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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Isabella and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1037  Saturday, 24 October 1998.

[1]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 16:22:39 SAS
        Subj:   Isabella and Sex

[2]     From:   Jason N. Mical <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 10:50:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1025  Re: Isabella

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 09:48:29 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Isabella and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 16:22:39 SAST-2
Subject:        Isabella and Sex

I'm surprised that the debate about Isabella is about whether she fears
sex.  As David Evett's post shows, and we all know anyway, sex comes
always as a part of a larger social picture.  So, surely, it can't be
sex as such that makes Isabella nervous.....

David Schalkwyk

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jason N. Mical <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 10:50:41 -0500
Subject: 9.1025  Re: Isabella
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1025  Re: Isabella

>Sorry Jason, I just can't buy that the lines you quote have anything to
>do with Isa's sex life.  At the bare minimum, I know I didn't play it
>that way.

Granted, the quote as a whole points toward your interpretation, but the
lines I pulled out could (note - *could*) be used to support the
"bigger"
message of the play.  The play is about finding the "middle path," the
virtue between the excess and the deficit.  In those lines, the Duke is
most
certainly comforting Isabella and trying to get her to accept her
brother's
death, but at the same time those lines are the lesson that the Duke
wants
Isabella to learn.  By ignoring a vital part of herself (her desire to
have
sex), Isabella is robbing herself of her "full human potential."  The
play
presents two sides to sex-Isabella's total denial of it, and Mistress
Overdone and Lucio's total disregard for discretion involving sex.  The
lesson here is that a mean is necessary to "be all a person can be."

The fact that Isabella is afraid of sex is, of course, merely one
interpretation of the text.  If there WERE just one, we would not be on
this mailing list, I think.  It CAN be read that way, it doesn't have to
be.  The fear of sex is most certainly not Isabella's main driving
character trait, but it is one that is not to be ignored if a person is
reading the play as an ethical model (which I was at the time I read it,
by the way).  I think that I presented some good points supporting my
position, if there is textual support that Isabella is not afraid of
sex, I would love to hear it (and I am sure that there is!)

[Shifting gears]
>Any sensible person is afraid of sex.

Very true, but again, I think that there is a difference in being choosy
about sexual partners (hopefully choosing people you love, care for, and
want to share that part of your life/soul with) and locking yourself in
a nunnery so that you never look on a man.  Denying oneself something by
not looking at it is acceptable, I suppose, but living morally involves
walking amongst temptation and refusing to take part in it.

Enjoying the discussion immensely,
Jason Mical
Drury College

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 09:48:29 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Isabella and Sex

Is prostate trouble caused by sex? Wow, too late for all of us deep into
middle age, I guess! Dave Evett is half right, I think. Of course sex is
a problem; it's so powerful that it threatens to take over our
personality and does so regularly at climax. It also can seem to make us
into animals who have lost our higher faculties. But the real question
is, if Isabella is afraid of sex (much virtue in 'if'!), is her fear
reasonable or un-reasonable? I'd say it is part of an urge to avoid the
"active life" that was much praised during the Renaissance. One
inference we could make is that she denies her own sexuality (her
attractiveness to men) as a way of avoiding the sexuality and passion
that clearly animate her being elsewhere in the play (especially in her
interviews with Angelo). Now, don't get me wrong: I'm *not* saying that
Isabella is responsible for Angelo's fall.  As Angelo himself points
out, he is responsible for his own reactions, not Isabella. But leading
Isabella to an awareness of her own passionate nature is part of what
the Duke does in the play. Ironically, he also comes to see (apparently)
that he himself does not possess "a complete bosom," as he once thought.
From this point of view, both Vincentio and Isabella may be well matched
at the end of the play.

At least, that's one way to look at what happens in *MM* between these
two characters. I never said or implied that it is the only way. But it
makes sense to me.

For the Active Life, I remain, as always,

--Ed Taft
 

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