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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1119  Wednesday, 31 May 2000.

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 May 2000 22:09:32 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 2000 10:38:48 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[3]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 May 2000 01:37:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1105 Re: Isabella's Chastity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 29 May 2000 22:09:32 +0100
Subject: 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity

> From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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> Finally, consider Isabella's pleas to Angelo, and ask yourself this
> question: What argument does she leave out? The answer should be clear
> by now: she leaves out the most important argument of all-that Claudio
> has a duty to help bring up his soon-to-be-born child.

This would seem to turn (yet once more) on the actual [unstated in the
play] words of the law which Claudio is presumed to have violated.  As
Isabella's first reaction (to Lucio) on hearing of Juliet's pregnancy
is, "Oh let him [Claudio] marry her!", perhaps the reason she doesn't
bring this up to Angelo is that the law Claudio has violated is against
fornication rather than (mis)conception.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 2000 10:38:48 -0400
Subject: 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1112 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Yes to all of this, Ed (and bravo, for a very insightful set of
observations about the legal/moral situation in M for M). It is, after
all, a drama about "measures" and "measuring," about the letter vs. the
spirit of the law, as much as it is about anything else.

An episode of _Law and Order_ I saw last season dealt with an affluent
young couple's murder of the infant the girl (unmarried to her yuppie
paramour) had conceived, because parenthood would have messed up their
plans for college.

My former stepdaughter (who was in her mother's custody) was a National
Merit Scholar, a statuesque blue-eyed blonde of fifteen years old who
could clearly have had the world for her oyster, had she been given the
proper tools with which to navigate it. She wanted to be a marine
biologist . . .  she could have been a model. She was impregnated, then
abandoned, by the boy who said he loved her, then accused her to her
father's face of having slept with every boy in the senior class. . .
She had the child, gave it up for adoption, and attempted suicide
(successful to the extent that she spent several weeks in the hospital,
under psychiatric observation). She sells records now, in the equivalent
of a Sam Goody's in Seattle.

She just wanted someone to love her, she said.

Hence my earlier advice, about teaching our children to view themselves
as precious treasures, worthy of self-respect as well as the respect of
others.

Achilles refuses to fight because Agamemnon "pulls rank." Iago engineers
the death of Desdemona because Othello promotes Cassio instead of him.
Someone is passed over for a promotion in the twentieth century, and
"goes postal." As you suggest, the chariots have changed . . . but not
the people in them.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 May 2000 01:37:45 -0400
Subject: 11.1105 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1105 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Catching up after the weekend with this terrific discussion.

I take Robin Hamilton's point that Isabella pleads for mercy at first,
then later for law as well as mercy. Her first plea also seems to object
to the law on grounds of its injustice-since so many share the fault.

I don't see a good reason not to accept that Lucio and no one else
fathered the child in question-though it would be funny if Froth were
suddenly to confess. In life Lucio's responsibility might be doubtful,
but in this play there seems to me to be no doubt because no one
mentions any.

I also have trouble seeing that Lucio's slander of the Duke isn't
outrageous-comically so. There's a dramatic and comic thrill in hearing
him speak it directly to the Duke, setting up the sweet exposure of a
slanderer.  So far I persist in enjoying that exposure, in a rather
simple-minded way.

Claudio and Juliet don't marry because they hope for a dowry. That
provides a reason not to marry when they otherwise would, so makes their
crime as close to a crime in letter only as it's possible to imagine.
Incidentally, why would Viennese-or Elizabethan?--law punish the man and
not the woman? Angelo's abandonment of Mariana when she loses her dowry
is of course far worse. But perhaps Claudio and Juliet's delay should be
taken as blameable materialism as well? Or maybe just another sign of
Vienna's decadence. I'd add to Florence Amit's literary parallels the
deferred marriage, in hope of money, of Kate Croy and Merton Densher in
James's Wings of the Dove.

Drawing attention to Lucio's child onstage at the end, as Ed Taft
mentions, might be a good decision today, but as I read the play, even
though I think it's true that Lucio's attitude makes him worse than
Claudio, and that the problem of deadbeat dads is in the background, as
a part of what makes fornication bad, I don't feel that the fate of the
children is that much in question in MM. If the children were made more
of an issue, the play would move further away from comedy. One thing
that seems to keep it a comedy is the extremity of
death-for-fornication. I still feel that's the law here. It 's tied to
pulling down the whorehouses and generally replacing license with the
strict enforcement of chastity. To Robin Hamlilton's examples I'd add:

All sects, all ages smack of this vice, and he
To die for't!  II. ii.

the rebellion of a codpiece
&
condemn'd for untrussing
&
Kills for faults of his own liking!  III. ii.

A deflower'd maid!
And by an eminent body that enforc'd
The law against it!  IV. iv.

Faults proper to himself
&
one Claudio,
Condemn'd upon the act of fornication
To lose his head, condemn'd by Angelo.  V. i.

What's most decisive may be the symmetry of Angelo's proposed crime and
Claudio's: likeness made in crimes. Though in context it doesn't mean
the same thing, it gives point to "Like doth quit like, and Measure
still for Measure."

The children seem to function more as proof of fornication, and an
irrefutable reason to marry Lucio to Kate, than as the root problem of
the play.  Promiscuity vs puritanism seems a tougher moral issue, and
also more congenial to comedy, with the children more or less left out.
The fate of the children would matter in life, and maybe we pick up on
this because of the way the play seems to push beyond comedy. If only
pregnancy were in question, though, it would seem that anyone could
fornicate freely as long as no one got pregnant, which it seems to me
can't be the point.

Isabella's decision would also be tougher for us, as Dennis Taylor
implies, if this were not a comedy with a Duke always around to sort
things out. Florence Amit calls attention to Cordelia, whose insistence
on purity precipitates tragedy. I'm not among those who think Cordelia
should give in to Lear, or should be seen as guilty because she doesn't.
With Isabella, though, we don' t have to face the consequences of
choosing one of the horrible alternatives and following it to a serious,
and tragic, end. I do think another factor here, beyond the choice for
chastity that Isabella first makes, is how she makes it. Isn't there
something blameable in her certainty, and in her extreme anger at
Claudio for failing to agree with her?

Apologies to Robin Hamilton for misascribing his sex.

David
 

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