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Act IV Scene 2
In exchange or his prison term, Pompey is asked by the Provost to assist the executioner as he readies for the execution of Claudio. Pompey eagerly agrees. The Provost then receives a letter from Angelo, the contents of which surprise the Duke. According to it, Claudio must be executed in the morning, so that the execution of Barnardine can be accomplished in the afternoon. The disguised Duke shows his royal seal and requests that Provost behead Barnardine in the morning. He should then make the severed head resemble Claudio and send it to Angelo. The Provost agrees, and the Duke promises to set everything right in the morning.
In this scene, things continue to be turned upside down. Pompey, the imprisoned pimp, is allowed to leave prison if he serves as the assistant to the executioner. There is obvious irony in the fact that Pompey is allowed to better his position in society by performing this duty, especially since the noble Claudio is the one to be executed. Claudio, awaiting his impending death, is surprisingly quiet, calm, and stoic.
When the Duke comes on the scene, he is expecting to hear that Claudio has been pardoned, Instead, he learns that the treacherous Angelo is now expecting Claudio's head by afternoon. As a result, the Duke brings forth another of his plans. He decides that Barnardine will be beheaded before Claudio; then, Barnardine's head will be disguised to look like Claudio and sent to Angelo. The Provost, who is sympathetic towards Claudio's situation, agrees to the Duke's plan. This plan of "trading heads" is a flashback to the Duke's plan of "trading beds" on Angelo