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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
RE: Sins in MM
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0252.  Friday, 21 February 1997.

[1]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 16:52:17 +0200
        Subj:   Isabella and Virtue =


[2]     From:   Daniel Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 10:13     :18 =

        Subj:   Sin in M4M =


[3]     From:   Charles Ross <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 15:39:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0245 RE: Sins in MM =



[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 16:52:17 +0200
Subject:        Isabella and Virtue

Ann Marie Olson is provocative on Isabella=92s moral situation.  If I am
correct, no one has yet pointed out how much Isabella has in common with
Angelo.  They appear to each other to be dead-on opposites, even
enemies, but under the surface they have more in common than either
would be willing to admit.  Both are keen on chastity to the point of
being puritanical about it.  Both think that "the rules" are not tough
enough:  Isabella says this about the conventual regula of the votarists
of St. Clare (1.4.1-5) and Angelo wants a fiercer prosecution of
offenders under "the rules" against fornication than the Duke has been
ready to settle for.  Maybe most important of all both need to learn
that mercy is a necessary element in human relationships, as no one is
exempt from sin ("Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.") =

Isabella would be angry if she heard me say she does not understand
mercy, since she pleads mightily for mercy for her brother in 2.2.  But
when she thinks herself double-crossed and deeply wronged by Angelo she
makes her appeal to the Duke in Act V in a speech that begins with the
word Justice and ends with a line  in which the key word is stated again
and again and again and again: ". . .  justice, justice, justice,
justice!"  (cf. Lear=92s "never never never never never" and Macbeth=92s
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow").  The hardest thing she has to
undergo in the fifth act is the moral choice she makes when she sets
aside justice and kneels to plead for her enemy=92s life.  In short,
Isabella and Angelo both need to learn more than either thinks needs to
be learned.  Are they not metaphors for us all?  Perhaps so, if we read
the play as a parable=97as the source of the title in The Sermon on the
Mount in Mark IV, Luke VI and Matthew VII might urge us to do.

John V.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Lowenstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 10:13:18 PST
Subject:        Sin in M4M

Gabriel Egan writes, "When Angelo orders the execution of Claudio I feel
that I=92ve been tricked into worrying about ethics which ultimately don=92=
t
matter.  This trick might be an intended dramatic effect which we should
consider."

I do not share his view that the ethics ultimately don=92t matter, but I
agree there are "tricks" in Measure for Measure, and he is quite right
that Angelo=92s subsequent actions can and should color our assessment of=

what happens earlier.  (Digression:  When Gabriel Egan stops theorizing
and starts engaging in what old-fashioned people like myself regard as
literary criticism, his comments on this listserver are almost
invariably insightful.)

My own sense of the place in which we get "tricked" in Measure for
Measure is when the Duke interrupts the dialogue between Isabella and
Claudio, and lets Isabella know that he is going to provide an easy way
out.  When I read the play, it seems as if at that moment, one
scriptwriter was fired and a new one was brought in, with a completely
different conception of what kind of play this was supposed to be.  What
previously looked like a tragedy or, at least, a serious and absorbing
drama, now becomes a comedy.  When we regard the play as a whole, Egan
is right that our consideration of Isabella=92s dilemma is colored by wha=
t
Angelo does later.  But our sense of what Angelo does later and the way
in which that affects our judgment of Isabella=92s earlier actions is
itself colored by the fact that Angelo=92s later betrayal occurs in the
context of what is now a comedy in which a happy ending is seemingly
assured.

One way to resolve all of this would be to say that the play is simply
defective, with a first half and a second half that cannot be
successfully joined.  The trouble is, that when the play is produced
well on the stage, there is no particular sense of disunity.  So, rather
than conclude that the play is defective, I come back to the view I have
expressed in previous postings, that the play is almost infinitely
complex.

Syd Kasten makes some excellent comments on Angelo.  My only real
disagreement with him is that I do not believe his comments add up to a
defense of Angelo.  (Also, his argument depends in part on a conception
of the Duke as a more or less omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent
overseer of the action, a view that I think is consistent with some
aspects of the play but in considerable tension with others.)  I agree
that Angelo=92s protestations at the beginning that he lacks sufficient
experience=97if these comments are taken as sincere rather than
ceremonial, which I believe is plausible though not necessary=97mitigate
his wickedness.  But to allow for mitigation is not to condone.  The
rest of Kasten=92s comments seem to me to amount to interesting
EXPLANATIONS of why Angelo=92s particular character causes him to commit
the particular offenses that he commits.  But to explain is neither to
mitigate or to condone.

                                Best,
                                Dan Lowenstein

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Ross <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Feb 1997 15:39:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0245 RE: Sins in MM
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0245 RE: Sins in MM

I=92d be curious to know precisely at what point Gabriel Egan feels sorry=

for Satan in Paradise Lost. I thought we were past that.

Charles Ross
 

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