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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
RE: Sins in MM
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0245.  Thursday, 20  February 1997.

[1]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 08:51:15 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Sin in Measure for Measure

[2]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 13:40:39 GMT
        Subj:   RE: Sins in MM

[3]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 00:34:11 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Sin in MM

[4]     From:   Karen E. Bruhn <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 07:06:22 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Sin in MM


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 08:51:15 GMT
Subject:        Re: Sin in Measure for Measure

Isn't part of the point of this play that the execution for the sin of
fornication was never part of English legal practice?  The response of
Lucio: 'Let him marry her,' would most likely have been the verdict of
the ecclesiastical courts where such an offense would have been
presented.

In setting the play in an imaginary Vienna Shakespeare seems to be
presenting his audience with a society which embodies an extreme version
of a fundamentalist moral/legal code both to  ratchet up the stakes and,
perhaps, to offer an awful warning as to what can happen in such a
society.

I've argued recently (in The Shakespeare Yearbook, 7) that the play is
in important respects a reflection of current debates about the
boundaries between the ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions,
boundaries under threat from Puritan critics who wished to bring sexual
transgressions of fornication, adultery etc. within the purview of the
secular courts.  But at one level the simple recognition that this
Vienna would have seemed strange and extreme to the Jacobean audience
must be part of any debate about responses to the moral dilemmas it
incessantly poses.

David Lindley
University of Leeds

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 13:40:39 GMT
Subject:        RE: Sins in MM

Daniel Lowenstein defends the importance of the ethical concerns
surrounding Isabella's behaviour:

> 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?

When Angelo orders the execution of Claudio I feel that I've been
tricked into worrying about ethics which ultimately don't matter. This
trick might be an intended dramatic effect which we should consider.

Milton evokes my sympathy for the devil at the beginning of Paradise
Lost only to make me regret the investment later. Likewise the dramatic
shock administered by Angelo's order feels like it is directed towards
my intellectual investment in pondering the ethics of Isabella's
situation.

Gabriel Egan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 00:34:11 +0200 (IST)
Subject:        Sin in MM

On Monday, February 17, Dan Lowenstein wrote:

>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.)

Anyone who calls Angelo wicked or evil is surely mistaken unless he is
using wicked in the Middle English sense of "feeble" or evil in the
Hebrew sense of "foolish".

Angelo's character is established at the outset of the play by the Duke
who, portrayed as he is as omnipotent and all-wise, surely must know.
Angelo is not power hungry, he is humble in the face of the
responsibility forced on him, he is deferential to age and experience;
there is no hint of any tendency to supplant the Duke.  Mariana feels
that he is worthy of the enduring devotion.  When Isabella comes to
plead before him he doesn't try to extort money, suggesting to me that
his failure to honour his pledge to Mariana is  based on the loss of the
symbolic value of the dowry rather than on the monetary value.

Angelo, in fact has the character of an angel, a very small
constituency.  An angel has no human feelings and carries out his
mission without personal judgment.  A Commander Data, as it were, who
could understand what humour is but couldn't experience it. He's built
that way.  For a human to bear such a character is an affliction. When
Isabella comes before him to plead for her brother he is assaulted not
only by her beauty, but by her tears, her fervor, her saintliness and by
intangibles that can't be written into a script, such as a flood of
pheromones from without and hormones from within.  His angelic
personality crumbles and he is left in the grip of alien animal passions
that he has never learned to deal with because he has never experienced
them.  My own experience as a human being suggests to me that he is
probably suffering for most of the play the torments of Hell, that place
the road to which is paved with the best intentions. Indeed, presumably
because of his inherent worth, he is spared the fate of having his licit
decree fulfilled and his illicit lust satisfied as such.  The punishment
he incurs for his weaknesss is public revelation of his behaviour, a
kind of purgatory, but he is in the final analysis welcomed into
humanity with a worthy loving wife by his side, and the put upon
Isabella as advocate.  As far as we can see, he hasn't been repudiated
by the Duke as a friend, and in being told to forgive the provost, he
seems not to have been removed from office .

In reading this play I felt echoes of the Biblical Book of Job, with
Angelo as Job.  The frame of that book had Satan wandering among the
people and God extolling his perfect follower.  Here the Duke takes both
of these roles, albeit in reverse order.  In the end, after enduring
intense suffering Job is vindicated; God heals him and replaces all that
was lost at the outset.

My convoluted cortex revolves the axes of the play's space, and what
comes out is a story of how some years before the play begins a
shipwreck has led to the separation of Angelo and Mariana, and how the
omniscient Duke, seeing what his good friend is missing in life, as well
as the plight of the good woman, contrives to reunite the two making use
of what he knows of the nature of his friends, his citizens and a
judicious emotional tempest. In the process the various characters
utilized go through various trials and most of them compromise their
principles to some extent.  Angelo, the central character in this
reading, has been manipulated for his own good.

The defense rests.
Syd Kasten

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen E. Bruhn <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 07:06:22 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Sin in MM

I have been spending a great deal of time with the anti-Catholic
polemics that were being written 1590-1610 (approx).  These works
frequently targeted the Roman Catholic notion-as constructed in these
polemics, anyway-that human action could eradicate sin.  Might Jacobean
audiences have seen Isabella's predicament as a satire on Catholic ideas
about sin and soteriology?  I welcome comments and criticisms on this;
I'm thinking of including a chapter on MfM in my dissertation...

Best,
Karen Bruhn
UNC Chapel Hill
 

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