Friday, 30 December 2011


I am thrilled that my wonderful writer friend, P.M.White has written this essay for my blog. P.M.White turns the matter over and over in his mind, of why he, and we all write smut. Read on!

Writers usually want to write. If not, then they like to read. If not either, they want drinks, which usually goes hand in hand with a desire to get laid. Besides the aforementioned partner, writers typically like a degree of solitude, even during the holidays.
It’s about two days after Christmas as I write this. I have no idea if I’ll be social for New Year’s. I went to one Christmas party, which is on par with the amount of revelry I experienced last year. Most of my time is spent writing, both in my day job and in my personal life. This means I like to sit in my own little world, stare at a computer screen and listen to old punk albums without saying much beyond incoherent mumbles that help further the creative process.
As I write this I’m wearing sweat pants that are a little too large for me, a white t-shirt that I slept in, and slip-on rubber shoes that I wear around the house. A space heater is usually aimed at my feet while I plunk my fingers on the keys. My hair, which I’m growing out in preparation for my mid-life crisis, has not felt a brush or comb since yesterday morning. I know there are plenty of writers who get ready before they write, but I’m not one of them. I do need coffee if it’s morning, but otherwise that's it. On occasion I need whiskey.
What I’m getting at is writers tend to be a very reclusive bunch. At my day job, I have to interview people and attend meetings before I can write. At night, or early in the morning like today, I write from a home office with only my old dog as company. So for a lot of my time, I am sequestered away with a keyboard. There’s a reason why writers spend so much time alone. Many of us are socially awkward. Or we’re made that way by our chosen profession. Either way, crowds can be scary. Even if they’re composed of friends.
Case in point is the Christmas party I attended with my girlfriend. A wonderful crowd attended the gathering – called a white elephant gift exchange/ game night/ potluck. Their were single folk, gay couples, straight couples and all in between. Everyone had a great time. My girlfriend ended up with a giant pink calculator that makes the user feel they've decreased in size by fifty percent. A number of the party-goers, including a sprinkling of the non-straight guys, lusted after that pink calculator. They also lusted after a painting I contributed to the shenanigans. It became one of the most fought-over gifts for the whole exchange.
White elephant parties, for those who don't know, means you can steal the present of someone after they have drawn their number and opened their gift. When your number comes up you can open a new gift or steal someone else's. My painting was stolen often.
Later someone suggested I was just as popular to a number of the gay men as my painting. Did they want to oil up my cock and watch it spurt? Did they want to put theirs in my mouth? Possibly, but it wasn't the thought of homo-erotic sex that makes me feel awkward socially. I write erotica. I think about sex all the time and either want to have it or I want to write it. So far I have never done both at the same time, but being hit on isn't a big deal.
As it always does, writing erotica became a conversation piece at the party for those that learned of my profession. Many thought this meant, surprise surprise, that I went down on men all the time, women as well, and probably had no problem blowing a guy while pounding a woman. While I neither confirmed nor denied my preferences, I did say it meant only that I enjoy sex and writing about it. For me, the awkwardness comes in speaking aloud, in not having any control of the next sentence that comes out of someone's mouth, of wanting to be friendly, but feeling a rock in the pit of my stomach. I often wonder if awkwardness of this sort had something to do with why Bukowski behaved like such an ass. Most writers enjoy writing because they're hermits. They don't want to be bothered by the real world. It doesn't fit with the world of their words, the world they want to be in.
As I write this, I realize that I have now shared more of myself by typing than I shared to those at the party. In words, the awkwardness all but vanishes. There, I'm ready for homo-erotic adventures and bi-sexual orgies galore, but in the real world I'm ready only for another cup of coffee. Maybe with a little Irish crème in it.

PM White is the author of ‘Horror Manor Part 1: Eyeball Man’ available through Sizzler Editions and on Amazon. His short stories have appeared in ‘Best S/M 3,’ ‘Sex in San Francisco’ and most recently in the ‘Pirate Booty’ anthology. He can be found on Facebook and here.

Friday, 23 December 2011


Once upon a time there was a beautiful and pious lady. Her skin was as white as snow, her golden hair hung down to her delicate ankles. Every night her maids would brush her hair until it gleamed. The beautiful lady was married to a spiteful, cruel and angry man. He was the lord of all the land and he was truly horrible. He persecuted God’s Holy Church and his judgements and laws were so harsh, that the poor people of the land scarcely had enough to eat. Each year, the spiteful, cruel and angry lord increased the taxes and the poor people were in fear that their families would starve to death. Their children were so thin and frail that they couldn’t run about and play. Their bellies swelled, they were so hungry. The mother’s milk dried up in their breasts, so that they could no longer feed their babies. All across the land you could hear the sounds of weeping mothers, children and babies. The men didn’t know what to do. They too, were weak with hunger: almost too weak to work the land and grow corn to make bread. The tools that they use to work the land were all broken anyway, and they had no money to buy new spades, shovels, ploughs and scythes. But they tried, they did their best.

The beautiful and pious lady wept too. It broke her heart to see the people starving. At last she went to her spiteful, cruel and angry husband and asked him to lower the taxes so that the poor people could buy bread and grow corn. He refused his beautiful wife’s pleas. Still she begged him again and again. The spiteful, cruel and angry lord didn’t care about the poor people: he thought that the poor people were extremely dirty, astoundingly ugly, awfully lazy and sickeningly smelly. He always carried with him a little posy of fragrant rosemary, mint, marigold and lavender. He would hold it to his nose whenever he had to pass the stinking poor people. Everyone knew that they were carriers of disease, it was a well known fact, and they really did smell horrible. Once he threw up when he passed too close to a poor person. The stench overwhelmed his delicate nostrils. It was dreadfully embarrassing; the dirty, poor and ugly children laughed at him and threw sticks and mud. He blamed his beautiful wife, with the golden, shining hair and skin as white as snow. And his wife, the beautiful lady with the skin as white as snow and shining golden hair, continued to pester him. She went on and on and on. She wouldn’t leave him alone. At last, but only because he was absolutely and utterly totally tired, fed up, bored and thoroughly pissed off with his wife’s incessant nagging and whining, the spiteful, cruel and angry (SPA) lord said that he had a solution. He said that he would lower the taxes on the poor people, if she would remove her clothes and ride on a horse through the streets, completely naked.

Because she was such a pious woman, demure and modest, the SPA lord didn’t think that his wife would agree to do it. But his beautiful wife took him at his word. The SPA lord, whose name was Leofric, was, quite frankly, in a bit of a panic. What would happen to his reputation if all of the common people saw his wife naked? She was very beautiful. She had large, firm, plump breasts, a full rounded belly and wonderfully smooth, white thighs. If all of the common people saw her naked, he would be a laughing stock. So he issued a decree that all of the people should board up their windows and nail them shut, so that no one would see his wife’s naked body.

So the beautiful lady, whose name was Godiva rode naked on a beautiful white horse through the streets of Coventry, her smooth white as snow skin, covered only by her long, golden, shining hair. The streets were silent, she was unseen by the people, except for just one person, a tailor, ever after known as “Peeping Tom”, who bored a hole in his shutter, so that he might see Godiva when she passed and he could see her smooth, plump, naked body.

And behold, God in Heaven and all of his extremely Holy Entourage, wept at the plight of the poor people and they loved Godiva for her piety and her sacrifice. But God was angry that Tom had looked, when he’d been ordered not to. And God spake, issuing a decree that Tom should be punished. So God sent one of his trainee Avenging Angels to Tom. The trainee Avenging Angel wasn’t very good, in fact the Holy Entourage thought he was a bit of a jerk, but God had a soft spot for him. The Avenging Angel could have turned himself into a cloud of golden dust and spoken to Tom in a fearsome voice, but he had forgotten how to effect the transformation, so he simply kicked the door in, scaring poor Tom half to death. For his sinful temerity of looking at the naked Godiva, even if she was completely covered by her long, golden, shining hair -- the Angel struck Tom blind. Lord Leofric was so completely stunned by the Lady Godiva’s sacrifice, that he immediately ceased his persecution of the Church and abolished the taxes on the poor people. There was great rejoicing throughout the land and a statue of Lady Godiva, naked on her horse stands in Broadgate, in the city of Coventry in England, to this very day. And of course, Lady Godiva and Lord Leofric lived happily ever after.

