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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Isabella
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1079  Tuesday, 3 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Nov 1998 10:00:02 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Isabella and Sex

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 02 Nov 1998 16:08:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1076  Re: Isabella


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Nov 1998 10:00:02 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Isabella and Sex

I agree entirely with John Velz's most recent post on "cloistered
virtue" and *MM.* He astutely points out the walls and barriers that dot
the play and the ways in which the plot pushes characters out of
confined spaces.  Indeed, this play seems to me to say that cloistered
virtue is no virtue at all, and it is from that starting point that I
want to connect up the play's endorsement of the active life with its
view of sex. This is tricky business because in the final plays,
Shakespeare seems to insist on chastity over and over, but does he in
this play? In *MM,* isn't Isabella's chastity seen as life-denying?
(Literally, in the case of her brother: "More than our brother is our
chastity!") Isn't the preferred state in this play married love, which
if faithful, is a kind of chastity?  The reason has to do with Isabella,
I think. Her gifts are not well used in the cloister, but they will be
as helpmate to the Duke. I'm thinking in particular of her rhetorical
gifts, which, arguably, she possesses more of than any other character
in the play.

Rhetorically,
Ed Taft

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 02 Nov 1998 16:08:03 -0500
Subject: 9.1076  Re: Isabella
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1076  Re: Isabella

Every now and then one is forcibly reminded that it is probably a good
idea to let the post you have drafted at white heat at 4 o'clock on
Friday afternoon cool until Monday before offering it to your friends.
At any rate, having been rebuked by such a distinguished battery of
rebukers as Velz, Taft, and Godshalk (we have not heard much from
Godshalk lately, and I have been wondering what he is up to down there
in the bushes next to the sally-port), I have to concede that my attempt
to configure Shakespeare as a discreet partisan of some Catholic notion
of spiritually strenuous monastic withdrawal from the world won't really
wash.  But, as Tennyson somewhere says, we rise on the stepping stones
of our dead selves to higher things, and the wrong turning does open up
the matter of withdrawal and engagement in the works as a whole.

I mean, does Shakespeare provide us with any images at all of peaceful
retirement?  It may, of course, only be that "solitude" and "drama" are
mutually exclusive categories.  The people whom we see leaving the
hurly-burly of their own volition (within the duration of a play) are
mostly alienated loners - Jacques and Duke Frederick, Timon. But we have
to wonder whether they will succeed in finding the response they seek. I
certainly can't think of any corner of the Shakespearean universe that
seems secure from interruption except the tomb - from Emilia the mother
of the Antipholi in her abbey to Prospero on his desert island, people
who have found a moment's peace and quiet are invariably disturbed.  The
most striking instances, maybe, are those whose withdrawal was not
exactly intended - Richard II in his cell has finally found a moment in
which to meditate, and is just beginning to get a handle on things, when
in pops Sir Piers of Exton.  Ditto Clarence in the Tower.  Pastoral
forests and woods are no guarantee - there's Corin, minding his own
business as he minds his sheep, and next thing he knows he's got all
these city folks shooting the local deer, and chasing the local girls,
and carving their initials in all the trees - court could hardly have
been worse.  France and Berowne and the others are just getting comfy
when those dratted women wheel into the drive.  Belarius and the boys
think they understand their life, then Wham! - up strolls this very
disturbing androgyne, and before you can say "Hildegard of Bingen" they
are literally fighting for their lives.  Lady MacDuff and her kids have
been playing a nice quiet game of Snakes and Ladders before bedtime.
What are those hoofbeats in the courtyard?  Hiding out in the city is
just as impossible.  There are the Prince and Falstaff, just quietly
amusing themselves in the back room, and "Bang, bang," goes the door,
and within hours they are on the road to Shrewsbury. Shylock wants to
shut up his house's ears.  Masquers at the gate!  I guess in summary
it's not so much that the cloistered life is undesirable as that it
seems to be unattainable.

Otiosely,
Dave Evett
 

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