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Measure for Measure Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

  • At the courthouse, Angelo and Escalus have gathered to discuss Claudio's case. Angelo insists that they not "make a scarecrow out of the law." (Translation: Angelo wants Claudio to be punished so everyone knows there are consequences to breaking the law.)
  • Escalus agrees that Claudio should be punished, but he doesn't see any reason to put Claudio to death – that won't really solve anything. Plus, says Escalus, Claudio comes from a good family.
  • Escalus wonders if Angelo has ever committed the same crime for which he is now punishing Claudius. In other words, has Angelo ever had sex outside of marriage?
  • Angelo says "'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus, Another thing to fall." (Hmm. This isn't really isn't a "yes" or "no" answer to Escalus's question.)
  • Angelo also admits that there's probably a criminal or two on Claudius's jury, but that's not really a good enough reason to let Claudius get off scot-free.
  • Angelo also says "When I that censure him do so offend, / Let mine own judgment pattern out my death, / And nothing come in partial. Sir, he must die." Translation: The day I commit the same crime as the man I judge and punish (Claudius) is the day I should be punished in the exact same way." (Remember this because it's super-important.)
  • Escalus doesn't put up any more of a fight.
  • When the Provost (prison keeper) enters, Angelo gives him order to execute Claudius by 9 a.m. the following morning.
  • Escalus says, "well, heaven forgive him, and forgive us all!" (Question: Does "him" refer to Claudius the fornicator or Angelo the death sentencer? What do you think?)
  • Since things are getting a little heavy in this play, Shakespeare trots out Elbow (a constable) who has just arrested Froth and Pompey.
  • Angelo asks Pompey "what are you sir?" and Elbow tells him that Pompey is a bar-tender and part-time pimp at Mistress Overdone's brothel, which was recently torn down. Since then, Mistress Overdone has opened a new brothel but is calling it a day spa.
  • Escalus asks Elbow how he knows so much about this and Elbow says that his wife told him so. Apparently, Elbow's wife went there for a sauna and Pompey mistook her for a prostitute. Naturally, Elbow's wife spit in his face to prove otherwise.
  • Pompey denies everything and says it was all a big misunderstanding.
  • Pompey proceeds to tell a story (that never gets finished) about how Elbow's pregnant wife entered Mistress Overdone's establishment because she was craving some "stewed prunes." (This turns out to be a thinly veiled dirty joke, because "stewed prunes" is slang for testicles.)
  • Midway through the story, Angelo gets bored and leaves Escalus to deal with Elbow's complaint.
  • Elbow and Pompey bicker and Elbow slings a bunch of insults that don't carry much weight because he mixes up his words a lot. (He calls Pompey a "respected" fellow when what he really means to say is that Pompey is a "detested fellow," and so on.)
  • Froth fesses up that he works for Mistress Overdone and Escalus lets him off with a warning.
  • Then Escalus lays into Pompey for earning a living as a pimp, which is against the law in Vienna.
  • Pompey sarcastically asks if Escalus plans to "spay all the youth in the city."
  • Escalus says "no" and Pompey replies that there's no other way for Escalus to regulate sex in Vienna – he'll have to hang or behead just about every man in town.
  • Escalus sets Pompey free and warns that if he ever catches Pompey pimping again, he'll whoop up on him just like Julius Caesar throttled Pompey the Great in 48 BC.
  • Pompey mumbles that nobody can stop him.
  • Escalus and the Justice stand around talking about poor Claudio. Escalus is pretty upset that Claudio is going to be put to death – it just doesn't seem right and Angelo is being way too harsh.

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