| Quote #1
Hold therefore, Angelo:--
While the Duke is "out of town," Angelo, his deputy, has complete authority to uphold the laws of Vienna. Still, the Duke is also giving Angelo the power of flexibility – he can "enforce or qualify the laws" as he sees fit. In other words, the Duke is giving Angelo the freedom to hand down death sentences or to be merciful – it's up to Angelo, who should do what seems right in his "soul."
| Quote #2
We have strict statutes and most biting laws.
The Duke admits that, for the past several years, he's allowed his unruly subjects to flout the laws of Vienna. What's interesting is that the Duke talks about his subjects as though they are horses that need to be reined in by "bits and curbs."
Then, in mid-speech, the Duke switches metaphors and compares himself to an over-indulgent father who merely threatens his children (subjects) with "the rod," but never actually punishes anyone with a spanking, so to speak.
What's even more interesting is how this passage sounds a lot like what Puritan extraordinaire Phillip Stubbes wrote in his famous pamphlet The Anatomy of Abuses (1587). Stubbes (who hated the theater and thought the government in England was too lax) complains that parents who don't punish their children are responsible for all of society's problems:
"Give a wild horse the liberty of the head never so little and he will run headlong to thine and his own destruction also. [...] So correct Children in their tender years."
| Quote #3
I do fear, too dreadful:
Hmm. The more we think about it, the more the Duke does seem to act like a wimpy parent. Here, he confesses that he's afraid of punishing his subjects who don't obey the laws of the land because it would make him a tyrant. So, he's going to let Angelo do all of his dirty work for him. Gee. We wonder how that will work out.