Measure for Measure | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Measure for Measure | Act 4, Scene 6 | Summary



Standing near the city gate, Isabella and Mariana discuss the cryptic instructions they have received from the "friar" (the disguised Duke)—the "friar" has advised that it is Marina who should open the complaint against Angelo and that Isabella should "veil [her] full purpose" when she approaches the Duke. He has also cautioned Isabella that he might seem to contradict or argue against her, but this is all part of the plan. Friar Peter arrives and conducts the women to a place where they may petition the Duke, who has begun his procession through town.


This scene, like the previous one, serves mainly to get the characters into place for the final dramatic showdown. Isabella's behavior is consistent with her previous character: "To speak so indirectly I am loath," she says, preferring to tell the truth straightforwardly. This is the same streak of unstinting but somewhat inflexible virtue Isabella has shown all along. It appears, for example, in Act 1, Scene 4, when Isabella wishes for stricter rules at the nunnery. The trait is even more conspicuous in Act 3, Scene 1, when she practically disowns Claudio for suggesting she might sin to save his life.

In describing his harsh words as "a physic / That's bitter to sweet end," the Duke draws a comparison between his speech and a medicine that tastes unpleasant but gets the job done. This image, too, reflects a character trait previously developed: the Duke's sense of his role as a physician who must "cure" his city of vice (Act 3, Scene 2).

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