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Act V, Scene 1
The Duke enters and exchanges pleasantries with Angelo and Escalus. Isabella comes forward and declares Angelo to be an adulterous thief, a hypocrite, and a 'virgin-violator'. She narrates the whole story to the Duke. Mariana supports her tale and reveals the fact that it is she who has spent the night with Angelo.
Friar Peter says that the women were instigated to complain against Angelo by a certain Friar Lodowick (the disguised Duke). The Duke sends for the friar, asks Angelo and Escalus to debate the case, and leaves the scene. He comes back disguised as Friar Lodowick. He states that the two women are telling the truth. This angers Angelo. Calling the friar a lying rascal, he attempts to pull off the cloak. It comes off and reveals the Duke hidden underneath. Angelo is trapped and admits his guilt.
The Duke quickly dispenses the punishments, which he has already decided. Angelo must immediately marry Mariana, and then be killed, just as Angelo ordered the death sentence for Claudio. Mariana pleads for her husband's life and begs Isabella to join her. Isabella kneels before the Duke and requests him to forgive Angelo. The Duke then orders the Provost to bring Claudio and Barnardine. Everybody is surprised and happy to see Claudio alive. The Duke then pardons Barnardine. He next turns to Angelo, forgives him, and commands him to be good to his wedded wife. He orders Lucio to marry the mother of his child, and he wants Claudio to make amends to Juliet. He finally turns towards his dear Isabella with a proposal of marriage.
This final, lengthy scene brings the theme of merciful justice to the forefront. Initially, the Duke indicates he will apply the law "measure for measure." Angelo is to die for his act of immorality, just as he sentenced Claudio, and Lucio will be whipped or hanged. Mariana comes forth and pleads with the Duke for mercy for Angelo, as is to be expected, since she loves him. Isabella also steps forward and pleads for his life, which is a true act of mercy; she still believes that her brother is dead, due to the lack of mercy in Angelo. Firmly grounded in Christian principles, Isabella understands and accepts the basic tenet of forgiveness; therefore, she can forgive even the man who is responsible for Claudio's death. The Duke also proves himself to be rational and merciful. He is capable of applying the law with mercy and in accordance with the crime. As a result, Angelo's sentence is reduced to marrying Mariana and being a good husband to her. Lucio must marry the girl he has gotten pregnant. He pardons Claudio and tells him to make amends to Juliet. The Duke has looked at the nature of the misdeeds, all crimes of passion, and has come up with suitable sentences, measure for measure. The only surprise is that Angelo is let off so easily, for he has committed many misdeeds. But Angelo has only repented his misdeeds, and the Duke can meet a measure of repentance with a measure of pardon.
In this final scene, it is important to note that the Duke, again in the guise of a friar, makes a slashing indictment of the vices prevalent in Vienna. Ironically, he is indicting himself. It is the Duke's inability to enforce the laws and to tackle the vices that has caused the deterioration in Vienna. In fact, he is prompted to take a leave of absence and appoint Angelo as his Deputy in order to see what can be done to straighten out the mess he has made. But as the Duke speaks, he brings irony and humor to the scene, for his speeches all have double meaning to the audience, who know of his disguise.
It is also important to note how the Duke has changed in this final scene; returning to Vienna in disguise and as an outsider, the Duke really sees the problems first-hand. What he encounters forces him to become a man of strength and action. After watching Angelo abuse his office as an administrator, the Duke is absolutely certain of his character and wishes to mete out a deserving punishment to him. Strict law, as based on the Old Testament, demands exact and severe justice, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and measure for measure. Angelo has interpreted the law strictly and foolishly. But strict law, tempered with mercy, must consider the New Testament teaching of "Judge not, that ye be not judged."