At a strict and disciplined convent, Isabella and Francesca discuss all the "privileges" Isabella is about to give up by becoming a nun. Isabella says she sure does wish they were stricter at St. Clare's.
We interrupt this program for a history snack: In 1538 Henry VIII (the English king who broke with the Catholic Church) began the dissolution of all the monasteries and convents in England. By the time Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure
around 1604, there weren't any left. There were, however, plenty of them in Vienna (the seat of the Holy Roman Empire), which is the setting of Shakespeare's play.
Lucio comes knocking at the door and Sister Francesca high tails it out of the room.
We learn that nuns at St. Clare's aren't allowed to talk to a man and show their faces at the same time. They can do one or the other but not both. Also, any speaking or showing of faces to men must be done in the presence of the prioress (head nun).
Since Isabella is still a "novice" (she hasn't taken any final vows), she's can talk to Lucio face-to-face without breaking any rules.
Lucio enters and says "Hail, virgin!" (We're not even kidding.)
Lucio says he's looking for Isabella.
Isabella reveals that she, in fact, is the girl he's seeking.
Lucio says he hates to bother her, but he's got bad news – Claudio, her brother, has been thrown in slammer because he got a "friend" of his "with child" (that's Shakespeare's gentle way of saying "pregnant").
Isabella doesn't believe him and tells him to stop lying.
Lucio confesses that he often lies to women in order to get them into bed but, in this case, he's telling the truth. Plus, he would never lie to Isabella because he has a lot of respect for virgins – as far as Lucio's concerned, Isabella's practically a "saint."
Lucio continues on and describes how Claudio and "his lover embraced" and now the woman's womb has grown "plenteous," like a field that's been plowed and planted with seed.
Brain Snack: Shakespeare sure does like this metaphor. In Sonnet 2, he reverses the typical "woman's body as a field plowed and seeded by a man" metaphor by turning a man's body is a field that is "plowed" by Time.
Isabella guesses that the mystery girl with the plowed womb is Juliet and suggests that the couple solve the problem by getting hitched.
Lucio explains that the Duke has mysteriously vanished and Angelo has taken his place as Vienna's head honcho. Since Angelo doesn't have a sexual appetite, he's enforcing the maximum punishment. Claudio is a goner for sure...unless Isabella can use her super virgin powers to persuade Angelo that Claudio's life should be spared. According to Lucio, men are suckers for "maidens."
Isabella agrees to talk to Angelo on her brother's behalf.