Charles Lamb.

Tales of Shakespeare online

. (page 15 of 23)
Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 15 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

undertake this important change; and when the duke imparted his design
to lord Escalus, his chief counsellor, 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 presence 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
father, for whose sake I pray you pardon the young man's
transgression.' But Angelo replied: 'We must not make a scare-crow 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

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 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 no further 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
on 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?' said Isabel, 'let me ask!
for I am that Isabel, and his sister.' 'Fair and gentle lady,' he
replied, 'your brother kindly greets you by me; he is in prison.' 'Woe
is me! for what?' said Isabel. Lucio then told her, Claudio was
imprisoned for seducing a young maiden. 'Ah,' said she, 'I fear it is
my cousin Juliet.' Juliet and Isabel were not related, but they called
each other cousin in remembrance of their school days' friendship; and
as Isabel knew that Juliet loved Claudio, she feared she had been led
by her affection for him into this transgression. 'She it is,' replied
Lucio. 'Why then, let my brother marry Juliet,' said Isabel. Lucio
replied that Claudio would gladly marry Juliet, but that the lord
deputy had sentenced him to die for his offence; 'Unless,' said he,
'you have the grace by your fair prayer to soften Angelo, and that is
my business between you and your poor brother.' 'Alas!' said Isabel,
'what poor ability is there in me to do him good? I doubt I have no
power to move Angelo.' 'Our doubts are traitors,' said Lucio, 'and make
us lose the good we might often win, by fearing to attempt it. Go to
lord Angelo! When maidens sue, and kneel, and weep, men give like
gods.' 'I will see what I can do,' said Isabel: 'I will but stay to
give the prioress notice of the affair, and then I will go to Angelo.
Command me to my brother: soon at night I will send him word of my

Isabel hastened to the palace, and threw herself on her knees before
Angelo, saying: 'I am a woeful suitor to your honour, if it will please
your honour to hear me.' 'Well, what is your suit?' said Angelo. She
then made her petition in the most moving terms for her brother's life.
But Angelo said: 'Maiden, there is no remedy; your brother is
sentenced, and he must die.' 'O just, but severe law,' said Isabel: 'I
had a brother then - Heaven keep your honour!' and she was about to
depart. But Lucio, who had accompanied her, said: 'Give it not over so;
return to him again, entreat him, kneel down before him, hang upon his
gown. You are too cold; if you should need a pin, you could not with a
more tame tongue desire it.' Then again Isabel on her knees implored
for mercy. 'He is sentenced,' said Angelo: 'it is too late.' 'Too
later' said Isabel: 'Why, no: I that do speak a word may call it back
again. Believe this, my lord, no ceremony that to great ones belongs,
not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword, the marshal's truncheon,
nor the judge's robe, becomes them with one half so good a grace as
mercy does.' 'Pray you begone,' said Angelo. But still Isabel
entreated, and she said: 'If my brother had been as you, and you as he,
you might have slipped like him, but he, like you, would not have been
so stern. I would to heaven I had your power, and you were Isabel.
Should it then be thus? No. I would tell you what it were to be a
judge, and what a prisoner.' 'Be content, fair maid!' said Angelo: 'it
is the law, not I, condemns your brother. Were he my kinsman, my
brother, or my son, it should be thus with him. He must die to-morrow.'
'To-morrow?' said Isabel; 'Oh, that is sudden: spare him, spare him; he
is not prepared for death. Even for our kitchens we kill the fowl in
season; shall we serve Heaven with less respect than we minister to our
gross selves? Good, good, my lord, bethink you, none have died for my
brother's offence, though many have committed it. So you would be the
first that gives this sentence, and he the first that suffers it. Go to
your own bosom, my lord; knock there, and ask your heart what it does
know that is like my brother's fault; if it confess a natural
guiltiness such as his is, let it not sound a thought against my
brother's life!' Her last words more moved Angelo than all she had
before said, for the beauty of Isabel had raised a guilty passion in
his heart, and he began to form thoughts of dishonourable love, such as
Claudio's crime had been; and the conflict in his mind made him to turn
away from Isabel; but she called him back, saying: 'Gentle my lord,
turn back; hark, how I will bribe you. Good my lord, turn back!' 'How,
bribe me!' said Angelo, astonished that she should think of offering
him a bribe. 'Ay,' said Isabel, 'with such gifts that Heaven itself
shall share with you; not with golden treasures, or those glittering
stones, whose price is either rich or poor as fancy values them, but
with true prayers that shall be up to Heaven before sunrise, - prayers
from preserved souls, from fasting maids whose minds are dedicated to
nothing temporal.' 'Well, come to me to-morrow,' said Angelo. And for
this short respite of her brother's life, and for this permission that
she might be heard again, she left him with the joyful hope that she
should at last prevail over his stern nature: and as she went away she
said: 'Heaven keep your honour safe! Heaven save your honour!' Which
when Angelo heard, he said within his heart: 'Amen, I would be saved
from thee and from thy virtues': and then, affrighted at his own evil
thoughts, he said: 'What is this? What is this? Do I love her, that I
desire to hear her speak again, and feast upon her eyes? What is it I
dream on? The cunning enemy of mankind, to catch a saint, with saints
does bait the hook. Never could an immodest woman once stir my temper,
but this virtuous woman subdues me quite. Even till now, when men were
fond, I smiled and wondered at them.'

