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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Sins in MM
Shakespeare Electronic Conference: SHK 8.0216.  Saturday, 15 February 1997.

(1)     From:   Jameela Ann Lares <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 1997 11:48:50 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0209  Re: Sin

(2)     From:   Edward T. Bonahue <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 1997 11:19:34 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0203  Qs: Sin

(3)     From:   Sean K. Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 1997 12:28:14 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0209  Re: Sin

(4)     From:   Daniel Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Feb 1997 17:10:54 PST
        Subj:   Sin in M4M


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jameela Ann Lares <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 1997 11:48:50 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 8.0209  Re: Sin
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0209  Re: Sin

I've read with interest the answers to John Cox's queries regarding sin in MM.
I don't myself know any clearer answers, but I would like to point out that
English Protestant casuistry was starting at this point--Perkins's massive work
may have been out; sorry the notes are at home, if I find the reference I'll
send it off-line.  A debate between Catholic and Protestant casuistry may be
part of the context here.

Jameela Lares
University of So. Miss.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward T. Bonahue <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 1997 11:19:34 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0203  Qs: Sin
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0203  Qs: Sin

To James Saeger:

> Is there, in fact, any firm
> theological grounding for (or a clear theological argument against) such a
> position?  Might there be a difference between Catholic and Protestant
> theology on this one?

You might check Darryl Gless's _MEASURE FOR MEASURE, the Convent, and the Law_.
 I believe it looks into many such questions of theology, from both Catholic
(the play's) and Protestant (Shakespeare's) perspectives.

Ed Bonahue
University of Florida

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean K. Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 1997 12:28:14 -0800
Subject: 8.0209  Re: Sin
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0209  Re: Sin

>So the bottom line is that if a woman is raped (Isabella?!) she is not guilty
>of the sin of intercourse because there is no intentionality-- but if she
>WILLINGY submits then it is a sin.  The key to Measure for Measure is that both
>Angelo and Claudio want Isabel to SUBMIT and that indeed WOULD be a mortal sin
>that would damn her forever-- not to mention her greatest fear that her child
>would be born out of wedlock "I had rather my brother die by the law than my
>son should be unlawfully born" (3.1.185)

Actually, I think your quotations point elsewhere, that is no definite "bottom
line" which can be followed under all circumstances.  Hence the fact of there
being debates at all on whether the Christian virgins jumping from bridges have
damned themselves, or the need for the complex dialectics of scholasticism.  If
there were a universally applicable "bottom line", the entire science of
casuistry would have no purpose. Neither, for that matter, would ethics, or
theology.  Most Christian denominations still allow for a large number of
ethical qualms, dilemmas, and infinitely variable circumstances.

Personally, I would start by looking up "sin", "casuistry" and "grace" in the
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, as well as the Catholic
Encyclopaedia.  The original poster should also take a look at the
all-too-neglected source, the Elizabethan homilies, particularly those on sin
and grace (the early ones, which are actually Edwardian).

Cheers,
Sean.

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Lowenstein <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Feb 1997 17:10:54 PST
Subject:        Sin in M4M

Some of the recent postings suggest that the question whether Isabella would
act sinfully (or unethically) if she acceded to Angelo's corrupt demand is
essentially a question of whether a good end can justify wicked means.  Thus,
one posting says that it is the intent and not the act that makes the sin.
Another analogizes to lying to the Nazis about the presence of concealed Jews.

But the issue posed by Isabella's dilemma is more complex.  To say that the
sinfulness of an action depends on the intent may be true, but to say so in
this context is to imply that Isabella's intention would have been plainly
virtuous if she had slept with Angelo.  On any view other than the most rigid
positivism, to protect Jews against unjust arrest by the Nazis would be to act
with a plainly virtuous intent.

But would Isabella's intention be virtuous if she slept with Angelo to induce
him to spare Claudio?  It is clearly within Angelo's legitimate discretion to
spare Claudio, so Isabella's pleading and arguing for mercy are perfectly
virtuous actions.  But to accede to extortion to induce a favorable exercise of
discretion could not be regarded as acting with a virtuous intent (setting
aside whether the virtuous intent could justify the means) unless beheading
Claudio can be said to be a plainly arbitrary and unjust act.

Although many characters in the play try to dissuade Angelo from executing
Claudio, no one argues that Claudio's behavior is not within the capital
offense.  This cannot be decisive, from an ethical point of view.  The Nazi
officers may be authorized by German law to arrest the Jews.  But that is the
exceptional case.  The presumption is that one has an obligation to obey the
law, and even more so that one has an obligation not to use dishonest or
corrupt means to avoid compliance with the law.  Isabella's intent to rescue
her brother could not be regarded as a virtuous intent justifying use of
corrupt methods unless the execution of Claudio would be an extremely unjust or
arbitrary action.  In other words, the question of Isabella's ethical dilemma
folds back, in part, into the problem that the play opens but does not resolve
of the justice of Angelo's sentence of death for Claudio.

There is another consideration, however.  In the above paragraph I refer to use
of dishonest or corrupt means to prevent enforcement of the law.  But this
creates a general category of actions, whose ethical characters may differ.  In
particular, there is an intuitive difference between a citizen initiating a
bribe and succumbing to extortion.  (Legally, by the way, it appears that there
was no such distinction, historically, in the English common law.  The question
continues to arise, and as recently as 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a
case in which the citizen initiates the corrupt transaction comes within a
federal law prohibiting "extortion.")  At one end of the spectrum, if Isabella
had originated the idea of sleeping with Angelo in exchange for a favorable
exercise of discretion, most of us would agree that her conduct is
sinful/unethical except in an extreme case such as the Nazis and the Jews.  The
case in her favor would be the strongest if Angelo had told her that his best
judgment was that Claudio should be spared, but that he would order the
execution unless she agreed to sleep with him.  In that case, by succumbing,
Isabella would be bringing about the result that the law would have reached, if
the law had been properly carried out.

The dilemma posed in Measure for Measure is in between.  Angelo initiates the
proposal, so the case is one of "extortion," not "bribery" (in the popular
sense).  But the play makes it clear, and Isabella knows, that Angelo's
uncorrupted judgment is that Claudio should die.

The above barely scratches the surface.  But it is sufficient, I believe, to
show that Isabella's ethical dilemma, like almost everything else in Measure
for Measure, is far too complex to be reduced to a neat ethical formula.  The
context is simply too rich and paradoxical.

                                Best,
                                Dan Lowenstein
 

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