Context: Claudio, a young gentleman of Vienna, is arrested on a charge of fornication and faces a penalty of death for a technical violation of an old law. Upon an honest contract of marriage, delayed only because of some formal difficulties about dowry, Claudio has gotten his beloved, Juliet, with child. Claudio's sister, Isabella, a novice in a convent, goes to the Duke's deputy, Angelo, who holds power and strictly enforces the law in Duke Vincentio's absence. She pleads for Claudio's life. He counters her pleas with a dishonorable proposal: if she succumbs to his will, he will free Claudio. Shocked, she goes to Claudio in prison and tells him of Angelo's proposal, that she cannot accept it, and that he, Claudio, must die. Claudio, reluctant to accept her decision, dwells on the horrors of death.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; . . .