Well, well! As far as erotica is concerned, the old tale gives us templates for the Dominant and the submissive. The submissive, Godiva, is also an exhibitionist. I know it is open to question, but I wonder if “Peeping Tom” is the earliest record we have of a voyeur? If anyone knows, please let me know!

And the old tale is still told today. The Godiva Procession, a commemoration of the legendary ride instituted on May 31, 1678, as part of Coventry fair, was celebrated at intervals until 1826. From 1848 to 1887, it was revived and continues into the twenty-first century as part of the Godiva Festival.

The wooden effigy of Peeping Tom which, from 1812 until World War II, looked out on the world from a hotel at the northwest corner of Hertford Street, Coventry, can now be found in Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre. Nearby, in the 1950s rebuilt Broadgate, an animated Peeping Tom watches over Lady Godiva as she makes her hourly ride around the Godiva Clock.

Is the old, old tale true? Well it seems a matter of debate amongst historians. There certainly was a Lord Leofric, who was married to Lady Godiva. Contrary to the legend, both Godiva and Leofric were generous benefactors to the Church and to the poor.

“Lady Godiva was the wife of Leofric (968–1057), Earl of Mercia. Her name occurs in charters and the Doomsday survey, though the spelling varies. The Old English name Godgifu or Godgyfu meant "gift of God"; Godiva was the Latinised version. Since the name was a popular one, there are contemporaries of the same name.

If she is the same Godgifu who appears in the chronicles of Ely, Liber Eliensis (end of twelfth century), she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. Writing in the twelfth century, Roger of Wendover credits Godiva as the persuasive force behind this act. In the 1050s, her name is coupled with that of her husband on a grant of land to the monastery of Saint Mary, Worcester and the endowment of the minster at Stow Saint Mary, Lincolnshire. She and her husband are commemorated as benefactors of other monasteries at Leominster, Chester, Much Wenlock and Evesham.

After Leofric's death in 1057, his widow lived on until sometime beyond the Norman Conquest of 1066. She is mentioned in the Doomsday survey as one of the few Anglo-Saxons and the only woman to remain a major landholder shortly after the conquest. By the time of this great survey in 1086, Godiva had died, but her former lands are listed, although now held by others. Thus, Godiva apparently died between 1066 and 1086.

The place where Godiva was buried has been a matter of debate. According to the Evesham Chronicle, she was buried at the Church of the Blessed Trinity at Evesham, which is no longer standing. But, according to the authoritative account in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "There is no reason to doubt that she was buried with her husband at Coventry, despite the assertion of the Evesham chronicle that she lay in Holy Trinity, Evesham."
William Dugdale (1656) states that a window with representations of Leofric and Godiva was placed in Trinity Church, in Coventry, about the time of Richard II.”

From the New World Encyclopaedia.

“Archaeologists in Coventry have unearthed part of a 14th century stained glass window bearing the face of a beautiful woman. It is thought to be that of Lady Godiva, famous for riding naked through the streets of the city.

The face on the newly-found glass shards is beautiful and crowned by wavy, golden hair. It was part of the east window of the former cathedral where, traditionally, the images of benefactors are depicted.”

From BBC news/in depth. 24th Aug 2001

Friday, 16 December 2011

Well, yes it does make me want to scream! Loudly! You see, it’s the third time this has happened to me -- males -- straight males, confusing me with the characters in my tales.

Have any other women writers come across this?

I write erotica. Sometimes what I write is downright, absolutely pornographic. I write to entertain, sometimes I write quite deliberately to arouse -- I write to explore what a fun thing sex can be. The games that we play; the games that we want to play, but dare not.

I hope that sometimes people laugh! Laughter is sexy!

If consolation is needed, then I hope that I console -- it’s a sad mind that thinks that you are the only person in the world, who has had strange fantasies -- sometimes what the world would see as perverted fantasies. I write for the guy who wants to be a mommy’s boy -- for the male or female who wants to be Dominated, humiliated, who suffers for the sake of the one that he or she idolises. Those who give up their right to orgasm, because their Master, or Mistress forbids it. They eat, sleep, wear clothes, defecate, urinate when they are permitted. I want to tell them that they are not weird. They don’t have to act on their dark fantasies, but they are entitled to have them.

Sometimes I write heavy stuff.

And I hope that women read my tales too. I write for them; to empower -- sexually.

One guy who wrote to me, declared himself a submissive. He wanted to be tied up, be beaten until he was “bruised and bloody”. He couldn’t possibly tell his wife, she would think he was a pervert.

So how can he tell me, a stranger, things that he would never divulge to the person he is closest to in all the world?

Sad, bad.

Do male writer’s of erotica get this? I wonder what their response would be? A gay friend, who writes gay male erotica, tells me that he’s had mails where his readers confess that they have masturbated after reading his stories. My friend’s response is: “well well”.

One New Year’s Eve, I had a cold so I decided not to join in the celebrations. I stayed in, warm and cosy. I was watching the new year arrive on television. Big Ben struck on the hour of midnight. The phone rang. A guy telling me to open my mouth, he was waiting to shove his penis in. It’s hardly poetry, is it? I was shocked and hung up. I was nervous and felt upset. Then I got to thinking, how would a man react to a dirty phone call? So I asked them -- gay and straight. Both said that they would laugh and probably be excited. So I wrote my story, “Retribution”. It’s about just that. A straight man receiving a dirty phone call from a woman. It’s in M.Christian’s anthology, “Best S&M Erotica vol.3

I mentioned all of this to an acquaintance; his response was -- “Well, given the genre you write in, don’t you think that this sort of thing is bound to happen?”

Maybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t. The males who have contacted me come over as intelligent guys; men with refined, intellectually developed, sophisticated minds. So why, after a few emails, do they ask me ask me inappropriate questions? Very personal questions. Have I ever…? Very creepy questions.

These questions take me by surprise rather than shock me. A bit like the dirty phone call on New Year’s Eve. Questions that unsettle me rather than distress me. I feel a little bit insulted too -- but most of all, I feel very irritated.

I could name names -- I could, perhaps I should. But I’m not going to -- that would make me spiteful, and I’m not spiteful.

But I am not Ulena, or Jasmine, or Sally, or whoever the hell the FEM/dom is in my tales. They are figments of my imagination; they are not me. I create these characters, just to see if I can do it. I put them and their submissive partners in depraved situations, just to see if I can do it. Human beings have always whispered tales of the forbidden; the taboo. Those tales are a part of every culture in the world, expressing stuff we dare not speak of.

Perhaps, one day I’ll move away from erotica/pornography -- maybe I’ll write something “worthy”. Heavens, there are plenty of issues to be going along with. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, how we treat the elderly, child abuse, animal cruelty -- the list goes on and on. Perhaps I’ll write about the cult of celebrity -- the desire that half the world has, it seems, to be famous.

Maybe I won’t -- there are more than enough writers churning out “worthy” books.

I’ve deleted my Facebook profile -- no great loss there. I was getting inappropriate comments on my “wall”.

It’s fiction for God’s sake; it’s a story.

It seems that if I want to write in the erotica genre, then I have to hide -- But I will continue to write my tales of sexual release, sensual release -- and yes, even spiritual release.

I think that my ultimate aim, as a writer of erotica, is to express erotica with words, as beautifully as Dita von Teese does in her burlesque dance. Dita dances to entertain -- She dances to arouse men -- and women too. She’s also empowering women -- to be beautiful, to take control of their sexuality. She’s telling a story, a fiction -- her dance is no more real than any of my, or any other writer’s erotic/pornographic tales.