In the guilty conflict in his mind Angelo suffered more that night than
the prisoner he had so severely sentenced; for in the prison Claudio
was visited by the good duke, who, in his friar's habit, taught the
young man the way to heaven, preaching to him the words of penitence
and peace. But Angelo felt all the pangs of irresolute guilt: now
wishing to seduce Isabel from the paths of innocence and honour, and
now suffering remorse and horror for a crime as yet but intentional.
But in the end his evil thoughts prevailed; and he who had so lately
started at the offer of a bribe, resolved to tempt this maiden with so
high a bribe, as she might not be able to resist, even with the
precious gift of her dear brother's life.

When Isabel came in the morning, Angelo desired she might be admitted
alone to his presence: and being there, he said to her, if she would
yield to him her virgin honour and transgress even as Juliet had done
with Claudio, he would give her her brother's life; 'For,' said he, 'I
love you, Isabel.' 'My brother,' said Isabel, 'did so love Juliet, and
yet you tell me he shall die for it.' 'But,' said Angelo, 'Claudio
shall not die, if you will consent to visit me by stealth at night,
even as Juliet left her father's house at night to come to Claudio.'
Isabel, in amazement at his words, that he should tempt her to the same
fault for which he passed sentence upon her brother, said: 'I would do
as much for my poor brother as for myself; that is, were I under
sentence of death, the impression of keen whips I would wear as rubies,
and go to my death as to a bed that longing I had been sick for, ere I
would yield myself up to this shame.' And then she told him, she hoped
he only spoke these words to try her virtue. But he said: 'Believe me,
on my honour, my words express my purpose.' Isabel, angered to the
heart to hear him use the word Honour to express such dishonourable
purposes, said: 'Ha! little honour to be much believed; and most
pernicious purpose. I will proclaim thee, Angelo, look for it! Sign me
a present pardon for my brother, or I will tell the world aloud what
man thou art!' 'Who will believe you, Isabel?' said Angelo; 'my
unsoiled name, the austereness of my life, my word vouched against
yours, will outweigh your accusation. Redeem your brother by yielding
to my will, or he shall die to-morrow. As for you, say what you can, my
false will overweigh your true story. Answer me to-morrow.'

'To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, who would believe me?'
said Isabel, as she went towards the dreary prison where her brother
was confined. When she arrived there, her brother was in pious
conversation with the duke, who in his friar's habit had also visited
Juliet, and brought both these guilty lovers to a proper sense of their
fault; and unhappy Juliet with tears and a true remorse confessed that
she was more to blame than Claudio, in that she willingly consented to
his dishonourable solicitations.

As Isabel entered the room where Claudio was confined, she said: 'Peace
be here, grace, and good company!' 'Who is there?' said the disguised
duke; 'come in; the wish deserves a welcome.' 'My business as a word or
two with Claudio,' said Isabel. Then the duke left them together, and
desired the provost, who had the charge of the prisoners, to place him
where he might overhear their conversation.

