Angelo’s reasoning about the carrying out of the death penalty in this case has to do with scarecrows. “We must not make a scarecrow of the law,/ setting it up to fear the birds of prey,/ and let it keep one shape, till custom make it / their perch and not their terror.” Angelo is convinced that the law must not become a mere scarecrow which tries to frighten people by appearing stong but never actually moving. If that became the case – if the law did not have consequences for Claudio – that other law breakers would realize that the scarecrow (the law) was lifeless…..
Look again at the AD 30 incident in bold above. Jesus is saying “Yes, you can carry out the law but only those who have not sinned may execute it.”
Interestingly, Shakespeare requires Angelo to face this issue as well. He does this through an elder statesman named Escalus. He gently asks Angelo, “whether you had not sometime in your life erred in this point which now you censure him, and pulled the law upon you.”
What would I reply to that? We all know our guilty deeds.
Angelo’s response is quite clear. “It’s one thing to be tempted, Escalus, another thing to fall…. You may not so eliminate his offence because I have had such faults. Instead, tell me that, when I, that censure him, do so offend, let mine own judgment pattern out my death, and everything be impartial. Sir, he must die.” Angelo wants the law to apply to him – no discrimination.
Angelo is determined to do justice – to execute the offender, Claudio. In doing that he agrees that all his offences must also be punished – without mercy. Not for nothing did Shakespeare give this play its title: Measure for Measure….
But the play, like life itself, reveals the truth that we all try to hide. Claudio has a sister – a young, attractive trainee nun named Isabella. She pleads with Angelo for her brother’s life. Angelo agrees to spare Claudio’s life – but only if she, Isabella, will sleep with him…….
Angelo has made it clear (to Escalus) that he is prepared to suffer the death penalty (prescribed by the law of Vienna) if he (like Claudio) does such a thing. Not only is he arranging to do that very thing but he is also involving young Isabella in the deed……