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This is a scene of complex moral dilemma for Claudio and Isabella, characters from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Claudio has been sentenced to death by Angelo, deputy to the duke of Vienna. He can only be saved if his sister, Isabella, sacrifices her virginity to Angelo.Claudio’s awkward pose draws attention to his prison shackles. The apple blossom blown by the wind at his feet symbolises his readiness to buy his own reprieve with Isabella’s chastity. Her white habit emphasises her purity. Holman Hunt summarised the moral of his picture as: ‘Thou shall not do evil that good may come.’

July 2007