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Measure for Measure

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ACT IV SCENE II A room in the prison. 
 Enter Provost and POMPEY. 
Provost Come hither, sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head? 
POMPEY If the man be a bachelor, sir, I can; but if he be a 
 married man, he's his wife's head, and I can never 
 cut off a woman's head.
Provost Come, sir, leave me your snatches, and yield me a 6 
 direct answer. To-morrow morning are to die Claudio 
 and Barnardine. Here is in our prison a common 
 executioner, who in his office lacks a helper: if 
 you will take it on you to assist him, it shall
 redeem you from your gyves; if not, you shall have 
 your full time of imprisonment and your deliverance 
 with an unpitied whipping, for you have been a 
 notorious bawd. 13 
POMPEY Sir, I have been an unlawful bawd time out of mind;
 but yet I will be content to be a lawful hangman. I 
 would be glad to receive some instruction from my 
 fellow partner. 
Provost What, ho! Abhorson! Where's Abhorson, there? 
ABHORSON Do you call, sir?
Provost Sirrah, here's a fellow will help you to-morrow in 
 your execution. If you think it meet, compound with 
 him by the year, and let him abide here with you; if 
 not, use him for the present and dismiss him. He 
 cannot plead his estimation with you; he hath been a bawd. 24
ABHORSON A bawd, sir? fie upon him! he will discredit our mystery. 
Provost Go to, sir; you weigh equally; a feather will turn 
 the scale. 
POMPEY Pray, sir, by your good favour,--for surely, sir, a 
 good favour you have, but that you have a hanging
 look,--do you call, sir, your occupation a mystery? 31 
ABHORSON Ay, sir; a mystery 
POMPEY Painting, sir, I have heard say, is a mystery; and 
 your whores, sir, being members of my occupation, 
 using painting, do prove my occupation a mystery:
 but what mystery there should be in hanging, if I 
 should be hanged, I cannot imagine. 
ABHORSON Sir, it is a mystery. 
POMPEY Proof? 
ABHORSON Every true man's apparel fits your thief: if it be 40
 too little for your thief, your true man thinks it 
 big enough; if it be too big for your thief, your 
 thief thinks it little enough: so every true man's 
 apparel fits your thief. 
 Re-enter Provost 
Provost Are you agreed?
POMPEY Sir, I will serve him; for I do find your hangman is 
 a more penitent trade than your bawd; he doth 
 oftener ask forgiveness. 
Provost You, sirrah, provide your block and your axe 
 to-morrow four o'clock.
ABHORSON Come on, bawd; I will instruct thee in my trade; follow.  51
POMPEY I do desire to learn, sir: and I hope, if you have 
 occasion to use me for your own turn, you shall find 
 me yare; for truly, sir, for your kindness I owe you 
 a good turn.
Provost Call hither Barnardine and Claudio: 
 The one has my pity; not a jot the other, 
 Being a murderer, though he were my brother. 
 Enter CLAUDIO. 
 Look, here's the warrant, Claudio, for thy death: 
 'Tis now dead midnight, and by eight to-morrow
 Thou must be made immortal. Where's Barnardine? 60 
CLAUDIO As fast lock'd up in sleep as guiltless labour 
 When it lies starkly in the traveller's bones: 
 He will not wake. 
Provost Who can do good on him?
 Well, go, prepare yourself. 
 Knocking within. 
 But, hark, what noise? 
 Heaven give your spirits comfort! 
 By and by. 
 I hope it is some pardon or reprieve
 For the most gentle Claudio. 
 Enter DUKE VINCENTIO disguised as before. 
 Welcome father. 
DUKE VINCENTIO The best and wholesomest spirts of the night 
 Envelope you, good Provost! Who call'd here of late? 
Provost None, since the curfew rung. 70
Provost No. 
DUKE VINCENTIO They will, then, ere't be long. 
Provost What comfort is for Claudio? 
DUKE VINCENTIO There's some in hope.
Provost It is a bitter deputy. 
DUKE VINCENTIO Not so, not so; his life is parallel'd 
 Even with the stroke and line of his great justice: 
 He doth with holy abstinence subdue 
 That in himself which he spurs on his power
 To qualify in others: were he meal'd with that 
 Which he corrects, then were he tyrannous; 
 But this being so, he's just. 
 Knocking within. 
 Now are they come. 
 Exit Provost 
 This is a gentle provost: seldom when 81
 The steeled gaoler is the friend of men. 
 Knocking within 
 How now! what noise? That spirit's possessed with haste 
 That wounds the unsisting postern with these strokes. 
 Re-enter Provost. 
Provost There he must stay until the officer 
 Arise to let him in: he is call'd up.
DUKE VINCENTIO Have you no countermand for Claudio yet, 
 But he must die to-morrow? 
Provost None, sir, none. 
DUKE VINCENTIO As near the dawning, provost, as it is, 
 You shall hear more ere morning.
Provost Happily 90 
 You something know; yet I believe there comes 
 No countermand; no such example have we: 
 Besides, upon the very siege of justice 
 Lord Angelo hath to the public ear
 Profess'd the contrary. 
 Enter a Messenger. 
 This is his lordship's man. 
DUKE VINCENTIO And here comes Claudio's pardon. 
Messenger Giving a paper. 
 My lord hath sent you this note; and by me this 
 further charge, that you swerve not from the
