« ZurückWeiter »
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
In the city of Vienna there once reigned a duke of such a mild and gentle temper, that he suffered his subjects to neglect the laws with impunity; and there was in particular one law, the existence of which was almost forgotten, the duke never having put it in force during his whole reign. This was a law dooming any man to the punishment of death, who should live with a woman that was not his wife; and this law through the lenity of the duke being utterly disregarded, the holy institution of marriage became neglected, and complaints were every day made to the duke by the parents of the young ladies in Vienna, that their daughters had been seduced from their protection, and were living as the companions of single men.
The good duke perceived with sorrow this growing evil among his subjects; but he thought that a sudden change in himself from the indulgence he had hitherto shown, to the strict severity requiste to check this abuse, would make his people (who had hitherto loved him) consider him as a tyrant: therefore he determined to absent himself a while from his dukedom, and depute another to the full exercise of his power, that the law against these dishonourable lovers might be put in effect, without giving offence by an unusual severity in his own person.
Angelo, a man who bore the reputation of a saint in Vienna for his strict and rigid life, was chosen by the duke as a fit person to undertake this important charge; and when the duke imparted his design to lord Escalus his chief councellor, Escalus said, “If any man in Vienna be of worth to undergo such ample grace and honour, it is lord Angelo.' And now the duke departed from Vienna under pre.
tence of making a journey into Poland, leaving Angelo to act as the lord deputy in his absence; but the duke's absence was only a feigned one, for he privately returned' to Vienna, habited like a friar, with the intent to watch unseen the conduct of the saintly-seeming Angelo.
It happened just about the time that Angelo was invested with his new dignity, that a gentleman, whose name was Claudio, had seduced a young lady from her parents; and for this offence, by command of the new lord deputy, Claudio was taken up and committed to prison, and by virtue of the old law which had been so long neglected, Angelo sentenced Claudio to be beheaded. Great interest was made for the pardon of young Claudio, and the good old lord Escalus himself interceded for him. Alas,' said he, this gentleman whom I would save had an honourable fa. ther, for whose sake I pray you pardon the young man's transgression. But Angelo replied, “We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to frighten birds
of prey, till custom, finding it harmless, makes it their perch, and not their terror. Sir, he must die.'
Lucio, the friend of Claudio, visited him in the prison, and Claudio said to him, *I pray you, Lucio, do me this kind service. Go to my sister Isabel, who this day proposes to enter the convent of Saint Clare: acquaint her with the danger of my state; implore her that she make friends with the strict deputy; bid her go
herself to Angelo. I have great hopes in that; for she can discourse with prosperous art, and well she can persuade; besides, there is a speechless dialect in youthful sorrow, such as moves men.'
Isabel, the sister of Claudio, had, as he said, that day entered upon her noviciate in the convent, and it was her intent after passing through her probation as a novice, to take the veil, and she was inquiring of a nun concerning the rules of the convent, when they heard the voice of Lucio, who, as he entered that religious house, said, 'Peace be in this place!! Who is it that
speaks?' said Isabel. It is a man's voice,' replied the nun: 'Gentle Isabel, go to him, and learn his business; you may, I may not. When you have taken the veil, you must not speak with men but in the presence of the prioress; then if you speak, you must not show your face, or if you show your face you must not speak.' ' And have you nuns on farther privileges?' said Isabel. "Are not these large enough?' replied the nun. Yes, truly,' said Isabel: 'I speak not as desiring more, but rather wishing a more strict restraint upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare.' Again they heard the voice of Lucio, and the nun said, He calls again. I pray you answer him. Isabel then went out to Lucio, and in answer to his salutation, said, 'Peace and prosperity! Who is it that calls?' Then Lucio, approaching her with reverence, said, 'Hail, virgin, if such you be, as the roses in your cheeks proclaim you are no less! can you bring me to the sight of Isabel, a novice of this place, and the fair sister to her unhappy brother Claudio?" · Why her unhappy brother?'