Measure for Measure | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Course Hero. "Measure for Measure Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed November 18, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Measure-for-Measure/.

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Course Hero, "Measure for Measure Study Guide," February 13, 2018, accessed November 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Measure-for-Measure/.

Measure for Measure | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Lucio pays a visit to the convent where Isabella, conversing with the nun Francisca, is displeased by how much freedom the nunnery's inhabitants are given. As Lucio begins to tell her of her "unhappy brother," she grows uneasy and demands to know what has happened. Claudio, Lucio reports, is in prison for having "got his friend [lover] with child" and will soon be executed. Ordinarily, Lucio says, one could make an appeal to the merciful Duke, but now the cold, strict Angelo—"a man whose blood / Is very snow-broth; one who never feels / The wanton stings and motions of the sense"—is in charge. Lucio urges Isabella to visit Angelo and plead for her brother's life.

Analysis

This scene offers the first glimpses of Isabella's personality, beginning with her strict and self-denying virtuousness. Her disdain for earthly matters will drive her decisions and thus much of the play's action. This attitude will also create a rift between her and Claudio, since his crime of fornication is a serious sin in Isabella's eyes. Although she agrees in seeing death as too strong a sentence for such a deed, she will still wonder about the moral ramifications of saving Claudio. This inner conflict is voiced in Act 3, Scene 1, where Isabella recoils from Claudio's suggestion that she sin to spare his life. If he lives and does not repent, she reasons, he will merely jeopardize his soul by his continued failure to be chaste.

Lucio, meanwhile, struggles to rein in his roguish personality and make Isabella understand the seriousness of his errand. He partly succeeds, although his reputation as a jokester seems to precede him even here in the convent. Although Lucio will be a largely comical character in the remainder of the play, he here delivers a remarkably eloquent piece of advice about self-doubt: "Our doubts are traitors," he says, "and make us lose the good we oft might win / By fearing to attempt." He encourages Isabella further by explaining that gentle persuasion might soften Angelo. Lucio will continue to stoke Isabella's self-confidence in Act 2, Scene 2, when she visits Angelo's house and attempts to save her brother.

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