'Now, sister, what is the comfort?' said Claudio. Isabel told him he
must prepare for death on the morrow. 'Is there no remedy?' said
Claudio. 'Yes, brother,' replied Isabel, 'there is, but such a one, as
if you consented to it would strip your honour from you, and leave you
naked.' 'Let me know the point,' said Claudio. 'O, I do fear you,
Claudio!' replied his sister; 'and I quake, lest you should wish to
live, and more respect the trifling term of six or seven winters added
to your life, then your perpetual honour! Do you dare to die? The sense
of death is most in apprehension, and the poor beetle that we tread
upon, feels a pang as great as when a giant dies.' 'Why do you give me
this shame?' said Claudio. 'Think you I can fetch a resolution from
flowery tenderness? If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a
bride, and hug it in my arms.' 'There spoke my brother,' said Isabel;
'there my father's grave did utter forth a voice. Yes, you must die;
yet would you think it, Claudio! this outward sainted deputy, if I
would yield to him my virgin honour, would grant your life. O, were it
but my life, I would lay it down for your deliverance as frankly as a
pin!' 'Thanks, dear Isabel,' said Claudio. 'Be ready to die to-morrow,'
said Isabel. 'Death is a fearful thing,' said Claudio. 'And shamed life
a hateful,' replied his sister. But the thoughts of death now overcame
the constancy of Claudio's temper, and terrors, such as the guilty only
at their deaths do know, assailing him, he cried out: 'Sweet sister,
let me live! The sin you do to save a brother's life, nature dispenses
with the deed so far, that it becomes a virtue.' 'O faithless coward! O
dishonest wretch!' said Isabel; 'would you preserve your life by your
sister's shame? O fie, fie, fie! I thought, my brother, you had in you
such a mind of honour, that had you twenty heads to render up on twenty
blocks, you would have yielded them up all, before your sister should
stoop to such dishonour.' 'Nay, hear me, Isabel!' said Claudio. But
what he would have said in defence of his weakness, in desiring to live
by the dishonour of his virtuous sister, was interrupted by the
entrance of the duke; who said: 'Claudio, I have overheard what has
passed between you and your sister. Angelo had never the purpose to
corrupt her; what he said, has only been to make trial of her virtue.
She having the truth of honour in her, has given him that gracious
denial which he is most glad to receive. There is no hope that he will
pardon you; therefore pass your hours in prayer, and make ready for
death.' Then Claudio repented of his weakness, and said: 'Let me ask my
sister's pardon! I am so out of love with life, that I will sue to be
rid of it.' And Claudio retired, overwhelmed with shame and sorrow for
his fault.

The duke being now alone with Isabel, commended her virtuous
resolution, saying: 'The hand that made you fair, has made you good.'
'O,' said Isabel, 'how much is the good duke deceived in Angelo! if
ever he return, and I can speak to him, I will discover his
government.' Isabel knew not that she was even now making the discovery
she threatened. The duke replied: 'That shall not be much amiss; yet as
the matter now stands, Angelo will repel your accusation; therefore
lend an attentive ear to my advisings. I believe that you may most
righteously do a poor wronged lady a merited benefit, redeem your
brother from the angry law, do no stain to your own most gracious
person, and much please the absent duke, if peradventure he shall ever
return to have notice of this business. Isabel said, she had a spirit
to do anything he desired, provided it was nothing wrong. 'Virtue is
bold, and never fearful,' said the duke: and then he asked her, if she
had ever heard of Mariana, the sister of Frederick, the great soldier
who was drowned at sea. 'I have heard of the lady,' said Isabel, 'and
good words went with her name.' 'This lady,' said the duke, 'is the
wife of Angelo; but her marriage dowry was on board the vessel in which
her brother perished, and mark how heavily this befell to the poor
gentlewoman! for, beside the loss of a most noble and renowned brother,
who in his love towards her was ever most kind and natural, in the
wreck of her fortune she lost the affections of her husband, the
well-seeming Angelo; who pretending to discover some dishonour in this
honourable lady (though the true cause was the loss of her dowry) left
her in tears, and dried not one of them with his comfort. His unjust
unkindness, that in all reason should have quenched her love, has, like
an impediment in the current, made it more unruly, and Mariana loves
her cruel husband with the full continuance of her first affection.'
The duke then more plainly unfolded his plan. It was, that Isabel
should go to lord Angelo, and seemingly consent to come to him as he
desired at midnight; that by this means she would obtain the promised
pardon; and that Mariana should go in her stead to the appointment, and
pass herself upon Angelo in the dark for Isabel. 'Nor, gentle
daughter,' said the feigned friar, 'fear you to do this thing; Angelo
is her husband, and to bring them thus together is no sin.' Isabel
being pleased with this project, departed to do as he directed her; and
he went to apprise Mariana of their intention. He had before this time
visited this unhappy lady in his assumed character, giving her
religious instruction and friendly consolation, at which times he had
learned her sad story from her own lips; and now she, looking upon him
as a holy man, readily consented to be directed by him in this

When Isabel returned from her interview with Angelo, to the house of
Mariana, where the duke had appointed her to meet him, he said: 'Well
met, and in good time; what is the news from this good deputy?' Isabel
related the manner in which she had settled the affair. 'Angelo,' said
she, 'has a garden surrounded with a brick wall, on the western side of
which is a vineyard, and to that vineyard is a gate.' And then she
showed to the duke and Mariana two keys that Angelo had given her; and
she said: 'This bigger key opens the vineyard gate; this other a little
door which leads from the vineyard to the garden. There I have made my
promise at the dead of the night to call upon him, and have got from
him his word of assurance for my brother's life. I have taken a due and
wary note of the place; and with whispering and most guilty diligence
he showed me the way twice over.' 'Are there no other tokens agreed
upon between you, that Mariana must observe?' said the duke. 'No,
none,' said Isabel, 'only to go when it is dark. I have told him my
time can be but short; for I have made him think a servant comes along
with me, and that this servant is persuaded I come about my brother.'
The duke commended her discreet management, and she, turning to
Mariana, said: 'Little have you to say to Angelo, when you depart from
him, but soft and low: Remember now my brother!'