In her dressing room, Dita von Teese takes of her wig and heavy makeup. She kicks off the killer heels -- she probably slips, very elegantly of course, into a pair of old jeans and a tee shirt. She exits through the stage door -- her adoring fans don’t even recognise her. She tip toes away gracefully into the night.

Friday, 9 December 2011


Before I say anything here's a hearty and heart-felt THANKS to Billierosie for her love and support --- and for her wanting to share this little piece I wrote about the reality of being a smut writer. Little, alas, has changed from when I wrote this -- and when it was published in “How to write and sell Erotica:” sex and sex writing is still something that seems to bring out a lot of strange things for far too many people and, until we evolve as a species, everyone who wants to say anything about eroticism needs to have a very firm grasp of what that means.

"The shock of September 11 is subsiding. Each day adds distance. Distance diminishes fear. Cautiously our lives are returning to normal. But "normal" will never be the same again. We have seen the enemy and the enemy is among us .... the publishers, producers, peddlers and purveyors of pornography."

It didn't take me long to find that quote, just a few minutes of searching. It came from an LDS Web site, Meridian Magazine, but I could have picked fifty others. Maybe it's because of the election, or because of a few horror stories that have recently come my way, but I think it's time to have a chat about what it can mean to ... well, do what we do.

We write pornography. Say it with me: por-nog-ra-phy. Not 'erotica' -- a word too many writers use to distance themselves, or even elevate themselves, from the down and dirty stuff on most adult bookstore shelves -- but smut, filth ... and so forth.

I've mentioned before how it's dangerous to draw a line in the sand, putting fellow writers on the side of 'smut' and others in 'erotica.' The Supreme Court couldn't decide where to scrawl that mark -- what chance do we have?

What good are our petty semantics when too many people would love to see us out of business, thrown in jail, or much, much worse? They don't see a bit of difference between what I write and what you write. We can sit and argue all we like over who's innocent and who's guilty until our last meals arrive, but we'll still hang together.

I think it's time to face some serious facts about what we do. 'Swinging from a rope' hyperbole aside, we face some serious risks for putting pen to paper or file to disk. I know far too many people who have been fired, stalked, threatened, had their writing used against them in divorces and child custody cases, and much worse.

People hate us. Not everyone, certainly, but even in oases like San Francisco people who write about sex can suffer tremendous difficulties. Even the most -- supposedly -- tolerant companies have a hard time with an employee who writes smut. A liberal court will still look down on a defendant who's published stories in Naughty Nurses. The religious fanatic will most certainly throw the first, second, third stone -- or as many as it takes -- at a filth peddler.

This is what we have to accept. Sure, things are better than they have been before and, if we're lucky, they will slowly progress despite the fundamentalism of the current government, but we all have to open our eyes to the ugly truths that can accompany a decision to write pornography.

What can we do? Well, aside from joining the ACLU ( there isn't a lot to we can directly do to protect ourselves if the law, or Bible-wielding fanatics, break down our doors, but there are a few relatively simple techniques we can employ to be safe. Take these as you will, and keep in mind that I'm not an expert in the law, but most importantly, try to accept that what you are doing is dangerous.

Assess your risks. If you have kids, if you have a sensitive job, if you own a house, if you have touchy parents, if you live in a conservative city or state, you should be extra careful about your identity and what you are writing. Even if you think you have nothing to lose, you do -- your freedom. Many cities and states have very loose pornography laws, and all it would take is a cop, a sheriff, or a district attorney to decide you needed to be behind bars to put you there.

Hide. Yes, I think we should all be proud of what we do, what we create, but use some common sense about how easily you can be identified or found. If you have anything to lose, use a pseudonym, a post office box, never post your picture, and so forth. Women, especially, should be extra careful. I know far too many female writers who have been stalked or Internet-attacked because of what they do.

Keep your yap shut. Don't tell your bank, your boss, your accountant, your plumber, or anyone at all, what you do -- unless you know them very well. When someone asks, I say I'm a writer. If I know them better, I say I write all kinds of things -- including smut. If I know them very, very, very well then maybe I'll show them my newest book. People, it shouldn't have to be said, are very weird. Just because you like someone doesn't mean you should divulge that you just sold a story to Truckstop Transsexuals. 

Remember that line we drew between 'pornography' and 'erotica'? Well, here's another. You might be straight, you might be bi, but in the eyes of those who despise pornography you are just as damned and perverted as a filthy sodomite. It makes me furious to meet a homophobic pornographer. Every strike against gay rights is another blow to your civil liberties and is a step closer to you being censored, out of a job, out of your house, or in jail. You can argue this all you want, but I've yet to see a hysterical homophobe who isn't anti-smut. For you to be anti-gay isn't just an idiotic prejudice, it's giving the forces of puritanical righteousness even more ammunition for their war -- on all of us.

I could go on, but I think I've given you enough to chew on. I believe that writing about sex is something that no one should be ashamed of, but I also think that we all need to recognize and accept that there are many out there who do not share those feelings. Write what you want, say what you believe, but do it with your eyes open. Understand the risks, accept the risks and be smart about what you do -- so you can keep working and growing as a writer for many years to come.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Measure for Measure: William Shakespeare

"Measure for Measure" is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604. It was (and continues to be) classified as comedy, but its mood defies those expectations. As a result and for a variety of reasons, some critics have labelled it as one of Shakespeare's problem plays. Originally published in the First Folio of 1623 (where it was first labelled as a comedy), the play's first recorded performance was in 1604. The play deals with the issues of mercy, justice, and truth and their relationship to pride and humility: "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall". WIKI

I really do believe that William Shakespeare covers just about everything in his plays; it’s impossible to talk about everything, so I’m going to talk about one strand in the “Measure for Measure" that I haven’t yet seen discussed. Erotica -- not sex. Erotica.

Shakespearean purists will be irritated with me -- I’ll get over it! They will say that I’ve written nothing about characterisation and the major themes in the plays; mercy, appearance and reality, pride, justice. There’s some wonderful comedic moments in “Measure for Measure”; I’ve not talked about them either. Neither have I considered the dramatic function of the play’s comic scenes. And there’s love here; hate, envy, greed, good, evil.

What about the text? Shakespeare’s wonderful use of language the purists will cry, as they pick up a feather quill to throw at me. No, I don’t want to talk about language; words, as much as I love them. So you won’t find anything here about imagery and symbolism. Poetry and prose. Rhyme and Rhythm.

I started with love -- and even there Shakespeare crafts a difference between the romantic love of “Romeo and Juliet” -- electricity, as eyes meet across a crowded room. and the manipulative, dark, watchful, carnal desire of “Measure for Measure.”

The post is rather long -- that’s because it’s impossible to write about William Shakespeare without quoting from the text. If you don’t have the time, nor feel reading Shakespeare’s sometimes complex writing, I’ve done my best to explain the plot and narrative as I go along -- and interpret what the characters are actually saying.

Here you go then; deep breath -- my reading/interpretation of erotica in Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure!”

The city of Vienna is out of control. Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, has let standards slip; the night time streets are ruled by debauchery and licentious behaviour. Vincentio makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo. The Duke’s absence sets the plot in motion.

Fornication, drunkenness and depravity saturate the streets of Vienna. Debauchery rules the city.

“We have strict statutes and most biting laws.
The needful bits and curbs to headstrong weeds,
Which for this nineteen years we have let slip;
Even like an o'er grown lion in a cave,
That goes not out to prey. Now, as fond fathers,
Having bound up the threatening twigs of birch,
Only to stick it in their children's sight
For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock'd than fear'd; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum”.

So the Duke commissions Angelo to rule in his absence. Angelo is given the authority to rule -- exactly as if her were the Duke. Angelo is promoted over a faithful, wise administrator, Escalus.

“Hold therefore, Angelo:--
In our remove be thou at full ourself;
Mortality and mercy in Vienna
Live in thy tongue and heart: old Escalus,
Though first in question, is thy secondary.
Take thy commission.”

Angelo prevaricates. He isn’t worthy of such a task. He asks the Duke to appoint him to do something else; something more fitting.

