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ACT IV SCENE II
A room in the prison.
Enter Provost and POMPEY.
Come hither, sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head?
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.
Come, sir, leave me your snatches, and yield me a
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
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
What, ho! Abhorson! Where's Abhorson, there?
Do you call, sir?
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.
A bawd, sir? fie upon him! he will discredit our mystery.
Go to, sir; you weigh equally; a feather will turn
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?
Ay, sir; a mystery
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.
Sir, it is a mystery.
Every true man's apparel fits your thief: if it be
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.
Are you agreed?
Sir, I will serve him; for I do find your hangman is
a more penitent trade than your bawd; he doth
oftener ask forgiveness.
You, sirrah, provide your block and your axe
to-morrow four o'clock.
Come on, bawd; I will instruct thee in my trade; follow.
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.
Call hither Barnardine and Claudio:
Exeunt POMPEY and ABHORSON.
The one has my pity; not a jot the other,
Being a murderer, though he were my brother.
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?
As fast lock'd up in sleep as guiltless labour
When it lies starkly in the traveller's bones:
He will not wake.
Who can do good on him?
Well, go, prepare yourself.
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.
The best and wholesomest spirts of the night
Envelope you, good Provost! Who call'd here of late?
None, since the curfew rung.
They will, then, ere't be long.
What comfort is for Claudio?
There's some in hope.
It is a bitter deputy.
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.
Now are they come.
This is a gentle provost: seldom when
The steeled gaoler is the friend of men.
How now! what noise? That spirit's possessed with haste
That wounds the unsisting postern with these strokes.
There he must stay until the officer
Arise to let him in: he is call'd up.
Have you no countermand for Claudio yet,
But he must die to-morrow?
None, sir, none.
As near the dawning, provost, as it is,
You shall hear more ere morning.
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.
And here comes Claudio's pardon.
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.
I shall obey him.
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?
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.
Pray you, let's hear.
'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.'
What say you to this, sir?
What is that Barnardine who is to be executed in the
A Bohemian born, but here nursed un and bred; one
that is a prisoner nine years old.
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.
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.
It is now apparent?
Most manifest, and not denied by himself.
Hath he born himself penitently in prison? how
seems he to be touched?
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.
He wants advice.
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.
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
Pray, sir, in what?
In the delaying death.
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.
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.
Angelo hath seen them both, and will discover the favour.
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.
Pardon me, good father; it is against my oath.
Were you sworn to the duke, or to the deputy?
To him, and to his substitutes.
You will think you have made no offence, if the duke
avouch the justice of your dealing?
But what likelihood is in that?
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.
I know them both.
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.
12.Unpitied. "Unmerciful" (Steevens).
21.Compound. Make an agreement.
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.
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
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,"
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
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
192.Is writ. Hanmer reads "is here writ," which is of course what
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).
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).
Schmidt, A. Schmidt's Shakespeare-Lexicon (Berlin, 1874).
W., R. Grant White.
Walker, Wm. Sidney Walker's Critical Examination of the Text of Shakespeare
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) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/measure_4_2.html >.