'Measure for Measure' Act 2 - Analysis

Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure. Getty Images/Andrew Howe

Our Measure for Measure Study Guide is packed with scene-by-scene analysis for this classic Shakespeare play. Here we focus on Measure for Measure Act 2 analysis to guide you through the plot.

Act 2, Scene 1

Angelo is defending his actions by saying that the law must change in order that the people continue to have fear and respect of it. He compares the law to a scarecrow which after time, no longer scares the birds but acts as a perch for them.

Escalus urges Angelo to be more temperate, he tells him that Claudio is from a good family and that he could have easily been promoted to a similar position as Angelo’s. He asks Angelo to be fair, saying: “Whether you had not sometime in your life Erred in this point which now you censure him”.

Escalus questions Angelo wondering whether he is being hypocritical. Angelo admits to being tempted but says he has never given in to his temptation. “Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus, another thing to fall”

He says that he would expect the same treatment if he transgressed but acknowledged that he could well have done in another circumstance. Angelo talks about the fine line between criminals and those who pass the law, we are all capable of criminality but some have the power to prosecute others that don’t.

Angelo orders the Provost to execute Claudio and nine the next morning.

Escalus hopes that heaven will forgive Claudio and Angelo for condemning him; he feels sorry for Claudio who has only made one small mistake, and contemplates Angelo’s fate for potentially committing worse actions and going unpunished:

“Well heaven forgive him, and forgive us all! Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. Some run from brakes of vice, and answer none; and some condemned for a fault alone”

Enter Elbow a constable, Froth a foolish gentleman, Pompey and officers.

Elbow explains that he is the Duke’s constable. He often gets his words muddled so it makes it difficult for Angelo to question him.

He has brought Froth and Pompey to him for being in a brothel. Froth confesses to working for Mistress Overdone and Escalus tells the men that working in prostitution is illegal and punishable and that they should not been seen in a brothel again.

Escalus then asks Elbow to bring him the names of other worthy constables. He reflects on Claudio’s fate with regret but feels that nothing can be done about it.

Act 2 Scene 2

The Provost is hoping that Angelo will relent. Angelo enters; The Provost asks him if Claudio will die the next day. Angelo tells him that of course he will die and asks him why he is being questioned on the matter. Angelo tells the Provost that he should get on with his job. The Provost explains that Juliet is about to give birth, he asks Angelo what should be done with her. Angelo tells him to “Dispose of her to some more fitter place and that with speed”.

The Provost explains that a very virtuous maid, the sister of Claudio wishes to speak with Angelo. It is explained to Angelo that she is a nun. Isabella implores Angelo to condemn the crime but not the man who committed it. Angelo says that the crime is already condemned. Urged on by Lucio to be less cold, Isabella further entreats Angelo to free her brother; she says that had Claudio been in Angelo’s position he would not have been so stern.

Angelo tells Isabella that Claudio will die; she tells him that Claudio is not ready and pleads with him to give him a stay of execution.

Angelo’s will appears to be bending as Isabella is told to return tomorrow. Isabella says “Hark how I’ll bribe you, good my lord, turn back”.

This pricks Angelo’s interest: “How bribe me?”

She offers to pray for him. Angelo is sexually attracted to Isabella but is confused because he is more attracted to her because she is virtuous. He says “O let her brother live!...What do I love her”.

Note: Looking for the next scene? our Measure for Measure Study Guide links to all of our scene-by-scene summaries.