“Now, good my lord,
Let there be some more test made of my metal,
Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamp'd upon it.”

But the Duke insists -- to the audience it is curious. Is it some kind of test for the cold, seemingly perfect Angelo? The Duke wonders of Angelo, whether he is as cold and precise as he seems to be. How will Angelo behave if he is given real power?

 “Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone: hence shall we see,
If power change purpose, what our seemers be”.

It seems that we are correct in our assumption. The Duke is watchful of Angelo; he is suspicious of him. We also learn that the Duke has not in fact left the city, but remains there disguised as a friar in order to spy on the city's affairs, and especially on the actions of Angelo. The Duke’s deception, is crucial to the narrative and pushes the plot forward.

The Duke is a man who knows that human nature is weak and can be corrupted, and accepts this to some extent. He knows that being a ruler requires that a person be fair and not punish people for their faults, when they are faults that the ruler has too.

Angelo is being set up by the Duke.

In the Duke’s supposed absence, Angelo wastes no time in cleaning up the city. He closes down the brothels and purges the streets of filth. Through the character of Lucio we see the popular version of what the citizens of Vienna think. Lucio is a man who likes debauchery and drinking and is not sorry for his sins. He knows that Angelo's attempt to crack down on the city and eliminate its vices will not work, for the simple reason that human nature is always prone to vice, and sin cannot be purged from people completely.

But Angelo is determined and his dark, watchful eye falls on young Claudio.

Claudio, is a young nobleman, and betrothed unofficially to Julietta. At the time, marriages were supposed to be announced by banns in advance. Due to lack of money, Claudio and Julietta did not observe all the technicalities. This did not make them unique; at the time most people (including the Church) would have considered them married.

Technically, however, all the formalities for a civil marriage had not been followed and so a strict judge might rule that they were not legally married. Angelo, as the personification of the law, decides to enforce the ruling that fornication is punishable by death, and since Angelo does not accept the validity of the marriage, Claudio is sentenced to be executed.

Through Lucio and his drinking cronies the audience learn of Claudio’s arrest.

Mistress Overdone states.

“Well, well; there's one yonder arrested and carried
to prison was worth five thousand of you all”…

“Nay, but I know 'tis so: I saw him arrested, saw
him carried away; and, which is more, within these
three days his head to be chopped off.”

Lucio watches Claudio being taken away to prison. He asks him what his offence is. Claudio tells him that he has been dissolute.

“From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty:
As surfeit is the father of much fast,
So every scope by the immoderate use
Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue,
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die”.

Claudio continues; He and his fiancée Julietta have had sex before they are married. This is their crime.

“Thus stands it with me: upon a true contract
I got possession of Julietta's bed:
You know the lady; she is fast my wife,
Save that we do the denunciation lack
Of outward order: this we came not to,
Only for propagation of a dower
Remaining in the coffer of her friends,
From whom we thought it meet to hide our love
Till time had made them for us. But it chances
The stealth of our most mutual entertainment
With character too gross is writ on Juliet”.

Furthermore, Julietta is pregnant. Claudio’s sin can no longer be hidden. Claudio asks Lucio to act for him and approach his sister, Isabella. Isabella is a novice nun and soon to take her vows. Isabella is eloquent and skilled at the art of persuasion.

“I prithee, Lucio, do me this kind service:
This day my sister should the cloister enter
And there receive her approbation:
Acquaint her with the danger of my state:
Implore her, in my voice, that she make friends
To the strict deputy; bid herself assay him:
I have great hope in that; for in her youth
There is a prone and speechless dialect,
Such as move men; beside, she hath prosperous art
When she will play with reason and discourse,
And well she can persuade.”

Claudio believes that if anyone can make Angelo change his mind, it is his sister.

Lucio speaks to Isabella; He sums up what we already know. The Duke has left Vienna and his deputy, Angelo is in charge. Angelo has brought up an old law; depraved behaviour carries the sentence of death.

“This is the point.
The duke is very strangely gone from hence;
Bore many gentlemen, myself being one,
In hand and hope of action: but we do learn
By those that know the very nerves of state,
His givings-out were of an infinite distance
From his true-meant design. Upon his place,
And with full line of his authority,
Governs Lord Angelo; a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense,
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind, study and fast.
He--to give fear to use and liberty,
Which have for long run by the hideous law,
As mice by lions--hath pick'd out an act,
Under whose heavy sense your brother's life
Falls into forfeit: he arrests him on it;
And follows close the rigour of the statute,
To make him an example. All hope is gone,
Unless you have the grace by your fair prayer
To soften Angelo: and that's my pith of business
'Twixt you and your poor brother”.

Lucio continues to press Isabella. He tells her that she must go to Angelo and speak for her brother.

“Go to Lord Angelo,
And let him learn to know, when maidens sue,
Men give like gods; but when they weep and kneel,
All their petitions are as freely theirs
As they themselves would owe them”.

Isabella agrees to speak to Angelo. She obtains an audience with him and pleads for mercy for Claudio. She addresses Angelo with Christian imagery. Where would he be, where would we all be, if not for Christ’s sacrifice? Christ was executed so that our sins may be forgiven.

“Alas, alas!
Why, all the souls that were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made”.

Angelo is resolute. Even if Claudio were a relative of his, he would still deserve the death penalty.

“Be you content, fair maid;
It is the law, not I condemn your brother:
Were he my kinsman, brother, or my son,
It should be thus with him: he must die tomorrow”.

Isabella’s response is quick; she begs for her brother’s life to be spared.

“To-morrow! O, that's sudden! Spare him, spare him!
He's not prepared for death. Even for our kitchens
We kill the fowl of season: shall we serve heaven
With less respect than we do minister
To our gross selves? Good, good my lord, bethink you;
Who is it that hath died for this offence?
There's many have committed it”.

Angelo retorts that the death sentence is irrevocable. If he lets this one crime go, it would encourage more people to break the law.

“The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept:
Those many had not dared to do that evil,
If the first that did the edict infringe
Had answer'd for his deed: now 'tis awake
Takes note of what is done; and, like a prophet,
Looks in a glass, that shows what future evils,
Either new, or by remissness new-conceived,
And so in progress to be hatch'd and born,
Are now to have no successive degrees,
But, ere they live, to end”.

Isabella. “Yet show some pity”.

Angelo insists that Claudio must be made an example of, to stop others flouting the law in the same way.

“I show it most of all when I show justice;
For then I pity those I do not know,
Which a dismiss'd offence would after gall;
And do him right that, answering one foul wrong,
Lives not to act another. Be satisfied;
Your brother dies to-morrow; be content”.

Isabella’s passion increases. Men in authority must follow the example of God. God does not strike down every misdemeanour. If he did, he would never stop punishing us. Pride is a sin -- we should learn not to take ourselves so seriously.

“Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet,
For every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder;
Nothing but thunder! Merciful Heaven,
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Split'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal”.

Angelo retaliates, there is a change of mood. Isabella has touched a nerve.

“Why do you put these sayings upon me?”

Angelo dismisses her, telling her to attend on him tomorrow. He is left alone and questions himself; Isabella has stirred something in his cold heart. He desires her. Why does he desire her, he asks himself. Is it because she is good? He asks himself what he is, again, why does he desire her? It seems that Angelo is turned on by Isabella’s virginity. He has often been bewildered when he has seen men attracted to promiscuous women. Isabella’s virtue has aroused him like never before.

And Angelo’s use of language is interesting. He reveals that he sees his sexual desire as something "corrupt." In this passage, he compares his lustful body to carrion (road kill) rotting in the sun.

