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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Isabella
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1096  Friday, 6 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 09:06:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Isabella and Chastity

[2]     From:   J. K. Leonard <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 10:15:52 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Isabella, Augustine, and Rape

[3]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 13:58:33 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1089 Re: Isabella and Marriages

[4]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 16:34:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1089  Re: Isabella and Marriages


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 09:06:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Isabella and Chastity

Barbara Hume is certainly right to point out that Isabella is put in a
terrible situation by Angelo's demands and Claudio's wish to live. She
may well think, as Barbara argues, that her choice is between Claudio's
life and her own soul. That's why we never lose sympathy with her. But
doesn't the play itself expose the danger of such rigid, absolutist
thinking? (Consider Angelo, for example, and his attempt to "enforce"
the law.) And doesn't Isabella move away from this absolutist view at
the end of the play when she kneels (FLEXIBILITY!) and pleads for
Angelo, the last person whom she would have pleaded for earlier in the
play. Augustinian thinking is what the play argues *AGAINST,* don't you
think, Barbara? Judge not, lest ye be judged. The sex business in Vienna
goes merrily along and seems like it will outlast any efforts by the
Duke to change it. Brothels are not to be admired, but what can you do
about them? Premarital sex is not good (usually), but what can we do
about it? Not much, the play seems to say. Or so I think.

Resignedly,
Ed Taft

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           J. K. Leonard <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 10:15:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Isabella, Augustine, and Rape

Barbara Hume raises the interesting possibility that coerced sex with
Angelo would still count as fornication and so would imperil Isabella's
soul.  Professor Hume attributes to St. Augustine the idea that victims
of rape are guilty of fornication.  It has been a while since I read the
*City of God*, but I do think this is a misrepresentation.  Augustine's
whole case is that rape does *nott* defile the innocent party.
Chastity, for Augustine, is a quality of the mind, not the body.  He is
defending the chastity of Christian martyrs, some of whom had been raped
before they were killed.  The notion that rape is fornication for both
parties is not "an Augustinian idea".

That said, Augustine does say some things about rape that sound churlish
today.  He does so while arguing that Lucretia's suicide was a sin and
not (as the pagans believed) a virtue.  His argument goes like this.
Since rape victims are *not* guilty of fornication, they have nothing to
feel guilty about.  Lucretia did feel guilty.  Algal she must have
enjoyed the experience and so secretly consented to it.  Churlish? Yes.
But Augustine is not making a general point about rape, he is making a
specific point about one famous suicide. His point is to expose Lucretia
as a false martyr and suicide as a sin. He is not churlish for the
reason Professor Hume gives.

Perhaps some other source might lend support to Professor Hume's belief
that coerced sex would imperil Isabella's soul, but Augustine is not
it.  It is of course another question whether Augustine (or Shakespeare
for that matter) would view Angelo's sordid bargain as a rape.  Were
Isabella to agree to it, she would, in some sense, be consenting, even
though she doesn't want to have sex with Angelo and is being pressured
into giving consent.  We might call this a 'rape'.  (Most critics do,
and I have just done so in a lecture.)  But would Shakespeare?

Thanks to Professor Hume for making us think about this awkward topic.

John Leonard

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Nov 1998 13:58:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.1089 Re: Isabella and Marriages
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1089 Re: Isabella and Marriages

Last semester, while my class was grappling with Isabella's decision to
sacrifice her brother to her chastity, one of my students asked how many
people would have (unprotected) sex with an AIDS carrier to save a
sibling's life. The uncomfortable pause helped to make the problem
Isabella faced much clearer to our secular world, and made many of my
students (even those who still disagreed with her) more sympathetic to
her struggle.

Annalisa Castaldo
Temple University

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 05 Nov 1998 16:34:52 -0500
Subject: 9.1089  Re: Isabella and Marriages
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1089  Re: Isabella and Marriages

Barbara Hume writes:

>Rather than being afraid of sex per se, perhaps Isabella was afraid of
>endangering her soul if she engaged in unmarried sex, even if it were
>forced upon her. (It has historically been the opinion of men that if a
>woman is raped or engages in unlawful sex, it must be her fault because
>women are evil temptresses.  Such Augustinian thinking most likely
>prevailed at this time.)

>Isabella must choose between her immortal soul and her brother's life,
>not just between one act of sex and her brother's life. Surely this is
>enough to give one pause! Perhaps she reasons that her brother would
>willingly risk his life in defense of her honor, so it's really the same
>thing.

R. W. Chambers in his influential essay on <italic>Measure for
Measure</italic> in <italic>Man's Unconquerable Mind</italic> (London:
Cape, 1939) 277-310, argues strongly for this reading. Because Claudio
fears death, he's obviously villain, etc. And Isabella's harsh rebuke of
her brother is righteous indignation which he richly deserves. When I
was younger I bought this argument totally.

But as I grew inevitably older, I began to sympathize more completely
with Claudio's fears of death, and I found them more compelling than
Isabella's high regard for her virginity. Isabella lacks charity when
she berates her brother.

"Such Augustinian thinking most likely prevailed at this time." I find
"at this time" rather vague. The time of composition (circa 1600)?  Or
the historical period implied in the play? I'm always willing to
consider the implied historical culture of a play, but I like to see the
specific, concrete evidence that such an inference is based on.

With regard to the male villainization of women, my own experience
teaches me that women are equally quick to villainize men!  Isabella's
reaction to Claudio's fears is a fictional example.

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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