 smallest article of it, neither in time, matter, or 
 other circumstance. Good morrow; for, as I take it, 
 it is almost day. 100 
Provost I shall obey him. 
 Exit Messenger. 
DUKE VINCENTIO Aside. This is his pardon, purchas'd by such sin 
 For which the pardoner himself is in.
 Hence hath offence his quick celerity, 
 When it is born in high authority: 
 When vice makes mercy, mercy's so extended, 
 That for the fault's love is the offender friended. 
 Now, sir, what news?
Provost I told you. Lord Angelo, belike thinking me remiss 
 in mine office, awakens me with this unwonted 
 putting-on; methinks strangely, for he hath not used it before. 112 
DUKE VINCENTIO Pray you, let's hear. 
Provost Reads. 
 'Whatsoever you may hear to the contrary, let
 Claudio be executed by four of the clock; and in the 
 afternoon Barnardine: for my better satisfaction, 
 let me have Claudio's head sent me by five. Let 
 this be duly performed; with a thought that more 
 depends on it than we must yet deliver. Thus fail
 not to do your office, as you will answer it at your peril.' 120 
 What say you to this, sir? 
DUKE VINCENTIO What is that Barnardine who is to be executed in the 
Provost A Bohemian born, but here nursed un and bred; one
 that is a prisoner nine years old. 
DUKE VINCENTIO How came it that the absent duke had not either 
 delivered him to his liberty or executed him? I 
 have heard it was ever his manner to do so. 
Provost His friends still wrought reprieves for him: and,
 indeed, his fact, till now in the government of Lord 
 Angelo, came not to an undoubtful proof. 131 
DUKE VINCENTIO It is now apparent? 
Provost Most manifest, and not denied by himself. 
DUKE VINCENTIO Hath he born himself penitently in prison? how
 seems he to be touched? 
Provost A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but 
 as a drunken sleep; careless, reckless, and fearless 
 of what's past, present, or to come; insensible of 
 mortality, and desperately mortal.
DUKE VINCENTIO He wants advice. 140 
Provost He will hear none: he hath evermore had the liberty 
 of the prison; give him leave to escape hence, he 
 would not: drunk many times a day, if not many days 
 entirely drunk. We have very oft awaked him, as if
 to carry him to execution, and showed him a seeming 
 warrant for it: it hath not moved him at all. 
DUKE VINCENTIO More of him anon. There is written in your brow, 
 provost, honesty and constancy: if I read it not 
 truly, my ancient skill beguiles me; but, in the
 boldness of my cunning, I will lay myself in hazard. 
 Claudio, whom here you have warrant to execute, is 
 no greater forfeit to the law than Angelo who hath 
 sentenced him. To make you understand this in a 
 manifested effect, I crave but four days' respite;
 for the which you are to do me both a present and a 
 dangerous courtesy. 
Provost Pray, sir, in what? 
DUKE VINCENTIO In the delaying death. 
Provost A lack, how may I do it, having the hour limited,
 and an express command, under penalty, to deliver 
 his head in the view of Angelo? I may make my case 
 as Claudio's, to cross this in the smallest. 161 
DUKE VINCENTIO By the vow of mine order I warrant you, if my 
 instructions may be your guide. Let this Barnardine
 be this morning executed, and his head born to Angelo. 
Provost Angelo hath seen them both, and will discover the favour. 
DUKE VINCENTIO O, death's a great disguiser; and you may add to it. 
 Shave the head, and tie the beard; and say it was 
 the desire of the penitent to be so bared before his
 death: you know the course is common. If any thing 
 fall to you upon this, more than thanks and good 
 fortune, by the saint whom I profess, I will plead 
 against it with my life. 173 
Provost Pardon me, good father; it is against my oath.
DUKE VINCENTIO Were you sworn to the duke, or to the deputy? 
Provost To him, and to his substitutes. 
DUKE VINCENTIO You will think you have made no offence, if the duke 
 avouch the justice of your dealing? 
Provost But what likelihood is in that?
DUKE VINCENTIO Not a resemblance, but a certainty. Yet since I see 
 you fearful, that neither my coat, integrity, nor 
 persuasion can with ease attempt you, I will go 
 further than I meant, to pluck all fears out of you. 
 Look you, sir, here is the hand and seal of the
 duke: you know the character, I doubt not; and the 
 signet is not strange to you. 
Provost I know them both. 
DUKE VINCENTIO The contents of this is the return of the duke: you 
 shall anon over-read it at your pleasure; where you
 shall find, within these two days he will be here. 
 This is a thing that Angelo knows not; for he this 
 very day receives letters of strange tenor; 
 perchance of the duke's death; perchance entering 
 into some monastery; but, by chance, nothing of what
 is writ. Look, the unfolding star calls up the 
 shepherd. Put not yourself into amazement how these 
 things should be: all difficulties are but easy 
 when they are known. Call your executioner, and off 
 with Barnardine's head: I will give him a present
 shrift and advise him for a better place. Yet you 
 are amazed; but this shall absolutely resolve you. 
 Come away; it is almost clear dawn. 


