The duke's departure

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In the opening scene of Measure for Measure, the duke of Vienna announces that he is leaving the city for a while and is handing power over to his deputy, Angelo. Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. 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.
    The Duke
    Of government the properties to unfold
    Would seem in me t’affect speech and discourse.

    Since I am put to know that your own science
    Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
    My strength can give you, then no more remains
    But that, to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,
    And let them work.
    The nature of our people,
    Our city’s institutions, and the terms
    For common justice, y’are as pregnant in
    As art and practice hath enrichèd any
    That we remember. There is our commission,
    From which we would not have you warp. Call hither,
    I say, bid come before us Angelo.

    Conversations about government make me behave differently.



    The only thing left to say is: trust your instincts and let them work with your knowledge.

    Full of knowledge.

    Change, stray.

    Exit A LORD
    The Duke
    What figure of us think you he will bear?
    For you must know, we have with special soul
    Elected him our absence to supply,
    Lent him our terror, dressed him with our love,
    And given his deputation all the organs
    Of our own power. What think you of it?

    How do you think he will represent me?

    What does the duke want from Escalus?

    The power of royalty.

    Appointment to act as deputy.

    Working parts.

    How is the duke feeling in this scene?

    If any in Vienna be of worth
    To undergo such ample grace and honour
    It is Lord Angelo.
    The Duke
    Look where he comes.
    Enter Angelo
    Always obedient to your grace’s will
    I come to know your pleasure.
    The Duke
    There is a kind of character in thy life
    That to th’observer doth thy history
    Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings
    Are not thine own so proper as to waste
    Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.

    Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
    Not light them for themselves: for if our virtues
    Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
    As if we had them not. Hold therefore, Angelo:
    In our remove be thou at full ourself.
    Mortality and mercy in Vienna
    Live in thy tongue and heart.
    Old Escalus,
    Though first in question, is thy secondary.
    Take thy commission.

    Habit, pattern.

    Your skills don’t just belong to you; you mustn’t waste your good qualities by keeping them to yourself and not letting others benefit.

    Stand firm, Angelo - in my absence, you will represent me entirely. You will have power over life and death in Vienna.

    What effect does the duke’s news have on Angelo and Escalus?

    (Text edited for rehearsals)
  • Listen
    Read the speech aloud. 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 the opening scene feel right to you?