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Measure for Measure: Promos and Cassandra

This is a summary of the plot of George Whetstone's play Promos and Cassandra I have changed the names of the original characters to those used in Shakespeare's play, to avoid confusion.

Angelo [Promos] is appointed to rule over the city of Julio, and declares his resolve to render justice impartially. Reviving a defunct law, he sentences Claudio [Andrugio] to death for incontinence. The law will not accept marriage as sufficient recompense for the wrong. Claudio's sister, Isabella [Cassandra], weeps over the hard fate of her young brother, who appeals to her to plead with Angelo. She therefore meets Angelo and obtains a postponement of the execution. After she has left, Angelo reveals in a soliloquy that he has fallen in love with her but is determined to overcome the temptation. However, having been encouraged by his corrupt servant, Phallax, to believe that Isabella might be overcome, he is unable to subdue his desire for her. When she meets him again to know his final decision, he first defends the law and then, when she pleads for mercy, makes his infamous proposal.

Amazed and horrified, Isabella refuses. Angelo promises to make her his wife and gives her two days in which to think it over. She goes to her brother's cell to inform him of Angelo' vile condition and to prepare him for death. Claudio, taken aback that a judge of Angelo's supposed integrity has been corrupted by the same lust for which he would condemn another, appeals to his sister to accept the proposed terms and thereby save his life.

Brother and sister argue, but finally Isabella is won over.

After satisfying his desire, Angelo decides to break his word, since no one knows of his promise and Isabella cannot reveal her own shame. He orders that Claudio should be executed secretly and his head sent to Isabella. While the girl is eagerly looking forward to welcoming her brother, the jailer brings her the severed head. She conceals her grief, pretending to be quite satisfied. She thinks of suicide, but later decides to appeal to the King. The jailer has in fact brought her the head of an executed criminal and released Claudio, who goes into hiding. Angelo is secretly troubled at what he has done.

In the second part of the play, the King comes to [the city] Julio. He hears Isabella's story and promises to see that justice is done. Upon examination, Angelo at once confesses, and the King orders that he first be married to Isabella and then put to death. Angelo pleads for mercy, but in vain. In the meantime, Claudio, hiding in the woods, comes to know what is happening. Isabella bewails her hard fate. Duty commands that she should love the husband for whose sentence she has been responsible. She appeals to the King to pardon him, but the ruler is adamant. Claudio, now in the city under a disguise, sees his sister's unhappiness and resolves to surrender himself to the King at the risk of being put to death. Angelo makes a sincere confession of his misdeeds and is led out to execution. Claudio's boy enters with the news that his master is alive. The King pardons Claudio, and then pardons Angelo for the sake of Isabella, exhorting Angelo always to measure grace with justice. He restores him to the governorship of the city. "The lost sheep found, for joy the feast was made."

Whetstone's play has also a comic underplot, involving a courtesan, unscrupulous officers, informers, and bawds. With the corruption of the magistrates, all the city becomes corrupt.

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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.