Angelo makes Isabella an offer

Act 2 Scene 4 – Key Scene

In this scene, Angelo tells Isabella he will spare her brother’s life if she sleeps with him. Shocked and disgusted, Isabella refuses, threatening to reveal his hypocrisy. Angelo says no-one will believe her and, left alone, Isabella realises he’s right.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and see what it reveals about Angelo and Isabella and the themes of the play. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Who will believe thee, Isabel?
    My unsoiled name, th’austereness of my life,
    My vouch against you, and my place i’th’state,
    Will so your accusation overweigh
    That you shall stifle in your own report
    And smell of calumny.
    I have begun,
    And now I give my sensual race the rein.
    Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite,
    Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes
    That banish what they sue for, redeem thy brother
    By yielding up thy body to my will,
    Or else he must not only die the death
    But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
    To lingering sufferance. Answer me tomorrow,
    Or by th’affection that now guides me most
    I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
    Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true. [Exit]



    What does this speech say about the difference in power between men and women in Vienna?

    You will be silenced the moment you speak and accused of lying.

    Time wasting.



    Be executed.

    What does Angelo’s choice of language here reveal about the kind of man he really is?

    To whom should I complain? Did I tell this
    Who would believe me? Oh, perilous mouths
    That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
    Either of condemnation or approof,
    Bidding the law make curtsey to their will,
    Hooking both right and wrong to th’appetite
    To follow as it draws.
    I’ll to my brother.
    Though he hath fall’n by prompture of the blood
    Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour
    That had he twenty heads to tender down
    On twenty bloody blocks he’d yield them up
    Before his sister should her body stoop
    To such abhorred pollution.

    Then Isabel live chaste, and brother die:
    More than our brother is our chastity.
    I’ll tell him yet of Angelo’s request,
    And fit his mind to death for his soul’s rest. [Exit]

    Oh dangerous mouths that can both condemn or support with the same tongue and make the law bend to their wishes. They put sexual desire before what’s right and wrong.


    If he had twenty heads to lay down on twenty execution blocks, he’d give them all up before letting his sister pollute her body.


    Look at the repeated vowel sounds in Isabella’s speech. What can they tell you about how she feels?

    (Text edited for rehearsals)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors trying it in different ways. Which way feels right? What in the language makes you think that? Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Measure for Measure at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for this scene feel right to you?