Mariana was that night conducted to the appointed place by Isabel, who
rejoiced that she had, as she supposed, by this device preserved both
her brother's life and her own honour. But that her brother's life was
safe the duke was not well satisfied, and therefore at midnight he
again repaired to the prison, and it was well for Claudio that he did
so, else would Claudio have that night been beheaded; for soon after
the duke entered the prison, an order came from the cruel deputy,
commanding that Claudio should be beheaded, and his head sent to him by
five o'clock in the morning. But the duke persuaded the provost to put
off the execution of Claudio, and to deceive Angelo, by sending him the
head of a man who died that morning in the prison. And to prevail upon
the provost to agree to this, the duke, whom still the provost
suspected not to be anything more or greater than he seemed, showed the
provost a letter written with the duke's hand, and sealed with his
seal, which when the provost saw, he concluded this friar must have
some secret order from the absent duke, and therefore he consented to
spare Claudio; and he cut off the dead man's head, and carried it to

Then the duke in his own name, wrote to Angelo a letter, saying, that
certain accidents had put a stop to his journey, and that he should be
in Vienna by the following morning, requiring Angelo to meet him at the
entrance of the city, there to deliver up his authority; and the duke
also commanded it to be proclaimed, that if any of his subjects craved
redress for injustice, they should exhibit their petitions in the
street on his first entrance into the city.

Early in the morning Isabel came to the prison, and the duke, who there
awaited her coming, for secret reasons thought it good to tell her that
Claudio was beheaded; therefore when Isabel inquired if Angelo had sent
the pardon for her brother, he said: 'Angelo has released Claudio from
this world. His head is off, and sent to the deputy.' The much-grieved
sister cried out: 'O unhappy Claudio, wretched Isabel, injurious world,
most wicked Angelo!' The seeming friar bid her take comfort, and when
she was become a little calm, he acquainted her with the near prospect
of the duke's return, and told her in what manner she should proceed in
preferring her complaint against Angelo; and he bade her not fear if
the cause should seem to go against her for a while. Leaving Isabel
sufficiently instructed, he next went to Mariana, and gave her counsel
in what manner she also should act.

Then the duke laid aside his friar's habit, and in his own royal robes,
amidst a joyful crowd of his faithful subjects, assembled to greet his
arrival, entered the city of Vienna, where he was met by Angelo, who
delivered up his authority in the proper form. And there came Isabel,
in the manner of a petitioner for redress, and said: 'Justice, most
royal duke! I am the sister of one Claudio, who, for the seducing a
young maid, was condemned to lose his head. I made my suit to lord
Angelo for my brother's pardon. It were needless to tell your grace how
I prayed and kneeled, how he repelled me, and how I replied; for this
was of much length. The vile conclusion I now begin with grief and
shame to utter. Angelo would not but by my yielding to his
dishonourable love release my brother; and after much debate within
myself, my sisterly remorse overcame my virtue, and I did yield to him.
But the next morning betimes, Angelo, forfeiting his promise, sent a
warrant for my poor brother's head!' The duke affected to disbelieve
her story; and Angelo said that grief for her brother's death, who had
suffered by the due course of the law, had disordered her senses. And
now another suitor approached, which was Mariana; and Mariana said:
'Noble prince, as there comes light from heaven, and truth from breath,
as there is sense in truth and truth in virtue, I am this man's wife,
and my good lord, the words of Isabel are false; for the night she says
was with Angelo, I passed that night with him in the garden-house. As
this is true, let me in safety rise, or else for ever be fixed here a
marble monument.' Then did Isabel appeal for the truth of what she had
said to friar Lodowick, that being the name the duke had assumed in his
disguise. Isabel and Mariana had both obeyed his instructions in what
they said, the duke intending that the innocence of Isabel should be
plainly proved in that public manner before the whole city of Vienna;
but Angelo little thought that it was from such a cause that they thus
differed in their story, and he hoped from their contradictory evidence
to be able to clear himself from the accusation of Isabel, and he said,
assuming the look of offended innocence: 'I did but smile till now;
but, good my lord, my patience here is touched, and I perceive these
poor distracted women are but the instruments of some greater one, who
sets them on. Let me have way, my lord, to find this practice out.'
'Ay, with all my heart,' said the duke, 'and punish them to the height
of your pleasure. You, lord Escalus, sit with lord Angelo, lend him
your pains to discover this abuse; the friar is sent for that set them
on, and when he comes, do with your injuries as may seem best in any
chastisement. I for a while will leave you, but stir not you, lord
Angelo, till you have well determined upon this slander.' The duke then
went away, leaving Angelo well pleased to be deputed judge and umpire
in his own cause. But the duke was absent only while he threw off his

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 15 of 23)