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Act I, Scene 2
Lucio, along with two of his friends, are seen talking to a few gentlemen in the streets. Lucio is a typical, loose-minded, vulgar wit. He keeps up a running commentary on sexual matters simply because he enjoys the unnatural ban on sex which civilization imposes. He also talks to Mrs. Overdone, the proprietess of a whorehouse, and learns that Claudio has been arrested and sent to prison for getting Juliet pregnant. Mrs. Overdone also informs him that Angelo has ordered that within three days Claudio is to be beheaded. She is sad that she is losing her customers because of war, poverty, and the gallows. Provost, an officer, enters and escorts Claudio. Juliet, according to the stage directions, enters as well, but does not speak. Claudio informs Lucio that he intended to marry Juliet, but before he could accomplish that he was arrested for lechery. He requests Lucio to inform his sister Isabella, who plans to become a nun, of his plight and to appeal to the strict Governor for his life. Lucio agrees to carry out the requests of this calm, intelligent man.
In this scene, it is learned that Angelo is acting as a strict administrator and judge. He has reinforced some laws on sexual morality, which have been pushed into the background for many years. With the new restrictions in place, he has Claudio arrested as a result of Juliet's pregnancy. Angelo has also given the order to behead Claudio for his "crime" within three days. Finally, it is learned that Angelo has closed down all the whorehouses in the City.
The reader is introduced to several minor characters in this scene and is given a glimpse into their vulgar lives. Mistress Overdone (notice the appropriate name) and her servant Pompey are presented, as they banter about sex in humorous ways. The difference in the lifestyles of the polite world and that of the lower classes is to be noted. Their speech differs, with the higher class (Claudio, Angelo, the Duke, Escalus) speaking entirely in poetic lines, and the lower class reciting in prose. It is also important to note that the lower classes give comic relief to the higher drama surrounding the upper classes.
The main plot of the story centers on Angelo's management of the government in the Duke's absence. The plot is set in motion when Angelo revives an old law and decrees that Claudio must lose his life. The minor plot shows how Angelo's actions affect the lower class characters in the play. Because of Angelo, Mrs. Overdone has lost her livelihood. Since both plots are related to Angelo, he serves as the tie that links the sub-plot to the main plot and the lower class characters to the upper class of society. Lucio serves as a messenger moving between both classes as he tries to save Claudio from the clutches of the law. Thus, in this scene Shakespeare has neatly introduced the main plot and the sub-plot, which will intertwine throughout the play.