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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Isabella and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1047  Wednesday, 28 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Alexandra Gerull <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Oct 1998 00:39:05 +0000
        Subj:   Re: Isabella and Sex

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 26 Oct 1998 14:13:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1037 Re: Isabella and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alexandra Gerull <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Oct 1998 00:39:05 +0000
Subject:        Re: Isabella and Sex

I haven't followed discussion on the list closely for the last month or
so, so in case I say something that has been said before I'm sorry for
the repetition.

Couldn't Isabella's renouncement of sex be seen as part of a much more
general disgust with what the society she lives in has developed into?
The wish to enter the cloister certainly points into the direction of an
escape from her social reality, which does entail women's fate to be
married off not always to the men of their choice.  The cloister, at
least to me, seems to be a rather desperate attempt to choose her own
way of life which in the end isn't granted.

In renouncing sexuality she renounces one of the essential qualities of
her womanhood ascribed by society. Angelo tells her to behave according
to her nature as woman in II, iv and accept his deal and thus explicitly
calls attention to the image of woman as sexual 'animal'. The Duke all
through the play treats her like an object to be used for the
fulfillment of his plans, without paying much attention to her
individuality. Thus, her ferocious attempts to preserve her chastity to
me seem like attempts to protect her personality.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 26 Oct 1998 14:13:19 -0500
Subject: 9.1037 Re: Isabella and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1037 Re: Isabella and Sex

The second part of my posting on Fear of Sex is, of course, that any
sensible person is also afraid of fire and water and heights, which does
not prevent us from having gas stoves and fireplaces, swimming in pools
or at the beach, climbing mountains for fun or living and working in
high rise buildings: we decide the advantages are worth the risk, as on
the evidence of my three children I seem to have decided myself in favor
of the risks of sex.

I want to go further by observing that in some sense all these decisions
favor the active over the contemplative.  And I want to quibble with Ed
Taft's application of that topos to Isabella.  She expresses her
religious vocation in very active terms.  In her first two speeches she
wants "a more strict restraint"-something to struggle against, or to aid
her in controlling her rebellious parts?  Yielding to the easy appeal of
sex would be-is-too easy: mere nature, no real choice.  She tells Angelo
that to save her brother she will put on the marks of the lash like
jewels, and "strip [her]self to death as to a bed" (the implicit
sexuality of this language has often been noted); to deliver Claudio she
would "throw . . . down" her life like a pin.  Her behavior, too is
active; although she could presumably at any point where the enterprise
overburdens her retreat to the calm security of the cloister, she comes
three times to Angelo, wrestles with Claudio's conscience, agrees to the
Duke's plan for the bed trick (it is she, not he, who persuades Mariana
to join in) suggestion; when she learns of Angelo's deceit she "will to
him and pluck out his eyes"; she transgresses maidenly to say nothing of
conventual modesty by calling on the Duke for justice in a strikingly
public way.  For such an energetic nature, confinement in the convent
would be demanding and difficult-heroic, even.  A very active
retirement.

Contemplatively,
Dave Evett
 

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