Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1068  Friday, 19 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Florence Amit <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 18 May 2000 15:49:22 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 19 May 2000 04:09:53 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[3]     From:   Janet MacLellan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 18 May 2000 15:40:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[4]     From:   Sophie Masson <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 19 May 2000 08:41:18 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[5]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 19 May 2000 11:06:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 18 May 2000 15:49:22 +0000
Subject: 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Angelo the tester:

One is made to think of the book of Job. Who is the tester - the Angel -
not yet fallen, and who permits the test? Indeed Isabella's vows of
espousal had always been to that entity.

While Job was tested by the loss of his well-being, the matter of this
test is sex - the indulgence of it or the denial of it. But the reason
for its imposition is the desire for domination. (Though lacking his
authority, Iago is very much like Angelo by his drive to manipulate his
victims.) All of us are easy prey to such a test. We have been shown how
a student can succumb, 'for a brother', who, in the drama, is anyhow
sentenced to his death. (since a manipulator does not give up his victim
so easily - by a trade-off )  She should know that a rapist simply wants
to dominate his partner rather than enjoy pleasure with her (him). So to
have sex in that way is to become a partner to his depravity. For Job to
adopt the posture of his friends would be to surrender his innocence;
but he does not succumb and Isabella does not although she is put under
equally great restraints.

Just as sex is such a crucial matter for the on and off stage
participants in the drama, wealth and position is that for the Angel.
So, Measure for Measure, it is by the loss of these things that he is
punished.

Florence Amit

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 19 May 2000 04:09:53 +0900
Subject: 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

I suppose this discussion of whether Isabella should or shouldn't have
submitted to Angelo may be about to peak, then die away. Before it does,
I'd like to express a deep misgiving about this kind of discussion,
which "highlights" a particular "issue", and then discusses it in
relation to what "we" think. Isn't this procedure too like a TV chatshow
discussion of what some character says or does in a TV soap opera?

Isn't Shakespeare's intricately complex play "framing" that and other
"issues" in a far more challenging way? The play presents and explores
the collisions between intractably different conceptions of legal,
moral, and---once Shakespeare has turned his Isabella into a
would-be-nun, and given her that appeal to what is most subversive in
the Sermon on the Mount---divine "justice". That seems to me much more
exciting than the present discussion has so far allowed.

By departing from his source materials, Shakespeare complicates this
legal/moral/divine "frame" in various other ways. Stephen Greenblatt
once described the study of Shakespeare's sources as the elephants'
graveyard of Shakespeare criticism. I think such study can show how our
"interpretations" too often work to simplify what Shakespeare worked to
complicate. But let me mention just a few examples. (I discussed these
things at length in "Shakespeare's Scepticism". I know that's passed its
sell-by date. But still, Harry T. Berger's wonderful discussion hasn't.)

1. Shakespeare invents three overlapping legal cases, two of which
(Claudio's and Angelo's) involve dowries, and two of which (Claudio's
and Lucio's) involve illegitimate children. Why does Shakespeare do
that? And why does he then ensure that his Duke never notices how these
cases overlap, in his own final orgy of mercy? Is the contrast between
the Duke and Angelo a contrast between unprincipled benevolence and
unbenevolent principle?

2. Shakespeare departs from all his sources when he implicates his Duke
in Vienna's real or alleged crisis. The Duke himself tells the Friar
that the crisis is the result of his own fourteen years of misrule, and
that he has imposed the task of cleaning up this real or alleged mess on
Angelo-as a test. But of course these aims are contradictory: is the
Duke wanting Angelo to succeed in reforming Vienna, or is he wanting
Angelo to fail? I'd think this relevant to the present discussion,
because the Duke proposes to Isabella in the final scene. Of course a
proposal is better than a rape, as Richardson's Clarissa calculatingly
knows. But might Isabella and Angelo be better matched, like Thomas
Hardy's Tess and Alec?

