Claudio wants to live

Act 3 Scene 1 – Key Scene

When Isabella arrives, he seems prepared to face death bravely but, when she tells him about Angelo, Claudio’s courage starts to unravel and his fear of death takes over. Isabella is shocked and disgusted when he changes his mind and suggests that she should sleep with Angelo to save his life.

  • 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.
    What says my brother?
    Death is a fearful thing.
    And a shamèd life a hateful.

    Compare the way that both Isabella and Claudio use language. Are they a good match in this scene?

    Ay, but to die and go we know not where,
    To lie in cold obstruction and to rot,
    This sensible warm motion to become
    A kneaded clod, and the delighted spirit
    To bathe in fiery floods or to reside
    In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice,

    To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
    And blown with restless violence round about
    The pendant world, or to be worse than worst
    Of those that lawless and incertain thought
    Imagine howling;
    ’tis too horrible.
    The weariest and most loathèd worldly life
    That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
    Can lay on nature, is a paradise
    To what we fear of death.

    Stillness, lack of movement.

    Lump of compressed earth.


    To swim in the fiery rivers of hell or live in a terrifying landscape of thick ice.


    Hanging (in space).

    To be worse off than a tortured soul in hell, howling as they are punished for their sinful thoughts.


    Alas, alas.
    Sweet sister, let me live.
    What sin you do to save a brother’s life,
    Nature dispenses with the deed so far
    That it becomes a virtue.

    Who has the stronger argument?


    Oh, you beast!
    Oh faithless coward, oh dishonest wretch!
    Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?
    Is’t not a kind of incest to take life
    From thine own sister’s shame? What should I think?
    Heaven shield my mother played my father fair,
    For such a warpèd slip of wilderness
    Ne'er issued from his blood.
    Take my defiance,
    Die, perish. Might but my bending down
    Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed.
    I’ll pray a thousand prayers for thy death,
    No word to save thee.

    Look at the lengths of the sentences. What does it reveal about both characters' thoughts and emotions?

    Given life again.

    The crime of having sex with a member of your immediate family.

    Heaven forbid, my mother must have cheated on my father because such a twisted savage could never be related to him.


    (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?