Measure for Measure (a Dark Comedy)
At Duke Vincentio's Palace in Vienna, the Duke transfers his powers and duties to Angelo since the Duke is leaving town for a while. The Duke makes Escalus Angelo's assistant. At a tower, Lucio tells his friends he hopes the Duke comes to agreement with the King of Hungary, lest the king take over the town. Mistress Overdone (a prostitute) informs them that Claudio is arrested and sentenced to death for impregnating Madam Julietta (his fiance‚). Furthermore, Pompey informs Overdone that Angelo plans to tear down London's brothels. Lucio promises Claudio that he'll ask Isabella (Claudio's sister) to convince the deputy to free him out of kindness. At a monastery, the Duke informs Friar Thomas that he appointed Angelo knowing full well he would clean up the town's prostitution. He wishes Angelo to do it so the people will fear and detest him rather than the Duke. The duke plans to watch the proceedings by posing as a monk. Lucio comes to Isabella at a nunnery and convinces her to beg Angelo for mercy on her brother. Escalus too tries to dissuade Angelo from his harsh judgement, but Angelo insists that Claudio be executed.
Constable brings Pompey (Overdone's pimp) and Froth to Angelo and Escalus accusing them of illegal doings. Angelo leaves, then Escalus warns Froth and Pompey of new enforcement of the laws, then lets them go. Constable Elbow continually uses the wrong words in sentences (eg. detest for protest, cardinally for carnally, etc.) and repeats to a Justice that it is sad that Claudio is to die. Even the Provost (executioner) questions Angelo's decision to execute Claudio. Isabella arrives and begs Angelo to spare her brother. Her grace and virtue seems to dissuade his strictness and it seems he'll spare Claudio. The Duke (as the Friar) comes to the prison to bless those condemned. He blesses Juliet and learns of Claudio's predicament. Isabella comes back to Angelo to discover hear his decision. Angelo tells her he will free Claudio if she sleeps with him. As a good nun would, she denies him for the sake of her chastity. He tells her she has one day to change her mind, then leaves. She decides to tell her brother of Angelo's ultimatum and her decision, to give her brother a sense of peace.
At the prison, the Duke (as the Friar) comforts Claudio. Isabella arrives and tells Claudio of Angelo's ultimatum. Claudio asks Isabella to honor Angelo's request since he is so afraid of death, but she refuses. The Duke, who was eavesdropping, keeps the ruse by telling Claudio to prepare for death. But to Isabella, the Duke reveals a plan to save Claudio, appease Angelo, spare Isabella's chastity, and reunite Angelo's long lost lover/fiance‚ Mariana with him. At the prison, Elbow brings Pompey in for being a bawd (pimp). Lucio talks with the Duke (as the Friar) and hypothesizes that the Duke would be more lenient with Claudio since he (the Duke) doesn't follow the law. Privately, this enrages the Duke, who outwardly vows to expose Lucio's view "to the Duke" when he returns. Escalus and officers bring Mistress Overdone and other prostitutes to the prison. She tells Escalus that Lucio himself has had child with Mistress Keepdown and should also be arrested. The Duke (as the Friar) speaks to Escalus and learns that Escalus truly respects the Duke and disagrees with Angelo's strictness.
The Duke (as the Friar) introduces Isabella to Mariana, who agrees to pretend to be Isabella and sleep with Angelo in order to consummate their marriage. At the prison the Provost asks Pompey to help the executioner, Abhorson, execute Claudio and another prisoner, Barnardine, in exchange for Pompey's freedom, to which Pompey agrees. The Provost receives a letter confirming Claudio's death warrant, to the dismay of the Duke. The Duke, then, convinces the Provost to delay Claudio's execution for four days, but execute Barnardine and deliver his head to Angelo, making it look like Claudio's (per Angelo's request to see Claudio's head). The Duke (as the Friar) convinces the Provost by showing him a letter from the actual Duke. Since Barnardine isn't prepared to die at 4 am, the Duke and Provost bring Angelo the head of a man who died of a fever. To hold the ruse, the Duke tells Isabella that Claudio was beheaded, but reassures her that she will be able to speak to the actual Duke. Lucio appears again, and upon prodding admits to the Duke (as the Friar) that he did indeed impregnate a whore. Angelo, upon learning of the actual Duke's return, regrets that Claudio was executed.
The Duke "returns" to the city, upon which Isabella comes to him and tells her story, the whole city listening. The Duke pretends to doubt her story, and declares her imprisoned. Friar Peter then comes forward and vouches for Isabella's story, then brings forth Mariana who tells all she slept with Angelo. The Duke then appears as the Friar and repeats the accusations. In a scuffle, the Friar is revealed as the Duke. As the Duke, he has Friar Peter marry Angelo and Mariana, then sentences Angelo to death. Mariana and Isabel beg the Duke to spare Angelo to which, finally, the Duke agrees. The Duke then has the Provost bring Barnardine and Claudio to him. The Duke frees Barnardine and reunites Claudio with Isabella. As for Lucio, he has Friar Peter marry him to the whore, then orders him whipped AND hanged, such that the whore will inherit Lucio's fortune.