“What's this, what's this? Is this her fault or mine?
The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?
Not she: nor doth she tempt: but it is I
That, lying by the violet in the sun,
Do as the carrion does, not as the flower,
Corrupt with virtuous season. Can it be
That modesty may more betray our sense
Than woman's lightness? Having waste ground enough,
Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary
And pitch our evils there? O, fie, fie, fie!
What dost thou, or what art thou, Angelo?
Dost thou desire her foully for those things
That make her good? O, let her brother live!
Thieves for their robbery have authority
When judges steal themselves. What, do I love her,
That I desire to hear her speak again,
And feast upon her eyes? What is't I dream on?
O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint,
With saints dost bait thy hook! Most dangerous
Is that temptation that doth goad us on
To sin in loving virtue: never could the strumpet,
With all her double vigour, art and nature,
Once stir my temper; but this virtuous maid
Subdues me quite. Even till now,
When men were fond, I smiled and wonder'd how”.

The following day, Angelo again ponders on his nature. He prays, but his prayers are empty; he can think only of Isabella. He has always taken pride in his gravity; he realises that it has all been for show. He finally declares that he will continue to play the part of the “good angel” even though the devil has taken over his being.

“When I would pray and think, I think and pray
To several subjects. Heaven hath my empty words;
Whilst my invention, hearing not my tongue,
Anchors on Isabel: Heaven in my mouth,
As if I did but only chew his name;
And in my heart the strong and swelling evil
Of my conception. The state, whereon I studied
Is like a good thing, being often read,
Grown fear'd and tedious; yea, my gravity,
Wherein--let no man hear me--I take pride,
Could I with boot change for an idle plume,
Which the air beats for vain. O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming! Blood, thou art blood:
Let's write good angel on the devil's horn:
'Tis not the devil's crest.”

A servant informs him that Isabella has arrived; he panics. His heart pounds, he almost gibbers, he babbles in his anxiety and arousal. The audience see him pacing, clenching and unclenching his fists. He wrings his hands frantically. He is overheated, then is quickly cold. Angelo is sexually aroused.

“O heavens!
Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,
Making both it unable for itself,
And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?
So play the foolish throngs with one that swoons;
Come all to help him, and so stop the air
By which he should revive: and even so
The general, subject to a well-wish'd king,
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love
Must needs appear offence.”

Over the last scene, and the next, the emotional intensity of Angelo and Isabella increases. If the audience has missed the point, it becomes clear that Angelo harbours lustful thoughts about Isabella. He tells her that she can save Claudio’s life if she will give her virginity to him, Angelo. He speaks in metaphor, he does not ask her directly to have sex with him -- he makes allusions.

Then he comes right out with it. She can redeem her brother if she will have sex with him, Angelo.

“…then I shall pose you quickly.
Which had you rather, that the most just law
Now took your brother's life; or, to redeem him,
Give up your body to such sweet uncleanness
As she that he hath stain'd?”

Isabella talks of her body and her immortal soul. Angelo counters her argument. He speaks plainly. If she does not have sex with him, her brother Claudio will be executed. He knows that she will be going against her conscience, but it is worth it, to save her brother’s life.

“Nay, I'll not warrant that; for I can speak
Against the thing I say. Answer to this:
I, now the voice of the recorded law,
Pronounce a sentence on your brother's life:
Might there not be a charity in sin
To save this brother's life?”

And he continues; she should yield to him and save her brother’s life. There is no other way for Claudio to escape the sentence of death; the executioner’s axe.

“Admit no other way to save his life,--
As I subscribe not that, nor any other,
But in the loss of question,--that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desired of such a person,
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from the manacles
Of the all-building law; and that there were
No earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer;
What would you do?”

Isabella speaks directly: she would not give up her virginity to save her brother’s life. She would rather suffer pain and torture, than give up her virginity.

“As much for my poor brother as myself:
That is, were I under the terms of death,
The impression of keen whips I'ld wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death, as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'ld yield
My body up to shame.”

The pace quickens. The audience sees Angelo closing in on Isabella, invading her space. The text needs no commentary here. The sentences are short; breathless. No air; claustrophobia.

Plainly conceive, I love you.
My brother did love Juliet,
And you tell me that he shall die for it.
He shall not, Isabel, if you give me love.
I know your virtue hath a licence in't,
Which seems a little fouler than it is,
To pluck on others.
Believe me, on mine honour,
My words express my purpose.

Angelo’s compromise is plain -- he will spare Claudio's life if Isabella will yield him her virginity.

At last! Isabella is now in no doubt of what Angelo means. He has spoken plainly. Isabella is one step away from a terrible hysteria. She spits out her words. She sees Angelo for the vile manipulator that he is. It’s one of Shakespeare’s enduring themes. Appearance and reality. It is a constant. How often people, our friends, members of our families, neighbours and people in the public eye disappoint us with a complete failure of integrity. It’s the face that people present to the world and what goes on inside their heads and their private lives.

“Ha! little honour to be much believed,
And most pernicious purpose! Seeming, seeming!
I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for't:
Sign me a present pardon for my brother,
Or with an outstretch'd throat I'll tell the world aloud
What man thou art.”

Shakespeare demonstrates, through the character of Angelo, that sexual desire can be dark and corrupt. There is no innocent purity here, as in Romeo, or Juliet.

Angelo’s speech is a quick reaction to Isabella’s threat; he is tersely triumphant. He knows that there is nothing that Isabella can do. His reputation is as white as snow; no one will believe her. She can say what she wants, her accusations will fall on deaf ears.

“Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil'd name, the austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i' the state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report
And smell of calumny. I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for; redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me to-morrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I'll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o'erweighs your true.”

Isabella knows that she is beaten. In desperation she may turn to the audience and address them directly. Angelo’s reputation is austere, clinical. He is a good man in the eyes of the world. A man trusted by the Duke Vincentio to govern in his absence. Her despair magnifies. Her brother Claudio, must give up his life to save his sister from Angelo’s vile scheming. Isabella will tell Claudio that he must face the executioner to save her chastity.

“To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,
Who would believe me? O perilous mouths,
That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof;
Bidding the law make court'sy to their will:
Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,
To follow as it draws! I'll to my brother:
Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood,
Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour.
That, had he twenty heads to tender down
On twenty bloody blocks, he'ld yield them up,
Before his sister should her body stoop
To such abhorr'd pollution.
Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die:
More than our brother is our chastity.
I'll tell him yet of Angelo's request,
And fit his mind to death, for his soul's rest.”

As Isabella enters Claudio’s prison cell, Duke Vincentio, disguised as a friar, slips away. The Duke, in his role as a holy man has been counselling Claudio; he has told him to prepare himself for death.

The Duke hides and overhears what transpires between Isabella and Claudio.

Claudio asks Isabella;
“Now sister. What’s the comfort?”

Isabella responds by telling him that the death sentence on his head stands firm. Angelo will not relent.

“As all comforts are; most good, most good indeed.
Lord Angelo, having affairs to heaven,
Intends you for his swift ambassador,
Where you shall be an everlasting leiger:
Therefore your best appointment make with speed;
To-morrow you set on.”

Claudio asks;

“Is there no remedy?”

Isabella prevaricates. She won’t come to the point. She tells him that there is a solution, but doesn’t tell him what it is.

“Yes, brother, you may live:
There is a devilish mercy in the judge,
If you'll implore it, that will free your life,
But fetter you till death.”

Claudio presses her.

“Let me know the point.”

Isabella is afraid. She is wondering if Claudio will embrace death for the sake of her honour. She knows that Claudio will be pondering on what death will mean.

“O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake,
Lest thou a feverous life shouldst entertain,
And six or seven winters more respect
Than a perpetual honour. Darest thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.”

But Claudio is brave. He tells his sister he is prepared to die.

“Why give you me this shame?
Think you I can a resolution fetch
From flowery tenderness? If I must die,
I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms.”

Isabella is proud of him. He is worthy of their father. She starts to tell Claudio of her interview with Angelo. He is a devil, yet appears to the world as a saint. She speaks of Angelo as filth. A pond with muddy, dark murky waters.

“There spake my brother; there my father's grave
Did utter forth a voice. Yes, thou must die:
Thou art too noble to conserve a life
In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,
Whose settled visage and deliberate word
Nips youth i' the head and follies doth emmew
As falcon doth the fowl, is yet a devil
His filth within being cast, he would appear
A pond as deep as hell.”

