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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1132  Thursday, 1 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 May 2000 22:56:26 +0000
        Subj:   Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 2000 21:54:32 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Jun 2000 08:48:17 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 May 2000 22:56:26 +0000
Subject:        Isabella's Chastity

Fathers  (either the lack of them or the lack of good ones) may be more
of an issue in MM than Robin and David realize.  Early in the play, the
Duke confesses to a holy FATHER that in not enforcing Vienna's laws
properly, he (Vincentio)  acted as a "fond father" (1.3); the good
Escalus tries in vain to plead with Angelo for Claudio's life by
observing that he "had a most noble father" (2.1); Isabella
thinks-wrongly-that Claudio's seeming resolve to die makes him speak
like his dead father (3.1). (Any good, noble father would be on the side
of his son continuing to live and taking up the responsibilities of
fatherhood.)

After Angelo's improper advances in 2.4, Isabella says in soliloquy, "To
whom should I complain?  Did I tell this, who would believe me?"
(172-73).  the answer, of course, is that she should tell her father,
who, if he were alive, would certainly believe her, and who, as a
well-thought-of member of the community, would instantly have confronted
Angelo and ended this whole business (and who would have done so, one
surmises, far more effectively than Vincentio.)

Which brings me to the Duke, who, disguised as a FATHER, first accuses
Juliet of selfishness-wrongly, I think-and then even more callously and
unthinkingly tells her that her husband-(and father-)-to-be must die!
Then, he goes to the father-to-be, and tells HIM he should prepare for
death!  From 2.3 on, the Duke spends most of his time IN PRISON, and
that is highly appropriate because he himself is IMPRISONED by (1) his
own selfish concerns and (2) his total inability to see the big picture
and act as a true FATHER/Prince ought to.  A prison is, of course, dark
and dimly lit-and so is Vincentio!

David says all of this is in the background; on the contrary,
Shakespeare does everything he can to foreground it.  The reason we have
such as hard time recognizing the importance of fathers is that our own
culture has so devalued them that, like the characters in the play, we
fail to appreciate their importance.  At issue, of course, is the
well-known Renaissance analogy between the family and the state:
king/kingdom as father/family.  Central, too, is the concept that God,
father of us all, through Christ, left us the proper example of how to
be a good father/teacher, but in a fallen, imperfect world, this example
is honored by princes and fathers more in the breach than in the
observance.

I end by suggesting that from about 1599 on (As You Like It), one of
Shake-speare's major concerns is fathers and fatherhood.  At the heart
of MM's companion play, All's Well, is Bertram's lack of a good role
model, that is, a good father.  MM, in my view, is all about fathers;
Hamlet is about the heroic struggles of Hamlet (and Fortinbras) to go it
alone and do the right thing without living fathers.  Lear is about a
bad father/king and the havoc he can cause, both for the family and the
state. And so on.

--Ed Taft

PS: Thanks to Carol Barton for her insightful comments. Kevin and I are
going to start a fan club!

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 2000 21:54:32 +0100
Subject: 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity

> From:           David Bishop <
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> Her first plea also seems to object
> to the law on grounds of its injustice-since so many share the fault.

Isabella's first plea attacks the whole grounds of law +per se+ -- for
once, Angelo is right.  Isabella at the start of the play could be seen
to correlate to Portia on "Mercy" at the end of +MV+.  Shakespeare
(obviously?) had doubts about this, which is why we have Isabella's
+second+ mercy speech (addressing particular issues) at the end.

> 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.

Quite.  And by the same logic, Kate Keepdown is a prostitute (Lucio
asserts this and no one denies it), +not+ (in Jacobean terms) a close
parallel to Juliet.

> 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.

I'd agree that Lucio's "slanders" of the Duke are "outrageously comic".
This would tie in to the whole presentation of the Duke in the play as a
halfwit, rather than an icon of God.  But they +aren't+ unparalleled-see
I,iii.

> 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.

But we're back to what exactly +was+ the law in "Venice"?  One argument
on this thread would try to make the law-no conception without Child
Support-rational.  Another would suggest that the very essence of the
law was its extremity (in terms of the general European laws of the
time).

> Incidentally, why would Viennese-or Elizabethan?

... Jacobean ...

> --law punish the man and
> not the woman? Angelo's abandonment of Mariana when she loses her dowry
> is of course far worse.

Morally, but not legally. And there is the question of whether we're
talking about Venetian or "Venetian" law-a Venice of the mind.  Ben
Jonson's +Volpone+ was produced in 1606 (two years after +Measure+), and
there again the "Venetian" laws are more-than-a-little abstract.

> But perhaps Claudio and Juliet's delay should be
> taken as blameable materialism as well? Or maybe just another sign of
> Vienna's decadence.

A perfectly rational act in a society which is beginning to deploy
irrational laws ...

> 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.

Quite.  And the problem of "deadbeat dads" (even today) isn't that
clear-cut.

What's the scoring-rate for male suicides as a result of the Child
Support Agency Regulations in BritLand.  Sixty?  More or less?  But back
to the play which Shakespeare wrote ...

> Apologies to Robin Hamilton for misascribing his sex.

Having been (years ago) described as the only Lesbian poet in the whole
of Scottish literature, I'm used to this <g>.

Robin (not Rob Roy McGregor, who'd, I'm sure, be much less forgiving)
Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Jun 2000 08:48:17 +0100
Subject: 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1119 Re: Isabella's Chastity

I haven't been following this thread too closely as I am a 'text'
person, and not especially interested in all that 'drama' stuff....  But
has anyone mentioned that Gary Taylor & John Jowett, in their book
"Shakespeare reshaped, 1606-1623" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) ISBN 0
19 812256 X, suggest that MfM has been subjected to later interpolations
(by Middleton) that subtly alter the character of the play?  These
'interpolations' include Lucio's first entrance in 1.2, the song in 4.1
and the silent appearances of Juliet.

The book also contains everything that one could wish for on the latest
thinking on act and scene divisions, so many thanks to all those who
suggested that I should read it.  It is essential reading for all fans
of the Textual Companion!

John Briggs
 

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