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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1048  Tuesday, 16 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 10:17:09 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 10:55:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 12:01:49 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Chastity

[4]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 20:50:26 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[5]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 15:50:01 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[6]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 15:51:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity - yet another look


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 10:17:09 -0400
Subject: 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

I would like to respond to all on this by addressing John Velz's
anecdote:

>the "young woman in the third row [who] put her hand
>up and said "Mr. Velz; I don't understand Isabella's problem.  I would
>screw ANY man to save my brother."

The point here is exactly that: the difference in values. Isabella has
made a commitment, has faith in an ideal: she is not Marvell's coy
mistress, playing sexual games, refusing to relinquish that which is of
comparatively little value to her ("I would screw any man . . .") in
exchange for that which is eminently valuable to most people (a
brother's life). Her position is more like that of the husband of a
pregnant and fatally comatose wife: does he authorize the doctors to
take the baby by Caesarian, knowing it will kill the mother (as Roman
Catholic doctrine requires him to do), or does he tell them to terminate
the pregnancy, knowing it will kill his child, but save his spouse's
life? Though Isabella's choice is not between life and death in that
sense, it is between her brother's life, and what is-to her, which is
all that matters-her own spiritual death: and her argument is that
eternal life is more important than temporal existence.

It is not about having casual sex with someone in a position of power to
gain a greater good (think of how this same situation is treated in
_Casablanca_: Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa is still implicitly putting herself
in the position of a cheap whore, even to save the life of her husband
by sleeping with Humphrey Bogart's Rick-her former lover, toward whom
she is still romantically inclined-a fate from which she is saved by
Rick's nobility.

The question is just not as easy as today's sexually indifferent
teenagers want to make it, and I think the young lady's answer had a
great deal to do with not understanding the question . . .  perhaps with
not even recognizing that there *was* a question, in the first place.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 10:55:32 -0400
Subject: 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Deep need to complicate this malarkey:  "Ay, but to die and go we know
not where;/ To lie in cold obstruction and to rot...."

Are these the words of a saved Christian??? So if Claudio is killed in
this state of mind, what will happen to him? Barnardine refuses to be
executed because his mind is not prepared. Shakespeare's clowns echo his
themes.  Barnardine calls attention to Claudio's lack of preparedness.

(In Hamlet, written shortly before Measure, Hamlet's father died with
his sins upon him, which is one of the reasons he's so angry with his
homicidal brother. After all, if your brother gave you a one-way ticket
to Paradise, how mad could you be?)

The nunlet Isabella is supposedly following the god who sacrificed HIS
body for the souls of his people? Not life, body. Because it can be
argued that he knew he was going to survive but his body wasn't. Can she
be anything other than a hypocrite (like dear Angelo) if she cherishes
HER body above her brother's soul?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 12:01:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Chastity

John Velz's revealing story about the young woman who "would screw any
man to save [her] brother," brings to mind the conservative critique of
modern sexual mores.  Many serious conservatives argue that the
separation of sex and procreation has been, overall, a bad thing that
leaves young women with no cover, no way to say "NO." The result is a
generation of defenseless young girls who can no longer mount a
religious or a physiological argument against sex anytime anywhere.
Some fiercely object to this line of thought, but it seems to me to have
some value.  As the father of an 11-year old girl who already has
noticed that some girls in her class are "loose," what is a father to
do?  Where is her first line of defense, which she will surely need
soon?  After all, mom or dad probably won't be around when she faces the
first boy who says, "Show me that you love me."

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 20:50:26 +0000
Subject: 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Is it really about chastity? I thought it was about freedom. Isabella
presumes that also her imprisoned brother would understand that he is
asking her to exchange a promise of his death - which in a way is
freedom for her own sure imprisonment. She wants to assume that he would
wish to be her partner in freedom that they will both enjoy.

Florence Amit

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 15:50:01 -0400
Subject: 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Isabella can repent of fornication much more effectually than Angelo
could repent of having Claudio killed. I think what makes it a problem
play is that Isabella recognizes that she experiences the same type and
degree of inappropriate attraction as Angelo does-that is, she
recognizes that she would be engaging in sexual relations motivated by
lust (and therefore would herself be sinning) rather than merely having
the misfortune of being raped.

Dana

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 15:51:45 -0500
Subject: 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity - yet another look.
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1036 Re: Isabella's Chastity - yet another look.

All the responses so far - including mine - have failed to take note of
Isabella's faulty character as established by her first lines in the
play, and continued (although under siege) thereafter.  In those lines
she tells us she finds the rules of one of the strictest orders of nuns,
the Poor Clares, too relaxed!!  She wishes "a more strict restraint upon
the sisterhood."  Her re-education begins at once, under the guidance of
the greatest rake of them all, Lucio.

By the time of her interview with Claudio, she has still not learned her
new lesson  (although at Lucio's repeated insistence at her interview
with Angelo, she has begun to shake down her own defenses for "stricter
rules."   Shaken by her own uncharacteristic arguments for the law
winking at her brother's "crimes," she now goes to Claudio, for she
hopes (rather desperately, I think) that her brother will support her in
her decision to deny Angelo; that is, he will re-affirm her character as
we saw it in her first scene.

(Here, I answer my earlier question: why does she tell Claudio when she
sees the obvious danger of his pleading for his life at the expense of
her chastity?  Answer: She seeks a confirmation for a decision with
which she is not comfortable.)

Claudio's failing her in that is one of the important steps in bringing
Isabella into the circle of humanity (she has certainly been beyond that
pale so far).  Her participation in the "Friar's" trap for Angelo will
be the next step; finally, her marriage to the Duke will  bring her and
hold her within that healthy circle, down from the icy heights of her
earlier, inhuman attitudes that promise only a "finished," cold
character too dreadfully like that of Angelo.

"Measure" is about the need for our soul's accommodation of the body,
about the patience and mercy to be shown those who give way to the
demands of the latter, and about the dangers waiting for those who
imagine that the world and the flesh can be suppressed with a determined
vow (not realizing that the energy displayed in the vow betrays them
equally and oppositely to the other camp.)

This play is about Isabella's - and everyone's - salvation in humanity.

L. Swilley
 

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