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2

From Measure for Measure. Ed. William J. Rolfe. New York: Harper & Brothers., 1899.

6. Leave me your snatches. None of your attempts at catching me up! For me, cf. i. 2. 156 and ii. I. 114.
10. Gyves. Fetters.
12. Unpitied. "Unmerciful" (Steevens).
21. Compound. Make an agreement.
23. Estimation. Reputation.
20. Mystery. Calling, trade. Cf. Oth. p. 199.
30. A good favour you have. There is a play upon favour = face.
40. True man's. Honest man's; often opposed to thief. See Cymb. p. 182.
41. If it be too little, etc. The folios give this to "Clo.," or Pompey; but Capell, followed by most of the editors, transfers it to Abhorson. W. gives the old arrangement without comment. Clarke explains it satisfactorily thus: "Abhorson states his proof that hanging is a mystery by saying 'Every true man's apparel fits your thief,' and the clown, taking the words out of his mouth, explains them after his own fashion, and ends by saying 'So (in this way, or thus) every true man's apparel fits your thief.' Moreover, the speech is much more in character with the clown's snip-snap style of chop-logic than with Abhorson's manner, which is remarkably curt and bluff."
46. He doth oftener ask forgiveness. It was the custom for the executioner to ask forgiveness of the criminal before fulfilling his office. Cf. A. Y. L. iii. 5. 3:

"The common executioner,
Whose heart the accustom'd sight of death makes hard,
Falls not his axe upon the humbled neck
But first begs' pardon."

