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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1036  Monday, 15 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 11:01:01 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[2]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 09:26:56 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[3]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 11:31:40 -0500
        Subj:   Sh. 11. 1031 Chastity

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 09:37:44 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[5]     From:   Marilyn Bonomi <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 13:07:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[6]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 12:28:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[7]     From:   Chuck Nickerson <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 10:30:38 -0700
        Subj:   Isabella's Chastity

[8]     From:   Laura Blankenship <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 14:51:37 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[9]     From:   Virginia Byrne <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 15:52:53 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[10]    From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 May 2000 16:18:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

[11]    From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Sunday, 14 May 2000 16:46:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Friday, 12 May 2000 11:01:01 -0500
Subject: 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

When I taught MfM last spring here in Iowa, there was a weak consensus
that Isabella should have sex with Angelo. I then reframed the
discussion and reminded them that what Antonio had in mind is, in our
world, rape. Opinion changed quickly. It's one thing to juxtapose death
and sex. But death and rape are different.

Pat

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Friday, 12 May 2000 09:26:56 -0700
Subject: 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

>I taught Measure for Measure forty years ago, and recently re-taught it,
>and am astonished at the difference in student reaction.  All students
>now agree that Isabella should have sacrificed her chastity to save her
>brother, that the brother's life is much more important.  Forty years
>ago, students believed that she was right to refuse to make that
>sacrifice, since chastity is worth much more than life.  Are there any
>reflections on this difference?

I suspect that the difference lies not in the relative value of chastity
and life, but the relative value of the life of the body and the life of
the soul.

Melissa D. Aaron
Dept. of English and Foreign Languages
California Polytechnic State University at Pomona

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Friday, 12 May 2000 11:31:40 -0500
Subject:        Sh. 11. 1031 Chastity

A propos Dennis Taylor's forty-year hiatus in teaching MM:

It was 1972 when I asked a class "any questions?" after an account of
Isabella's dilemma in MM.  A young woman in the third row put her hand
up and said "Mr. Velz; I don't understand Isabella's problem.  I would
screw ANY man to save my brother."  I was too startled to respond
immediately, indeed backed up against the blackboard and chalked the
back of my suitcoat.  I did notice that the class listened respectfully
to this affirmation; not a single snicker nor any gasps of wounded
virtue.  The sexual revolution was in full swing by 1972.  When
recovered, I gave a short talk on the reasons for emphasis on virginity
in Sh.'s time and why nuns value it so highly-and moved on.  But now I
am inclined to muse about the birth control pill which was just getting
established as a near universal in human life at that time (cf. today's
op ed piece by Marie Cocco in *Newsday* and many other newspapers
pointing out that "80% of American women born since 1945 have used the
Pill at some point in their lives."  "No drug, ever, has upended society
like this.")  We are at the fortieth anniversary of the FDA's approval
of the oral contraceptive.

It was not so much the boldness of the one student's affirmation that
moved me-she later in the semester told me in the office that she had
spoiled her semester by going to Mexico for George Washington's Birthday
(a regional ritual of sex in early spring) and contracted "a pelvic
infection"-it was the respectful and attentive silence of the class.
The world had surely changed from the early 1950s when I had started
teaching.

Cheers,
John

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 12 May 2000 09:37:44 -0700
Subject: 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1031 Isabella's Chastity Once More

Dennis Taylor asks:

> I used to believe the difference was Protestant versus Catholic
> (i.e. the monastic values done in by the Reformation), and readers broke
> down along those lines.  But no longer, apparently.  Still I remain
> puzzled that as with many Shakespeare cruxes, the reader's own
> allegiances seem absolutely to determine the interpretation.  Is no
> negotiation possible?

Yes, it is possible, though I think that possibility has to do with
teaching (and learning) as a move away from our prejudices and
already-determined allegiances.

I'm actually rather surprised by the reaction, but maybe one way to get
around it is to abandon the word "chastity", with its puritan (or are
they monastic?) overtones, altogether, or at least to reinterpret it
(and the movement into the convent) in more feminist terms, as an escape
from the male gaze and male control, and ultimately from male
commodification.  Isabella may be moving into the convent because here,
all the strictures are chosen by her, or at least by other women:
precisely what she wants to avoid-becoming an item of exchange within an
economy of power and sex-is what happens.  One alternative way to
present the problem more favourably to Isabella is to ask whether
Claudio should ask her to be raped for his sake.  I had an undergrad
prof who used to ask male students, who felt Isabella should sleep with
Angelo, whether, if Angelo's demand had been different, Claudio should
have slept with Angelo to save Isabella.

A larger issue, though, seems to be played out by both Isabella and
Angelo: in both cases, a strong (apparently) religious conviction is, in
fact, a sort of self-mastery and even self-indulgence.  The fact that
Isabella would sacrifice her brother shows the depths of her efforts at
self-control, whereas the fact that Angelo (or Claudio, for that matter)
would sacrifice Isabella, shows that his apparent virtue is hollow at
the core.  Even as a 'puritan', his goal is self-mastery and control,
not generosity.

Cheers,
Se

 

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