3. Angelo duly fails, and falls. But so does Isabella, once her version
Sermon-on the-Mount "Judge not, that ye be not judged" turns into the
scream for "Justice, Justice, Justice"-once she herself is a victim.
But, until Angelo meets Isabella and gets really excited for the first
time, he really is-unlike Eascalus, or even the Duke?--an "upright judge
(to borrow a phrase from Melville's "Billy Budd", which owes so much to
this play). To suggest that Isabella seduces Angelo would be gross
(despite her inflaming sado-masochistic metaphors); but, quite apart
from wondering what the Duke hoped would happen, what was Claudio hoping
would happen?

4. The only mutually loving relation in this play is that between
Claudio and Julietta-which Angelo, Isabella and the Duke all condemn.
Once Angelo has made love to the woman he mis-takes, he never wants to
repeat the experience, and when offered mercy begs for death. I referred
to the way this play assembles intractably different conceptions of
justice. Doesn't it also invite us to think about love, sex, and
marriage (legalised love)? In short, isn't the Isabella "issue" part of
something that is larger, and darker?

My chatshow analogy wasn't meant to be insulting, or conceited, or
sniffily English. I've found this discussion absorbing, but I don't
think it's getting close enough to this amazing play.

And isn't the currently popular game of giving pass-or-fail grades to
characters (or works, or authors) after seeing whether they measure up
to our own beliefs and values rather dispiriting?  And also dangerous,
in at least two ways:

First, if we give more weight to whatever opinions "we" bring to the
show, before we've seen and thought about whatever the show shows,
wouldn't that imply that we can learn nothing from the study of
literature and drama? Secondly, don't many of those who keep insisting
that Shakespeare is of his age, not for all time, seem to suppose that
their own values and opinions are somehow not of an age, but for all
time? Am I alone in finding this odd (though all too human)? Are all
values and beliefs culturally and historically specific, EXCEPT our own?

Graham Bradshaw

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janet MacLellan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 18 May 2000 15:40:03 -0500
Subject: 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

(Apologies up front to the list if the following seems to be getting off
topic. I'll happily take this discussion off-list if anyone prefers.)

Ed Taft writes:

>Janet-and others- seem to assume that if a father
>and mother do their job, all will be well.
>That's not so, Janet. Every woman-child that gets pregnant or does dope
>is not the victim of bad parents. Some of the best and kindest and most
>admirable of parents find that, despite their best efforts, their child
>has gone wrong.

I am aware of this. However, I took your question as preventive in
nature.  In the case where a child is going to make bad judgements
*despite* a parent's teachings and example, there is no useful
preventive response to the question "What's a father to do?" The
question then becomes "How does a father respond to his child's having
made a dangerous choice?" and there are people far more qualified than I
to offer advice in that situation.

>It's a cultural, societal problem, Janet, that cannot be completely
>remedied by lecturing parents to do their job better.
>
>The world of today's teen and pre-teen is full of extraordinary
>pressures that are far more intense than those I faced in highschool
>(1966-1970), and it's worst of all for young girls.

I hope my previous response didn't come across as a lecture (tone is a
difficult thing to convey on the internet). I'm not a parent myself, so
I don't claim any authority in that area, but I was a young woman in
high school once (77-82), so that's the perspective I'm speaking from.
As I recall, my circle of friends and I felt very much in charge of our
own sexuality. We had desires of our own (and I know this in itself can
make a father queasy-my male friends with young daughters regularly, and
only half-jokingly, maintain that they won't let their girls start
dating until they're 35), but we knew how far we wished to go in
pursuing them, and felt very comfortable drawing the line where we
wanted it drawn. However, I'm well aware that that was not every young
woman's experience at the time.  I'm also aware that, for more recent
generations, the backlash against feminism has complicated matters.

In my earlier posting, I began my defense of women's right and
responsibility to choose when to initiate sexual relations with the
phrase "It is to be hoped," because I knew that what I was describing
was an ideal to be worked towards, not a reality that exists today. Many
young women still find themselves restricted by circumstance, while many
consciously evade their responsibility, believing that if you plan sex,
that makes you a slut, while if you just let yourself be carried away by
passion, that's okay because you're "in love."

