Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The growing political and moral corruption of Vienna is a great worry to its kindly, temperate ruler, Duke Vincentio. Knowing that he himself is as much to blame for the troubles as anyone because he has been lax in the enforcement of existing laws, the duke tries to devise a scheme to revive the old discipline of civic authority.
Fearing that reforms instituted by himself might seem too harsh for his people to accept without protest, he decides to appoint a deputy governor and to leave the country for a while. Angelo, a respected and intelligent city official, seems just the man for the job. The duke turns over the affairs of Vienna to Angelo for a certain length of time and appoints Escalus, a trustworthy old official, to be second in command. The duke then pretends to leave for Poland. In reality, he disguises himself as a friar and returns to the city to watch the outcome of Angelo’s reforms.
Angelo’s first act is to imprison Claudio, a young nobleman who got his betrothed, Juliet, pregnant. Under an old statute, now revived, Claudio’s offense is punishable by death. After being paraded through the streets in disgrace, the young man is sent to prison. He asks his rakish friend, Lucio, to go to the nunnery where Claudio’s sister, Isabella, is a young novice about to take her vows and to ask her to plead with the new governor for his release. At the same time, Escalus, who has known Claudio’s father well, begs Angelo not to execute...
(The entire section is 1191 words.)
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On his departure from Vienna, Duke Vincentio deputizes Angelo to administer the laws of the city in his place and appoints the wise "old Escalus" as Angelo's assistant. The Duke, who is concerned that he has been too lax in keeping order in the city, in fact has no intention of leaving Vienna. Instead, he plans to disguise himself as Friar Lodowick so that he can monitor the effect that the "precise" Angelo's enforcement of the laws has on the citizens and to see whether the exercise of power causes any change in Angelo. The new deputy's first actions are to shut down all the brothels in the suburbs and to arrest and sentence to death young Claudio for impregnating his fiancée, Juliet. On his way to prison, Claudio is met by his friend Lucio, who promises to ask Claudio's sister, Isabella, to beg Angelo for her brother's life. Lucio seeks out Isabella at the convent, where she has recently become a novice, and tells her of Claudio's plight. Distressed at this news, she agrees to speak to Angelo.
When Escalus tries to persuade Angelo to reduce the severity of Claudio's sentence, the deputy refuses and instead instructs the Provost to have Claudio executed the next morning. Constable Elbow appears before Angelo and Escalus with the "bawd" Pompey and a gentleman named Froth in custody, and Angelo leaves it to Escalus to sort out Elbow's confusing complaint against his two prisoners. Meanwhile,...
(The entire section is 1017 words.)