Despite Escalus, who makes a point of the unreasonableness of applying the law to the letter, especially when that law is so harsh and exacting that the people condemning the fault would have just as likely committed the fault themselves, Angelo justifies his condemnation of Claudio, arguing that if he himself were to commit the same offense that he would expect the law to be no less rigorously applied to him. Escalus concedes to Angelo, though not without misgivings, when they are joined by Elbow, a constable, who has in custody Froth, who is in turn accompanied by Pompey, his advocate. Apparently, Froth has unlawfully solicited Escalus’ wife which solicitation was wholly approved and endorsed by Mistress Oversdone, at her new establishment. Pompey defends Froth (and Mistress Overdone), however, and with words so tangential and circumlocutory that Angelo, tiring of the dispute, departs, urging Escalus to punish the offenders for they are guilty as far as he’s concerned. However, upon listening anew to the charge and the plea, Escalus concludes that Elbow’s charge is unsubstantiated. Ergo the suspect is released but not before he and his advocate are advised to amend their ways: Froth to avoid frequenting houses of questionable repute where he will surely be made broke and Pompey to take heed of the city’s harsh laws which are now in effect. The affair settled, Escalus goes home to have dinner.
When the Provost, who has been commissioned to carry out Claudio’s death, begs Angelo to reconsider, that executing a man for a vice that multitudes have committed might be taking things too far, Angelo tells the Provost to resign his post if he can’t bring himself to carry out a simple order. The Provost agrees to carry out his duty and asks Angelo what should be done about Juliet who is near the delivery stage of her pregnancy. Angelo orders her to be removed to an appropriate place where she’ll be attended to without unnecessary luxuries. They are thus engaged when Isabel, attended by Lucio, arrives to plead on Claudio’s behalf. Explaining how what she is asking Angelo to pardon is something she would usually condemn herself, she asks her brother to be spared and the crime that her brother has committed to be condemned. When Angelo rejects the plea, Isabel is content to leave it at that only to be rebuked by Lucio for hardly even trying. She is prompted to give it another go. And thus, with Lucio at her side urging her on, Isabel repeatedly plies Angelo who, despite his firm resolve to deny Isabel’s suit, feels himself unable to resist Isabel’s charms. She is told to return tomorrow, suggesting that Claudio’s death sentence may yet be commuted. She thanks Angelo and leaves. Alone, Angelo entertains doubts with respect to his resolve to execute Claudio. What he doesn’t doubt though is the fact that Isabel has thoroughly captivated him.
Vincentio, disguised as Friar Lodowick, addresses the Provost, requesting that he be granted access to the prisoners for whom he is there to provide what solace he can. The Provost gladly obliges, pointing out to him Juliet who is with child and whose husband-to-be is scheduled for execution tomorrow. Friar Lodowick speaks to her, offering her what counsel he can and assures her that he will directly go to speak with Claudio.
Angelo is lamenting the fact that his desire is getting the better of his virtues when Isabel’s presence is announced. He orders her to be brought before him and prepares himself to make a concession to his feelings which he knows he cannot resist. Presently, Isabel appears. She is told in no uncertain terms that her brother’s death sentence will not be commuted. It will go as planned unless…unless a sin were to be committed. When Isabel tells Angelo that she would wholeheartedly endorse the sin if it were to lead to her brother’s salvation, Angelo clarifies what he means: Claudio’s life will only be spared if and only if Isabel agrees to sleep with Angelo. Indignant, Isabel makes it clear that she would rather die than subject herself to such shame and dishonor, which prompts Angelo to wonder which is the more cruel now: the law that would condemn her brother or Isabel’s scruples that would condemn her brother? Isabel is unwavering, however. Indeed, she threatens Angelo that unless he signs a document, guaranteeing her brother’s release, that she will go public with what Angelo had proposed. Angelo argues, however, that it would be her word against his, and when taking into account his position and sterling reputation that her words would smack more of slander and libel than the truth. He tells her to think about it, his proposal which will stand until tomorrow, and leaves.
As much as she hates to admit it, Isabel knows that Angelo is right. Nothing will come of her making a public outcry of Angelo’s despicable proposal. She decides to reject the proposal, and though this means that her brother dies, she is sure that he would stand by her 100 percent and that Angelo’s perfidy itself will give her brother strength to endure his fate.