My suggestion to instruct your daughter in rhetoric was not offered
facetiously. Surrounded by dangerous (potentially life-threatening)
thinking like the above, not to mention the media pressures you cite,
young women (and young men, for that matter) need the ability to expose
fallacies in the arguments foisted upon them and covert agendas in the
imagery with which they are daily bombarded. They need, too, the ability
to raise an eloquent counter-voice to such peer and media pressures. The
pressure to have sex early on is only one-and not necessarily the most
damaging one in the long term-among these. The same goes for the
pressure to do drugs. Far more insidious and difficult to combat are
such pressures as: to consider certain subjects too difficult for you;
to hurt people who have less power than you do; to define success in
consumerist terms (just to name a few).  Of course, self-respect,
concern for others, etc., are also essential in such ethical situations,
but-since I assume you're already working on laying a foundation of such
qualities-I thought I would advocate instead a specific useful (and
list-related) technique, as a model for the study of which, Shakespeare
is in many ways without peer.

I hope none of the above sounds presumptuous. I have great respect for
those who commit themselves to the difficult project of raising a child
in today's world.

Regards,
Janet MacLellan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 19 May 2000 08:41:18 +1000
Subject: 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1061 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Ed, it certainly is very difficult these days being a parent, because of
the fragmentation of society, so that one can never be sure that the
values one espouses at home are going to be supported elsewhere at all.
But I do not think this situation is that different for parents of boys;
as the mother of a daughter who's just turned 18, and 13 and 10 year old
sons, the challenge has been fairly similar. People keep asking our13
year old when he is going to have a girlfriend, for instance, when he is
not at all ready or interested yet. So the boys get pushed into it, and
try then to push the girls into it. Somehow you have to break the
vicious cycle. We have tried to do this as parents through such things
as reading and discussing Shakespeare's plays; all the children love
them and have grown up with them, as well as much other literature.
Through the dilemmas of characters, we have helped the children-and
ourselves-come to an understanding of their own strengths and
limitations, and it _seems_ to have worked. Strangely enough, and
scarily enough for writers such as myself, I think that the place of
literature as a moral and emotional guide has been enhanced in modern
times, when traditional authority structures have been so weakened.  But
then I think that Shakespeare saw that the dilemma of the human, faced
with a crisis, is basically that a few people derive their
strength-whether good or bad-from inner convictions and understandings,
directly from the soul; whilst a great many, unknowing of their soul,
flounder around trying to live up  or down to societal expectations. The
truly integrated person, body and soul combined, was probably just as
rare in his time as ours (incidentally, a 'truly integrated person'
,contra Jung for instance, can be evil just as much as good. Iago is an
example of negative integration, as it were!).

Sophie Masson

Author site:
http://members.xoom.com/sophiecastel/default.htm

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 19 May 2000 11:06:31 +0100
Subject: 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1055 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Carol Barton offers parenting advice to the father of an 11 year old
girl:

>Ed, I would teach her to see that she is a precious
>commodity, the only truly unique and wonderful gift
>she has to give the man she loves, and that if she
>has given herself promiscuously to every man who
>asks prior to meeting him, she will have nothing
>special left to give the man to whom she gives her
>heart.

It's only ever girls who get told such harmful nonsense, never boys.
This idea of sex as something that is done to you, that the other will
take something from you, might be a brutal reality (especially for
sex-workers) but surely isn't the way a child should be encouraged to
think about relationships.

Barton's advice is heterosexist and dangerously conservative. Ed's child
would be better advised to take active control over her body and mind so
that she doesn't come to dislike herself under societal pressure.
(Teaching undergraduates Althusser's notion of ideology I use as an
example the phenomenon of dieting; it brings home the subtlety of
powerfully coercive forces about which little is spoken in everyday
life.) Promiscuity is often a sign of unhappiness, but Barton's
marketplace model encourages careful trading (to keep the price high)
rather than tackling the underlying problem: the commodification of
women.

MM is problematic partly because it presents the sexual marketplace
(whether overt like Overdone's trade or covert like Mariana's) as one
which is rigged for men's benefit. One might almost think Shakespeare
had doubts about the whole capitalist patriarchy.

Incidentally, Ros King points out that "we so readily assume that if
Isabella had given in, Angelo would keep his bargain!" Should that "if"
be there? We see Angelo break his bargain, albeit harmlessly because of
the head-switch.

Gabriel Egan
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.