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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Isabella and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1071  Saturday, 31 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Oct 1998 10:23:32 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1064  Re: Isabella and Sex

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Oct 1998 16:36:07 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1064 Re: Isabella and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Oct 1998 10:23:32 EST
Subject: 9.1064  Re: Isabella and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1064  Re: Isabella and Sex

> Dave Evett scores a palpable hit when he argues that convent life can be
>  a struggle and therefore active. In reality, that is the Catholic
>  position-that chastity and renunciation of the world can be a great
>  adventure in which one is tried and one is very active in maintaining
>  his or her virtue. But, Dave, did an English Renaissance audience buy
>  this argument, as good as it is? I think you will agree that such an
>  audience would not. The vogue and sway of the times was for the 'active
>  life" as defined by, say, Sidney and Queen Elizabeth. So, despite the
>  truth of Dave's argument, I don't think the play endorses it.
>
>  Historically,
>  --Ed Taft

Slightly later, in Areopagitica, Milton will declare that he "cannot
praise a fugitive and cloister'd virtue, unexercised and unbreathed,
that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the
race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and
heat"-I agree with Ed, that the at least nominally Anglican party line
under Elizabeth and James would have similarly rejected the via
contempliva and Isabella's endorsement of it as a way of escaping
confrontation with vice.

Best,
Carol Barton
Department of English
Averett College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Oct 1998 16:36:07 -0500
Subject: 9.1064 Re: Isabella and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1064 Re: Isabella and Sex

> that is the Catholic
> position-that chastity and renunciation of the world can be a great
> adventure in which one is tried and one is very active in maintaining
> his or her virtue. But, Dave, did an English Renaissance audience buy
> this argument, as good as it is? I think you will agree that such an
> audience would not. The vogue and sway of the times was for the 'active
> life" as defined by, say, Sidney and Queen Elizabeth. So, despite the
> truth of Dave's argument, I don't think the play endorses it.

I don't think "the vogue and sway of the time" necessarily matters.
Some probably did buy the argument: on the evidence of poems like "The
Collar" and "Batter My Heart" Herbert and Donne found the psychomachia
just as strenuous in their respective Protestant equivalent of the
cloister as they had during their lives at court or Inn of Court, and
evidently expected readers to understand that.  Even the intensely
Protestant Spenser offers his readers glimpses, not just of the delusory
refuge of Archimago's hermitage but of places such as the House of
Holiness, where Red Crosse undergoes a very severe regimen indeed (see
FQ 1.10.24-28).  But in any case, by dramatizing a whole series of
situations in which retirement does not procure relief from moral
struggle but rather amplifies it-the Duke (another nominal monastic)
retired from duking; Mariana, retired to the moated grange; Claudio,
retired (without willing it, to be sure) to the quiet of a jail cell;
Barnardine, the exception who proves the rule by being called on to
struggle and declining, retired anomically to another jail cell-the play
reconstructs that "Catholic" understanding of the active life without
ever getting explicitly into doctrinal quarrels, so that a Protestant
audience or reader gets educated in the alternative view of the active
life by the play itself.

Actively,
Dave Evett
 

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