She tells Claudio exactly what Angelo wants if he is to free Claudio. He wants her virginity.

“O, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,
The damned'st body to invest and cover
In prenzie guards! Dost thou think, Claudio?
If I would yield him my virginity,
Thou mightst be freed”.

Claudio is shocked.

“O heavens! it cannot be.”

Isabella assures Claudio that it is true. She must have sex with Angelo; if she refuses, Claudio dies. Angelo is to take her virginity that very night.

“Yes, he would give't thee, from this rank offence,
So to offend him still. This night's the time
That I should do what I abhor to name,
Or else thou diest to-morrow.”

Brother and sister talk quickly. The pace is frantic.

“Thou shalt not do't.”
“O, were it but my life,
I'ld throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin.”
“Thanks, dear Isabel.”
“Be ready, Claudio, for your death tomorrow…”

But Claudio has started to think about the reality of death and dying.

“Death is a fearful thing.”
“And shamed life a hateful.”

Claudio bursts out passionately. He doesn’t know what happens after death. Where do you go? Do you simply rot -- his beautiful warm body becoming one with the cold, muddy earth of the graveyard? Do you go to the fires of hell -- or the ice of hell? Or do you become a howling ghost, blown about the world? Surely the most miserable life on earth is wonderful compared to death.

(Here Shakespeare is expressing a sentiment previously explored in his earlier play “Hamlet”. Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” soliloquy explores the same concept. What happens when we die? The concern is universal. Every man and woman on the planet must have contemplated the sheer horror of the infinite at some time. The ghastliness for Hamlet is summed up in; “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”)

Claudio’s imagination is suddenly frantic; he imagines one horror after another.

“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 imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.”

The audience see Isabella wring her hands in despair. She is barely holding back her tears. Claudio is weeping too.

Claudio begs for his life; he says that in sacrificing her virginity to save him from the axe would be a good thing.

“Sweet sister, let me live:
What sin you do to save a brother's life,
Nature dispenses with the deed so far
That it becomes a virtue.”

Isabella’s reprimand is fiercely violent. She tells Claudio he is a coward. She accuses him of incest in that he will profit from her debasement. She cannot believe that he is even related to her. Could it be that their mother cheated on their father? She denies him; as far as she is concerned she hopes that he dies. In fact she prays for it!

“Alas, alas!”
O you beast!
O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?
Is't not a kind of incest, to take life
From thine own sister's shame? What should I think?
Heaven shield my mother play'd my father fair!
For such a warped slip of wilderness
Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance!
Die, perish! Might but my bending down
Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed:
I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death,
No word to save thee.”

Claudio pleads with her to listen.

“Nay, hear me, Isabel.”

Brother and sister are in a state of emotional despair. Claudio continues to plead with her. Isabella spits out her disgust. He is corrupt and deserves everything he’s got coming to him. (A production that I saw long ago, had Isabella throw her rosary across the stage at this point.)

Isabella refusal has to be understood within the context of Roman Catholicism and the convent. A nun’s vow of chastity is sacred; she is married to Christ. As a novice nun, Isabella must not sacrifice her own immortal soul (and that of Claudio's, if he causes her to lose her virtue) to save Claudio's transient earthly life. I believe that even today in the 21st century, a nun would say exactly the same thing.

“O, fie, fie, fie!
Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade.
Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd:
'Tis best thou diest quickly.

So now we know where Shakespeare is going. The city of Vienna is morally out of control. Duke Vincentio has ostensibly left Vienna and has given over control to his deputy Angelo. In reality the Duke is still in Vienna, in the guise of a friar. Angelo’s interpretation of the law is harsh and he has ordered that Claudio be sentenced to death for his licentious behaviour. Julietta, Claudio’s fiancée is pregnant as proof of this. Isabella, Claudio’s sister has pleaded with Angelo to show mercy and repeal Claudio’s impending execution. Angelo has refused; but he will show mercy if Isabella has sex with him and yield her virginity to him. Isabella has refused him, so Angelo tells her that there is no hope, Claudio must die. Isabella tells Claudio what has transpired between her and Angelo. At first Claudio says that she must not have sex with Angelo; then in fear of what is on the other side of death, Claudio pleads with Isabella to yield to Angelo and save his life. Isabella is shocked and tells Claudio to prepare for death.

In the darkness of the dungeons, Duke Vincentio, disguised as a friar approaches Isabella and asks to speak with her.

She tells him she will speak with him in a while. The Duke approaches Claudio and tells him that he has overheard the conversation between the brother and sister. Here the Duke is not truthful. He tells Claudio that Angelo was merely testing Isabella’s virtue. Angelo will be pleased that Isabella has refused him. There is nothing for Claudio to do but pray and prepare for death.

“Son, I have overheard what hath passed between you
and your sister. Angelo had never the purpose to
corrupt her; only he hath made an essay of her
virtue to practise his judgment with the disposition
of natures: she, having the truth of honour in her,
hath made him that gracious denial which he is most
glad to receive. I am confessor to Angelo, and I
know this to be true; therefore prepare yourself to
death: do not satisfy your resolution with hopes
that are fallible: tomorrow you must die; go to
your knees and make ready.”

In his guise as a friar the Duke befriends Isabella. He approves of the stand that she has made, but asks how she intends to save Claudio?

“The hand that hath made you fair hath made you good:
the goodness that is cheap in beauty makes beauty
brief in goodness; but grace, being the soul of
your complexion, shall keep the body of it ever
fair. The assault that Angelo hath made to you,
fortune hath conveyed to my understanding; and, but
that frailty hath examples for his falling, I should
wonder at Angelo. How will you do to content this
substitute, and to save your brother?”

Isabella can see no hope for Claudio but she is sorry that she and her brother have quarrelled. She says that Angelo is an evil man; the Duke has been deceived.

“I am now going to resolve him: I had rather my
brother die by the law than my son should be
unlawfully born. But, O, how much is the good duke
deceived in Angelo! If ever he return and I can
speak to him, I will open my lips in vain, or
discover his government.”

The Duke tells Isabella that he has a plan. She is wasting her breath accusing Angelo. Angelo will simply say that he was testing her.

“That shall not be much amiss: Yet, as the matter
now stands, he will avoid your accusation; he made
trial of you only. Therefore fasten your ear on my
advisings: to the love I have in doing good a
remedy presents itself. I do make myself believe
that you may most uprighteously do a poor wronged
lady a merited benefit; redeem your brother from
the angry law; do no stain to your own gracious
person; and much please the absent duke, if
peradventure he shall ever return to have hearing of
this business.”

The Duke asks Isabella if she has heard of Mariana; her brother was lost at sea. Angelo had been engaged to be married to her. But when her dowry was lost along with her brother, Angelo left her without a second thought.

“She should this Angelo have married; was affianced
to her by oath, and the nuptial appointed: between
which time of the contract and limit of the
solemnity, her brother Frederick was wrecked at sea,
having in that perished vessel the dowry of his
sister. But mark how heavily this befell to the
poor gentlewoman: there she lost a noble and
renowned brother, in his love toward her ever most
kind and natural; with him, the portion and sinew of
her fortune, her marriage-dowry; with both, her
combinate husband, this well-seeming Angelo.”

Isabella can’t believe what she is hearing and the audience is learning that the Duke has more grounds for his suspicions of Angelo. This is why the Duke has laid such an elaborate trap for him.

“Left her in her tears, and dried not one of them
with his comfort; swallowed his vows whole,
pretending in her discoveries of dishonour: in few,
bestowed her on her own lamentation, which she yet
wears for his sake; and he, a marble to her tears,
is washed with them, but relents not.”

Angelo not only deserted Mariana, he spread dirty rumours about her. He told everyone that he’d discovered that she was promiscuous. He tells Isabella that he has a plan that will save Claudio from execution without Isabella having to sacrifice her virtue. He tells her that she must go to Angelo and meekly agree to his demands. But she must state conditions. She will only stay long enough for him to take her virginity. The place where the sex act is to take place must be dark. Having agreed upon these points, Mariana will go in Isabella’s place; Angelo will be duped.

