Audio-book: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.
Measure for Measure is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604. Originally published in the First Folio of 1623, where it was listed as a comedy, the play’s first recorded performance occurred in 1604. The play’s main themes include justice, “mortality mercy in Vienna,” the dichotomy between corruption purity: “some rise by sin, some by virtue fall.” Mercy virtue predominate, since the play does not end tragically.
Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo.
In the next scene, we find a group of soldiers on a Vienna street, expressing their hopes, in irreverent banter, that a war with Hungary is afoot, that they will be able to take part. Mistress Overdone, the operator of a whorehouse frequented by these same soldiers, appears tells them “there’s one yonder arrested carried to prison was worth five thousand of you all.” She tells them that it is “Signor Claudio,” that “within these three days his head to be chopped off” as punishment for “getting Madam Julietta with child.” Lucio, one of the soldiers who is later revealed to be Claudio’s friend, is astonished at this news rushes off. Then comes the first appearance of Pompey Bum, a character whom Harold Bloom has described as “a triumph of Shakespeare’s art, a vitalistic presence who refuses to be bound by any division between comedy tragedy.” Pompey, who works for Mistress Overdone as a pimp, but disguises his profession by describing himself as a mere ‘tapster’ (the equivalent of a modern bartender), avers to the imprisonment of Claudio outrageously explains his crime as “Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.” He then informs Mistress Overdone of Angelo’s new proclamation, that “All houses [of prostitution] in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down.” The brothels in the city “shall stand for seed: they had gone down too, but that a wise burgher put in for them.” Mistress Overdone is distraught, as her business is in the suburbs. “What shall become of me?” she asks. Pompey replies with a characteristic mixture of bawdy humor folk-wisdom, “fear you not: good counselors lack no clients: though you change your place, you need not change your trade… Courage! there will be pity taken on you: you that have worn your eyes almost out in the service, you will be considered.”
Claudio is then led past Pompey Overdone on his way to prison, we learn what has happened to him. Claudio married Juliet, but, as they have not completed all the technicalities, they are still legally unmarried when Juliet gets pregnant. Angelo, as the interim ruler of the city, decides to enforce a law that fornication is punishable by death, so Claudio is sentenced to be executed. Claudio’s friend, Lucio, visits Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun, asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio’s behalf.
Isabella obtains an audience with Angelo, pleads for mercy for Claudio. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo Isabella, it becomes clear that he lusts after her, he eventually offers her a deal: Angelo will spare Claudio’s life if Isabella yields him her virginity. Isabella refuses, but when she threatens to publicly expose his lechery, he tells her that no one will believe her: his reputation is too austere. Instead, she visits her brother in prison counsels him to prepare himself for death. Claudio desperately begs Isabella to save his life, but Isabella refuses. As a novice nun, she feels that she cannot sacrifice her own immortal soul ( that of Claudio, if he causes her to lose her virtue) to save Claudio’s transient earthly life.
The Duke has not in fact left the city, but remains there disguised as a friar (Lodowick) in order to spy on the city’s affairs, especially on the actions of Angelo. In his guise as a friar, he befriends Isabella arranges two tricks to thwart Angelo’s evil intentions:
First, a “bed trick” is arranged. Angelo has previously refused to fulfill the betrothal binding him to Mariana, because her dowry had been lost at sea. Isabella sends word to Angelo that she has decided to submit to him, making it a condition of their meeting that it occurs in perfect darkness in silence. Mariana agrees to take Isabella’s place, she has sex with Angelo, although he continues to believe he has enjoyed Isabella. (In some interpretations of the law, this constitutes consummation of their betrothal, therefore their marriage. This is the same interpretation that assumes that Claudio Juliet are legally married.)