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Claudio is portrayed as a good man who is the unfortunate victim of Angelo and his severe interpretation of the laws. Angelo is not immoral or sexually loose like Lucio and most of Vienna. It is obvious that he and Juliet truly love one another, which should be taken into consideration in judging Claudio. But Angelo chooses to ignore this fact and decides to make an example of the young man. As a result, Claudio finds himself arrested and awaiting execution.
Claudio accepts his fate with dignity. When the Duke, disguised as a friar, goes to meet Claudio to prepare him for death, Claudio shows his courage when he says, "I've hoped to live, and am prepared to die." But Claudio is not a martyr. He wants to live, for he loves life and Juliet. As a result, he pleads with Isabella to save his life, encouraging her to accept Angelo's proposition. His sister refuses to sell her soul for his sake, for she is a devout Christian. The merciful Duke spares Claudio's life, however. At the end of the play, he is ordered to marry Juliet and make her a good husband.
Escalus is the Duke's old and trusted Lord. He has no substantial role in the action of the play. He supports the Duke when he deputizes Angelo, judging the young man to be trustworthy and capable to run Vienna in the Duke's absence. Escalus is wise enough to soon see through Angelo. If Angelo stands for relentless and heartless justice, Escalus stands for justice tempered with mercy. Escalus shows patience in his nature while Angelo is impatient and quick to judge. When Angelo is unmasked, Escalus does not revel in his discomfiture. He is only disillusioned. He, therefore, comes across as a person holding aloft a torch of goodness amidst a plethora of vices, passions, and prejudices.
The Provost is the officer-in-charge at the prison. Unlike general officers who are hardened by their jobs, the Provost is amiable, good natured, and consistently human in his approach to the prisoners. He is sympathetic to both Claudio and Juliet, who he believes were more sinned against than sinners. The Provost even prays for the success of Isabella's mission. The Duke is also pleased with his goodness. When the Duke asks him to execute Barnardine instead of Claudio, he refuses, saying, "Pardon me, good father, it is against my oath." Thus, the provost is a contrast to most of the lower class characters in the play; in a city where most traditional values have been ignored, the Provost is still genuine, honest, and sympathetic.
Pompey is mistress Overdone's pimp, who is later arrested by Elbow. Pompey exchanges his profession to become an executioner so that he can avoid a jail term. He is quite a clown in the play, with not much importance given to his clowning.
Mistress Overdone is the keeper of a whorehouse. It is through her that Lucio first comes to hear of Claudio's predicament. With Angelo's strengthening of morals in the city, she loses her means of livelihood and is also temporarily arrested. She, like Lucio and Pompey, give comic relief to the play.
Mariana is a pathetic character in the play. Betrothed to Angelo, she finds herself jilted because her dowry is lost in a shipwreck. Although mentioned early in the play, Mariana does not appear on stage until most of the action in the play is over. Only when the Duke presents his plan of the bed-trick does she come into the picture. She willingly agrees to the plan. Though jilted by Angelo and made aware of his low morals, she still loves him and voices no complaints against him. The Duke' s plan of switching partners seems revolting and a blatant sacrilege to her dignity, but she seems willing to do anything to improve her chances with Angelo. She is able to justify her behavior by saying she was already betrothed to Angelo; thus, the bed-trick is not considered a mortal sin to her.