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Act II, Scene 1
To no avail, Escalus pleads with an adamant Angelo to have pity on the life of Claudio. Angelo does not really consider Claudio's crime to be something major, but he is intent on carrying out the "measure of the law" and to be strict with all offenders who break the law. As a result, he orders Claudio to be executed the next morning. Escalus is grieved over Claudio's fate, but is helpless to stop the execution.
Elbow, a constable, enters with Froth and Pompey in custody, both guilty of immoral acts. When Escalus questions them about their crimes, they give long and ridiculous answers. Angelo, disgusted with their chatter, asks Escalus to settle the case and leaves the place. Although Escalus is dismayed by the steady decay of established social standard, he dismisses Froth and Pompey with a warning; he tells them that if they are again arrested for immoral activities, their punishment will be severe.
Angelo is adamant in enforcing the law to the letter, and, therefore, plans the execution of Claudio. When Escalus pleads for mercy for Claudio and tries to reason with him, saying that anyone, even Angelo himself could have committed the crime, Angelo argues and says, "It is one thing to be tempted, Escalus, another thing to fall." It is ironic that later in the play Angelo is tempted and commits the same crime, proving his total hypocrisy.
Escalus serves as a foil to Angelo. Escalus is older, wiser, and merciful. On the other hand, Angelo is young and relentless. He wants to follow his orders to restore dignity to the City, and he is determined to carry out the law with great strictness, assigning punishment equally no matter the circumstances. It is obvious that he is using Claudio to set an example for all others involved in immoral activities. He plans to execute Claudio for having fathered an illegitimate child. Ironically, in the same scene, Escalus dismisses the charges against Froth and Pompey with only a warning, yet both of them are truly guilty of immoral behavior.
Elbow, Froth, and Pompey are representatives of the lower class of society in contrast to Escalus and Angelo. The entry of the three men provides comic relief to the scene. Elbow, in his mission as a serious constable, uses highbrow language, which is filled with malapropisms. Instead of saying `malefactors,' he says `benefactors,' and he says `respected' for `suspected'. The scene, thus, becomes a humorous interlude, filled with bawdy comment and vulgarisms. The prisoners come across as normal human beings, with human foibles. Their language, though crude, provides entertainment and need not be taken seriously. This comic relief has been injected at the opportune moment, between Claudio's arrest and his scheduled execution.