53. Yare. Ready, apt. Cf. A. and C. iii. 13. 130.
62. Starkly. Stiffly, as if dead; the only instance of the adverb in S. Cf. the adjective (used only of dead bodies) in i Hen, IV. v. 3. 42, R. and J. iv. I. 103, and Cymb. iv. 2. 209.
70. Curfew. S. transfers the English (and earlier Norman French) curfew bell to Vienna, as he does to Italy in R. and J. iv. 4. 4 (cf. Temp' V. I. 40).
71. They. Changed in the Coll. MS. to "There;" but the duke is expecting both Isabella and the messenger with a reprieve. Cf 80 below.
75. Stroke. The metaphor, as Johnson notes, is taken from the stroke of a pen.
78. Qualify. Abate, control. Cf. Ham. iv. 7. 114, Lear, i. 2. 176, etc.
Meal'd. "Sprinkled, defiled" (Johnson). Blackstone made it = "mingled, compounded" (Fr. meler).
80. This being so. The case being as it is; this referring, not to what immediately precedes, but to the former part of the speech.
81. Seldom when. Some print "seldom-when;" but this is unnecessary, seldom when being = "'t is seldom when" (it is seldom that) in 2 Hen. IV. iv. 4. 79.
83. Spirit. Monosyllabic; as oft'en. Gr. 463.
84. Unsisting. Explained by some as = unresting, but probably a misprint. Rowe reads "unresisting," Hanmer "unresting," and Capell "unshifting." Steevens conjectures "unlist'ning," Coll. "resisting," Sr. "unwisting," etc. W. reads "unlisting," which was proposed by Mason, and is as good an emendation as any. If unsisting means "never at rest, always opening" (the definition is due to Blackstone), the word seems out of place when the door is at rest.
90. Happily. Haply; as often in the early editions, but generally changed to haply in the modern ones when dissyllabic. See T. N, p. 158, or Gr. 42.
93. Siege. Seat (Fr. siege). Cf. its use (= rank) in Ham. iv. 7. 77: "Of the unworthiest siege;" and Oth. i. 2. 22: "men of royal siege."
95. Lordship's. The folios have "lords;" corrected by Pope. The error probably arose from the use of the contraction "Lord" for lordship. In T. of S. ind. 2. 2, the folio reads "Wilt please your Lord drink a cup of sacke?"
96. And here comes, etc. The folios give this speech to "Pro.," but it evidently belongs to the Duke, as Tyrwhitt conjectured.
105. His. Its. Gr. 217, 228.
111. Putting-on. Urging, incitement Cf. Cor. ii. 3. 260: "you ne'er had done 't . . . but by our putting on," etc.
122. What is, etc. Who is, etc. Cf. 2 Hen, IV. i. 2. 66; "What's he that goes there?" Gr. 254.
125. Nine years old. Cf. Ham. iv. 6. 15: "Ere we were two days old at sea," etc.
130. Fact. Deed, crime. See W. T. p. 175.
137. Insensible of mortality and desperately mortal. "Insensible of his being subject to death, and desperate in his incurring of death" (Clarke). Schmidt, following Johnson, makes desperately mortal destined to die without hope of salvation."
149. In the boldness of my cunning. "In the confidence of my sagacity" (Steevens).
153. In a manifested effect. "That is, so that its being manifest may be the effect or result of my exposition" (Schmidt).
158. Limited. Appointed; as in Macb. ii. 3. 56: "my limited service," etc.
165. Discover the favour. Recognize the face. Cf. 30 above.
168. Tie the beard. Tie has been changed to "dye" and "trim;" but, as Clarke remarks, it is probable that the beard was sometimes tied up out of the way of the axe, at the request of the sufferer. Sir Thomas More, when laymg his head on the block, said to the executioner: "Let me put my beard aside; that hath not committed treason."
169. Bared. Referring to the shaving of the head, and perhaps also to the tying of the beard. The first three folios have "bar'de," and the 4th "barb'd."
170. Fall to you upon this. Befall you on account of this.
181. Attempt. Tempt; as in M. of V, iv. i. 421: "I must attempt you further," etc.
183. Character. Handwriting.
192. Is writ. Hanmer reads "is here writ," which is of course what is meant.
The unfolding star. Steevens quotes Milton, Comus, 93:

"The star that bids the shepherd fold
Now the top of heaven doth hold."

196. Present shrift. Immediate absolution (after confession). Cf. R, and J. ii. 3. 56: "Riddling confession finds but riddling shrift."
197. Absolutely resolve you. "Entirely convince you" (Mason).

Measure for Measure, Act 4, Scene 3


Abbott (or Gr.), Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar (third edition).
A. S., Anglo-Saxon.
A. v.. Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).
B. and F., Beaumont and Fletcher.
B. J., Ben Jonson.
Camb. ed., "Cambridge edition" of Shakespeare, edited by Clark and Wright.
Cf. confer\ compare.
Clarke, "Cassell's Illustrated Shakespeare," edited by Charles and Mary Cowden-Clarke (London, n. d.).
Coll., Collier (second edition).
Coll. MS., Manuscript Corrections of Second Folio, edited by Collier.
D., Dyce (second edition).
H., Hudson ("Harvard" edition).
Halliwell, J. O. Halliwell (folio ed. of Shakespeare).
Id. (idem), the same.
J. H., J. Hunter's ed. M./or M. (London, 1873).
K., Knight (second edition).
Nares, Glossary, edited by Halliwell and Wright Lndon, 1859).
Prol., Prologue.
S., Shakespeare.
Schmidt, A. Schmidt's Shakespeare-Lexicon (Berlin, 1874).
Sr., Singer.
St, Staunton.
Theo., Theobald.
v., Verplanck.
W., R. Grant White.
Walker, Wm. Sidney Walker's Critical Examination of the Text of Shakespeare (London, i860).
Warb., Warburton.
Wb., Webster's Dictionary (revised quarto edition of 1879).
Wore, Worcester's Dictionary (quarto edition).

How to cite the explanatory notes:

Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. Ed. William J. Rolfe. New York: Harper & Brothers., 1899. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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