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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Sins in MM
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0234. Tuesday, 18 February 1997.

[1]     From:   Dan Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Monday, February 17, 1997
        Subj:   Re: Sins in MM

[2]     From:   Fred Wharton <
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        Date:   Monday, February 17, 1997
        Subj:   Re: Sins in MM


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Lowenstein <
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Date:           Monday, February 17, 1997
Subject:        Re: Sins in MM

Surajit Bose quotes from my posting, and goes on:

> >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.
>
> Yes and no. No-one (not even "the fornicatress" Juliet) "argues that
> Claudio's behavior is not within the capital offense." Except for Claudio
> himself, who points out that he and Juliet have secretly entered into a
> mutually binding nuptial contract. The existence of this contract is surely
> meant to complicate the nature of Claudio's offense. Is he in fact legally
> guilty or isn't he?  It's odd that Claudio is the only one to mention this
> contract, and no-one produces it as evidence in his favor: is he just lying
> to save his skin?

I see nothing in M4M that casts doubt on the truthfulness of Claudio's
assertion, but neither do I see anything suggesting that the existence
of the nuptial contract removes Claudio's conduct from the fornication
offense.  However, and more importantly, I agree with Bose that the fact
that Claudio's offense is surrounded by the most extenuating
circumstances imaginable is very much a part of the ethical and
political puzzles that this play poses.  I also agree precisely with
Bose that the case of Claudio and Juliet is contrasted in the play with
the case of Angelo and Mariana.  As Bose says, Claudio but not Angelo
appears to have acted unlawfully, but Angelo's conduct has been at least
as questionable on ethical grounds.

Gabriel Egan writes:

> Alternatively, the fact that Angelo orders Claudio's execution after and
> despite enjoying Isabella (or so he thinks) shows that the ethical
> questions are, finally, irrelevant. It doesn't matter what Isabella
> believes or does, Claudio's going to get it anyway. Only trickery
> (Ragusine's head for Claudio's) is going to save the day.

When Egan says that the ethical questions are "irrelevant," the question
becomes, irrelevant to what?  Probably the only UNAMBIGUOUS feature of
M4M is the wickedness of Angelo's conduct.  I don't know of anyone who
has come to Angelo's defense.  (It's too bad Angelo isn't Jewish, or
Moorish, or illegitimate.  Then he'd have plenty of defenders.)

But if no one has questioned Angelo's wickedness, I believe most people
who see or read M4M are fascinated by Isabella's ethical dilemma.  If
read in that context, Egan's statement "that the ethical questions
[surrounding Isabella's dilemma] are, finally, irrelevant," would be
silly.  I am not suggesting that Egan's statement IS silly.  Rather, it
is an attempt to change the context.  But why should those of us who
find Isabella's dilemma a question of absorbing interest be bullied into
giving it up, simply because, as Egan points out, Angelo turns out to be
a greater scoundrel than she realized at the time?

Best,
Dan Lowenstein

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fred Wharton <
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Date:           Monday, February 17, 1997
Subject:        Re: Sins in MM

Paul Nelsen argues that for Isabella to "submit" as she is urged to do
would entail the damnation of her soul. However, in Whetstone's
*Cassandra,* the immediate source figure for Isabella does submit and is
praised as a "chaste lady" and as "virtuous." The praise is on the face
of it puzzling, but J. Rosenheim, a decade or more ago drew attention to
St. Augustine's doctrine (*Homily on the Lord's Sermon on the
Mount*?)that a chaste mind can remain intact though the body is
violated. Lisa Jardine (*Still Harping on Daughters*)has convincingly
shown how Elizabethan popular literature for women (Painter, et al.)
promulgated the ideal of the submissive woman, delivering her body in
the service of her family, and how strikingly Isabella "fails" to live
up to such standards.

Fred Wharton
Augusta State University
 

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