Cast:Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, makes it known that he intends to leave the city on a diplomatic mission. He leaves the government in the hands of a strict judge, Angelo. Under the Duke's government, the city's harsh laws against fornication have been laxly enforced, but Angelo, who later reveals himself as a hypocrite is known to be a hard-liner on matters of sexual immorality.
Claudio, a young nobleman, is betrothed to Juliet; having put off their wedding, he makes her pregnant before wedlock. For this act of fornication he is punished by Angelo. Although he is willing to marry her, he is sentenced to death. Claudio's friend Lucio visits Claudio's sister Isabella, a postulant nun, and asks her to intercede with Angelo on Claudio's behalf.
Isabella obtains an audience with Angelo, and pleads to him for mercy. Over the course of two scenes between Angelo and Isabella, it becomes clear that he harbours lustful thoughts for her, and he eventually offers her a deal: he will spare Claudio's life if Isabella will yield him her virginity. Isabella refuses, but she also realises that (due to Angelo's austere reputation) she will not be believed if she makes a public accusation against him. Instead she visits her brother in prison, and counsels him to prepare himself for death. Claudio vehemently begs Isabella to save his life, but Isabella refuses.
The Duke has not in fact left the city, but remains there disguised as a friar, in order to spy on his city's affairs, and especially the actions of Angelo. In his guise as a friar he befriends Isabella and arranges two tricks to thwart the evil intentions of Angelo:
First, a "bed trick" is arranged. Angelo has previously refused to fulfill the betrothal binding him to Mariana, because her dowry was lost at sea. Isabella sends word to Angelo that she has decided to submit to him, making it a condition of their meeting that it occurs in perfect darkness and silence. In fact, Mariana agrees to take Isabella's place, and she has sex with Angelo, although he continues to believe he has enjoyed Isabella. (In some interpretations of the law, this constitutes consummation of their betrothal, and so marriage.)
Contrary to expectation, Angelo goes back on his word, sending a message to the prison that he wishes to see Claudio's head, which necessitates the "head trick." The Duke first attempts to arrange the execution of another prisoner whose head can be sent instead of Claudio's. However, the villain Barnardine refuses to be executed in his current drunken state. As luck would have it, however, a pirate named Ragozine, of similar appearance to Claudio, has recently died of a fever, so his head is sent to Angelo instead.
This main plot concludes with the 'return' to Vienna of the Duke in his own person. Isabella and Mariana publicly petition him, and he hears their claims against Angelo. which Angelo smoothly denies. As the scene develops, it appears Friar Lodowick will be blamed for the 'false' accusations leveled against Angelo. The Duke leaves Angelo to be judge of the cause against Lodowick, but returns in disguise moments later when Lodowick is summoned. Eventually the friar reveals himself to be the duke, thereby exposing Angelo as a liar and Isabella and Mariana as truthful. He proposes that Angelo be executed—with his estate going to Mariana as her new dowry, "to buy you a better husband". Mariana pleads for Angelo's life, even enlisting the aid of Isabella (who is not yet aware her brother Claudio is still living). Heeding the petition of the two women, the Duke is merciful to Angelo, but compels him to marry Mariana. The Duke then proposes marriage to Isabella.
The Duke of Vienna – Ben Miles
Escalus – David Killick
Angelo – Rory Kinnear
Lucio – Lloyd Hutchinson
Claudio – Emun Elliott
Isabella – Anna Maxwell Martin
Director – Michael Attenborough
Design – Lez Brotherston
Lighting – David Hersey
Music – Stephen Warbeck
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