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Measure for Measure | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Measure for Measure | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



In the street outside the prison, Constable Elbow is arresting Pompey Bum again. The Duke, still disguised as a friar, approaches and reprimands Pompey for making his living as a pimp. He urges Elbow to take Pompey to prison straightaway. Lucio enters and engages Pompey in some lighthearted banter about his imprisonment. Pompey asks Lucio to post bail for him, but Lucio refuses. Elbow leads Pompey offstage with the help of his officers.

Now alone with the "friar," Lucio asks him if he has heard any news of the Duke. He answers no, and Lucio, unaware of whom he is addressing, proceeds to critique the Duke's policies in putting Angelo in charge. He describes Angelo as an inhuman creature, as cold and cheerless as a fish. The Duke tries to rein Lucio in, but instead the gentleman proceeds to make personal remarks about the Duke as well. He tells the "friar" about the Duke's fondness for womanizing and drinking and ends his speech by calling the Duke a "superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow." The disguised Duke pauses in amazement at these outrageous charges as Lucio exits the stage.

Escalus and the Provost now enter, leading Mistress Overdone to prison. Escalus greets the "friar," who, pretending not to be from Vienna, asks about the Viennese Duke's character. Escalus gives a much more favorable report than Lucio, describing the Duke as a wise and moderate ruler. The two confer a moment about Claudio's fate, then Escalus and the rest leave the stage. The Duke, now alone, recites a soliloquy about his plan to catch the hypocritical Angelo.


Lucio doesn't know it yet, but he's getting himself into hot water with his inability to keep quiet. The Duke may well have the moral authority to admonish Pompey Bum for his flesh-mongering ways. Whether he is right in pretending to be a friar is another question. For Lucio to claim the moral high ground, on the other hand, is clearly ridiculous, for his sexual mores are as loose as Pompey's. "If imprisonment be the due of a bawd," Lucio high-handedly declares, then Pompey certainly deserves to be in jail. Yet if selling sex is immoral, then Lucio's buying of sex, from one "Kate Keepdown," can hardly be an act of virtue. "One might as well maintain," as the philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, "that keys are good, but keyholes are bad."

Whether he is being hypocritical or merely foolish, Lucio's dismissive treatment of Pompey makes him less likeable. Thus the scene adds a third dimension to a character presented as mostly fun and frivolous (Act 1) but sometimes surprisingly noble (Act 2). Lucio's real problem, however, is simply that he doesn't know to whom he's talking. If he had the faintest inkling of the "friar's" connection to the Duke, Lucio would likely refrain from telling risqué stories about His Royal Grace.

The Duke, meanwhile, is making a disturbing discovery. Until now he has thought of himself as a benevolent, if over-tolerant, father figure to his subjects. Now, through Lucio, he learns his citizens are not quite the adoring children he has envisioned. Rather they have their own opinions of the Duke, often formed in the absence of any direct knowledge. Moreover some, like Lucio, are happy to spread these uninformed opinions far and wide to anyone who will hear. Thus, inasmuch as putting Angelo in charge was a public-relations ploy, the Duke must now reckon with the possibility of its failure. As it turns out, citizens like Lucio do miss the Duke but not because they think of him as just or wise. Rather they see the Duke as a human being with flaws like their own, in contrast to the ice-blooded Angelo.

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