“This forenamed maid hath yet in her the continuance
of her first affection: his unjust unkindness, that
in all reason should have quenched her love, hath,
like an impediment in the current, made it more
violent and unruly. Go you to Angelo; answer his
requiring with a plausible obedience; agree with
his demands to the point; only refer yourself to
this advantage, first, that your stay with him may
not be long; that the time may have all shadow and
silence in it; and the place answer to convenience.
This being granted in course,--and now follows
all,--we shall advise this wronged maid to stead up
your appointment, go in your place; if the encounter
acknowledge itself hereafter, it may compel him to
her recompense: and here, by this, is your brother
saved, your honour untainted, the poor Mariana
advantaged, and the corrupt deputy scaled. The maid
will I frame and make fit for his attempt. If you
think well to carry this as you may, the doubleness
of the benefit defends the deceit from reproof.
What think you of it?”

Isabella is delighted!

“The image of it gives me content already; and I
trust it will grow to a most prosperous perfection.”

The Duke tells her that she has yet to convince Angelo. Meanwhile the Duke will tell
Mariana of the plan.

“It lies much in your holding up. Haste you speedily
to Angelo: if for this night he entreat you to his
bed, give him promise of satisfaction. I will
presently to Saint Luke's: there, at the moated
grange, resides this dejected Mariana. At that
place call upon me; and dispatch with Angelo, that
it may be quickly.”

The Duke goes to Mariana and speaks with her. He tells Mariana of his plan. He says that there is no sin, Angelo is still her husband in the eyes of the law and Mariana still loves him.

“Nor, gentle daughter, fear you not at all.
He is your husband on a pre-contract:
To bring you thus together, 'tis no sin,
Sith that the justice of your title to him
Doth flourish the deceit. Come, let us go:
Our corn's to reap, for yet our tithe's to sow.”

The Duke’s plan is put into practice. Mariana goes to Angelo in Isabella’s place, but Angelo believes that he has had sex with Isabella. Angelo, however, does not issue a reprieve, for Claudio, so the Duke arranges for the head of a pirate Barnadine, who is due to be executed on the same day as Claudio, to be shown to Angelo. The Duke issues an announcement that he is returning to Vienna. He will meet with Angelo in a public place.

“Now will I write letters to Angelo,--
The provost, he shall bear them, whose contents
Shall witness to him I am near at home,
And that, by great injunctions, I am bound
To enter publicly: him I'll desire
To meet me at the consecrated fount
A league below the city; and from thence,
By cold gradation and well-balanced form,
We shall proceed with Angelo.”

Angelo is nervous. He doesn’t understand why the Duke wants to meet him publicly. Can it be that his double dealing ways have been found out? Surely not? It stands to reason that Isabella wouldn’t dare to expose him. Still he is agitated; he believes that he has executed Claudio and he regrets it -- but only because he thinks he might be exposed.

“This deed unshapes me quite, makes me unpregnant
And dull to all proceedings. A deflower'd maid!
And by an eminent body that enforced
The law against it! But that her tender shame
Will not proclaim against her maiden loss,
How might she tongue me! Yet reason dares her no;
For my authority bears of a credent bulk,
That no particular scandal once can touch
But it confounds the breather. He should have lived,
Save that riotous youth, with dangerous sense,
Might in the times to come have ta'en revenge,
By so receiving a dishonour'd life
With ransom of such shame. Would yet he had lived!
A lack, when once our grace we have forgot,
Nothing goes right: we would, and we would not.”

The Duke Vincentio, who really is the Duke now and no longer a humble friar, meets his entourage at the appointed place. You have to bear in mind that Isabella and Mariana do not realise that the friar was actually the Duke. They are in the dark. Isabella also believes that the execution of her brother actually took place.

Isabella approaches the Duke. She tells him that she has a complaint and asks for justice.

“Justice, O royal duke! Vail your regard
Upon a wrong'd, I would fain have said, a maid!
O worthy prince, dishonour not your eye
By throwing it on any other object
Till you have heard me in my true complaint
And given me justice, justice, justice, justice!”

The Duke beckons Angelo forward. He tells Isabella that she must talk to Angelo.

“Relate your wrongs; in what? by whom? be brief.
Here is Lord Angelo shall give you justice:
Reveal yourself to him.”

Isabella begs the Duke to hear her. If the Duke believes that she lies, then he must punish her. If not then he must do as he sees fit.

“O worthy duke,
You bid me seek redemption of the devil:
Hear me yourself; for that which I must speak
Must either punish me, not being believed,
Or wring redress from you. Hear me, O hear me, here!”

I’ve been told several times, by several men that I am completely crazy. So have my friends! The tactic was obviously as alive and well in 17th century Elizabethan England, as it is today!

“My lord, her wits, I fear me, are not firm:
She hath been a suitor to me for her brother
Cut off by course of justice,--”

“By course of justice!”
“And she will speak most bitterly and strange.”

Isabella relates Angelo’s indiscretions to the Duke.

“Most strange, but yet most truly, will I speak:
That Angelo's forsworn; is it not strange?
That Angelo's a murderer; is 't not strange?
That Angelo is an adulterous thief,
An hypocrite, a virgin-violator;
Is it not strange and strange?”

The Duke is shocked!

“Nay, it is ten times strange.”

Isabella pleads to be believed. She is speaking the truth.

“It is not truer he is Angelo
Than this is all as true as it is strange:
Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth
To the end of reckoning.”

The Duke agrees with Angelo, that Isabella is completely crazy.

“Away with her! Poor soul,
She speaks this in the infirmity of sense.”

Finally the Duke hears her. Isabella tells how she pleaded with Angelo to lift the sentence of death from her brother. How Angelo had told her that he would release Claudio if she had sex with him. Isabella says that she yielded to Angelo, but Angelo still had Claudio executed.

“In brief, to set the needless process by,
How I persuaded, how I pray'd, and kneel'd,
How he refell'd me, and how I replied,--
For this was of much length,--the vile conclusion
I now begin with grief and shame to utter:
He would not, but by gift of my chaste body
To his concupiscible intemperate lust,
Release my brother; and, after much debatement,
My sisterly remorse confutes mine honour,
And I did yield to him: but the next morn betimes,
His purpose surfeiting, he sends a warrant
For my poor brother's head.”

Duke Vincentio perceives that there may be a grain of truth in Isabella’s outburst. Her words are sincere.

“By mine honesty,
If she be mad,--as I believe no other,--
Her madness hath the oddest frame of sense,
Such a dependency of thing on thing,
As e'er I heard in madness.”

Isabella tells her tale to the Duke.

“In brief, to set the needless process by,
How I persuaded, how I pray'd, and kneel'd,
How he refell'd me, and how I replied,--
For this was of much length,--the vile conclusion
I now begin with grief and shame to utter:
He would not, but by gift of my chaste body
To his concupiscible intemperate lust,
Release my brother; and, after much debatement,
My sisterly remorse confutes mine honour,
And I did yield to him: but the next morn betimes,
His purpose surfeiting, he sends a warrant
For my poor brother's head.”

But still the Duke will not believe that Angelo could be guilty of such a sin. He speaks of Angelo’s good character.

“By heaven, fond wretch, thou knowist not what thou speak'st,
Or else thou art suborn'd against his honour
In hateful practise. First, his integrity
Stands without blemish. Next, it imports no reason
That with such vehemency he should pursue
Faults proper to himself: if he had so offended,
He would have weigh'd thy brother by himself
And not have cut him off. Some one hath set you on:
Confess the truth, and say by whose advice
Thou camest here to complain.”

The Duke accuses Isabella of lying. He asks if anyone knew of her coming to denounce Angelo.

“I know you'ld fain be gone. An officer!
To prison with her! Shall we thus permit
A blasting and a scandalous breath to fall
On him so near us? This needs must be a practise.
Who knew of Your intent and coming hither?”

