Duke tells her to state her complaint briefly to Angelo. Isabella says that she cannot ask Angelo for help, because he is evil. Angelo interrupts, trying to tell the story himself, but Isabella continues, calling Angelo a murderer, hypocrite, "adulterous thief," and "virgin-violator." The Duke tries to send her away, calling her insane.
Isabella asks the Duke to reconsider, arguing that even someone who seems noble, like Angelo, can actually be bad. The Duke realizes that Isabella is far too logical to be insane and asks her to tell her story. She tells how her brother was sentenced to death for fornication, and how she was asked by Lucio to ask Angelo for his pardon. Lucio verifies this, but the Duke tells him not to speak. Isabella says that Angelo asked her to have sexual intercourse with him in exchange for her brother's life. She says that she obeyed, but that Angelo sent the warrant for Claudio's execution anyway. The Duke says he does not believe her, saying it is illogical that Angelo should have acted in such a way. He asks Isabella to confess that she is lying, and to name the person who sent her.
Isabella prays to heaven to make the truth known. The Duke orders her sent to prison. He asks her who knew of her coming, and she names Friar Lodowick. The Duke asks if anyone knows this friar, and Lucio says that he knows him but does not like him. The Duke demands to see the friar. Friar Peter comes forth and says that he has heard everything, agreeing that Isabella is lying. The Duke asks him if he knows Friar Lodowick, and Peter says that he does know him, and that Lodowick is a good man who has never said anything bad against the Duke. He says that Lodowick is sick and has sent him in his place to share Lodowick's knowledge, beginning with the fact that Isabella is lying. Isabella is led away by guards, and Mariana enters, veiled, as a witness.
The Duke asks Mariana to show her face before testifying, but she says she will not lift her veil until her husband instructs her to. The Duke asks if she is married, and she says no. He asks if she is a maid or a widow, and she again says no. Confused, the Duke asks Mariana to explain. She tells him that she has had intercourse with her husband, though he does not know it, and therefore is not a maid. The Duke says that her testimony is irrelevant to Angelo's case, but she names Angelo as the husband she is speaking of. Angelo denies it and asks to see her face.
Mariana lifts her veil. The Duke asks if Angelo knows her, and Angelo confesses that he was engaged to her five years before. He swears that he has not seen her since. Mariana explains that they had sexual intercourse on Tuesday night. Angelo objects again, saying that both women are crazy and being exploited by some other person. The Duke sends for the other friar. Friar Peter tells him that the provost knows where he is, so the Duke sends the Friar to find the provost. The Duke then leaves, telling Escalus to continue listening to testimony.
Escalus calls for Isabella, saying that he wants to question her himself. Escalus tells Isabella that someone has denied what she said, attempting to get the truth out of her.Takeaway Quote of the Week:
"Nay it is ten times true, for truth is truth to th' end of reck'ning."
—Isabella, speaking to the Duke
Handy Word of the Week:
concupiscible Driven by or filled with strong sexual desire; concupiscent.
He would not, but by gift of my chaste body
To his concupiscible intemperate lust,
Release my brother. . .
—Isabella, to the Duke, speaking about Angelo
Join us tomorrow as we pick up at Act 5, scene 1, line 297. As we discussed, we'll finish out the play, then start over, reading the whole play without interruption. (We'll stop at our usual 1:00 and then try to finish the play next week.)
See you there!
Photo: The fabulous Mark Rylance as Duke Vincentio in The Globe's 2004 production of Measure for Measure