Isabella responds.

“One that I would were here, Friar Lodowick.”

Friar Peter steps forward. He says that he knows the friar of whom Isabella speaks. He is a good man; a good priest.

“I know him for a man divine and holy;
Not scurvy, nor a temporary meddler,
As he's reported by this gentleman;
And, on my trust, a man that never yet
Did, as he vouches, misreport your grace.”

The Duke asks where the elusive friar is. Why is he not here supporting Isabella’s complaint against Angelo? Friar Peter responds;

“Well, he in time may come to clear himself;
But at this instant he is sick my lord,
Of a strange fever. Upon his mere request,
Being come to knowledge that there was complaint
Intended 'gainst Lord Angelo, came I hither,
To speak, as from his mouth, what he doth know
Is true and false; and what he with his oath
And all probation will make up full clear,
Whensoever he's convented. First, for this woman.
To justify this worthy nobleman,
So vulgarly and personally accused,
Her shall you hear disproved to her eyes,
Till she herself confess it.”

The guards take Isabella away. Mariana steps forward.

The Duke remarks to Angelo, that the company, Isabella included, are all fools.

“Do you not smile at this, Lord Angelo?
O heaven, the vanity of wretched fools!
Give us some seats. Come, cousin Angelo;
In this I'll be impartial; be you judge
Of your own cause. Is this the witness, friar?
First, let her show her face, and after speak.”

A courtroom atmosphere ensues. The Duke interrogates Mariana.

Pardon, my lord; I will not show my face
Until my husband bid me.
What, are you married?
No, my lord.
Are you a maid?
No, my lord.
A widow, then?
Neither, my lord.
Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow, nor wife?

Mariana asserts that she was never married, yet she is no virgin. Her husband took her virginity, yet he didn’t know her identity.

“My lord; I do confess I ne'er was married;
And I confess besides I am no maid:
I have known my husband; yet my husband
Knows not that ever he knew me.”

Angelo is not a fornicator. The sex act was of love.

“Now I come to't my lord
She that accuses him of fornication,
In self-same manner doth accuse my husband,
And charges him my lord, with such a time
When I'll depose I had him in mine arms
With all the effect of love.”

At last! Mariana tells of the trick that she, and Isabella played, and the friar invented.

“Why, just, my lord, and that is Angelo,
Who thinks he knows that he ne'er knew my body,
But knows he thinks that he knows Isabel's.”
“This is a strange abuse. Let's see thy face.”
“My husband bids me; now I will unmask.”

She speaks directly to Angelo, telling him that once he loved her. He made a contract to marry her. Angelo may think that he had sex with Isabella -- he didn’t he had sex with her, Mariana.

“This is that face, thou cruel Angelo,
Which once thou sworest was worth the looking on;
This is the hand which, with a vow'd contract,
Was fast belock'd in thine; this is the body
That took away the match from Isabel,
And did supply thee at thy garden-house
In her imagined person.”

The Duke asks Angelo if he knows Mariana?

Angelo admits that he does know her and once, five years ago in fact, there was talk of marriage, but the engagement had been broken of by him, because her dowry was devalued; that and he had heard that she had a bad reputation.

“My lord, I must confess I know this woman:
And five years since there was some speech of marriage
Betwixt myself and her; which was broke off,
Partly for that her promised proportions
Came short of composition, but in chief
For that her reputation was disvalued
In levity: since which time of five years
I never spake with her, saw her, nor heard from her,
Upon my faith and honour.”

Mariana begs the Duke to believe her and tells him that she is as married to Angelo as if they had taken their wedding vows. Furthermore, their marriage has been consummated. Angelo knows her as a wife.

“Noble prince,
As there comes light from heaven and words from breath,
As there is sense in truth and truth in virtue,
I am affianced this man's wife as strongly
As words could make up vows: and, my good lord,
But Tuesday night last gone in's garden-house
He knew me as a wife. As this is true,
Let me in safety raise me from my knees
Or else for ever be confixed here,
A marble monument!”

Angelo says it is all nonsense.

“I did but smile till now:
Now, good my lord, give me the scope of justice
My patience here is touch'd. I do perceive
These poor informal women are no more
But instruments of some more mightier member
That sets them on: let me have way, my lord,
To find this practise out.”

The Duke exits, leaving Escalus in charge. He enters, in his friar’s habit. He is accompanied by Isabella.

Lucio, who has been having a slanging match with the Duke/friar pulls back the friar’s hood and to everyone’s amazement the friar really is the Duke!


Come, sir; come, sir; come, sir; foh, sir! Why, you
bald-pated, lying rascal, you must be hooded, must
you? Show your knave's visage, with a pox to you!
show your sheep-biting face, and be hanged an hour!
Will't not off?
Pulls off the friar's hood, and discovers DUKE VINCENTIO

The Duke challenges Angelo. Angelo admits his guilt. He begs for the death penalty.

“O my dread lord,
I should be guiltier than my guiltiness,
To think I can be indiscernible,
When I perceive your grace, like power divine,
Hath look'd upon my passes. Then, good prince,
No longer session hold upon my shame,
But let my trial be mine own confession:
Immediate sentence then and sequent death
Is all the grace I beg.”

The Duke orders that Angelo and Mariana marry immediately.

“Go take her hence, and marry her instantly.
Do you the office, friar; which consummate,
Return him here again. Go with him, provost.”

When they return, the Duke orders that Angelo be put to death for murdering Claudio.

“For this new-married man approaching here,
Whose salt imagination yet hath wrong'd
Your well defended honour, you must pardon
For Mariana's sake: but as he adjudged your brother,--
Being criminal, in double violation
Of sacred chastity and of promise-breach
Thereon dependent, for your brother's life,--
The very mercy of the law cries out
Most audible, even from his proper tongue,
'An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!'
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and MEASURE still FOR MEASURE.
Then, Angelo, thy fault's thus manifested;
Which, though thou wouldst deny, denies thee vantage.
We do condemn thee to the very block
Where Claudio stoop'd to death, and with like haste.
Away with him!”

Mariana pleads for Angelo’s life. Isabella joins her pleas. She says that Claudio had to pay for his sins. The death sentence was justly delivered.

“Most bounteous sir,
Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd,
As if my brother lived: I partly think
A due sincerity govern'd his deeds,
Till he did look on me: since it is so,
Let him not die. My brother had but justice,
In that he did the thing for which he died:
For Angelo,
His act did not o'ertake his bad intent,
And must be buried but as an intent
That perish'd by the way: thoughts are no subjects;
Intents but merely thoughts.”

Mariana echoes Isabella’s words.

The Duke speaks directly to Isabella. He proposes marriage to her. He excuses Angelo’s crimes and tells Angelo to love his wife. Lastly the Duke admits that he has not behaved with integrity either.

The provost enters, bringing with him the pregnant Julietta and Claudio.

Claudio is alive!

“[To ISABELLA] If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon'd; and, for your lovely sake,
Give me your hand and say you will be mine.
He is my brother too: but fitter time for that.
By this Lord Angelo perceives he's safe;
Methinks I see a quickening in his eye.
Well, Angelo, your evil quits you well:
Look that you love your wife; her worth yours.
I find an apt remission in myself;”

The play is over -- the Duke presses Isabella to accept his marriage proposal.
There is no word from her. She is silent.

“She, Claudio, that you wrong'd, look you restore.
Joy to you, Mariana! Love her, Angelo:
I have confess'd her and I know her virtue.
Thanks, good friend Escalus, for thy much goodness:
There's more behind that is more gratulate.
Thanks, provost, for thy care and secrecy:
We shill employ thee in a worthier place.
Forgive him, Angelo, that brought you home
The head of Ragozine for Claudio's:
The offence pardons itself. Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto if you'll a willing ear incline,
What's mine is yours and what is yours is mine.
So, bring us to our palace; where we'll show
What's yet behind, that's meet you all should know.”

Nothing still from Isabella. Just silence.