The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1191 Thursday, 8 June 2000.
Date: Thursday, 08 Jun 2000 01:13:48 +0000
Subject: Isabella's Chastity
Jennifer Drouin might be interested in what the Lord High Steward (the
"prosecuting attorney") said in the 1631 rape case against Mervin Lord
"Now rape is defined to be an unlawful carnal knowledge, and
abuse of a woman by force against her will. . . . [He then mentions
four rules of law that pertain to the case against Audley]:
"First, when any offense is felony, either by the Statue, or Common
Law, all accessories before and after, are incidentally included, so
that if any be aiding, or abetting any to do the act, though the
offense be personal, and done by one only, as it is in this case,
only he that doth the act is principal, but also they that are
abetting and aiding the misdoer, are principals also.
"Secondly, if the party on whom the crimes was committed be
notoriously unchaste, and a known whore, yet there may be a
"Thirdly, in an indictment of rape, there is no limitation of time.
"Fourthly, if a man take away a maid and ravish her by force, and
afterward she give her consent and marries him that did the act,
yet it is a rape."
("Trial," quoted in _English Women's Voices_, ed. Charlotte F.
Miami: FL International UP, 1992: 34-35.)
The Lord High Steward's fourth point suggests that pregnancy did not
prove that the woman gave her consent to the act, for a future child was
one of the main reasons, historically, that women agreed to marry men
who raped them.
As to rape in MM, compare what the Lord High Steward says with what
Isabella says at the end of the play:
His act did not o'ertake his bad intent,
And must be buried but as an intent
That perish'd by the way. Thoughts are no subjects,
Intents but merely thoughts" (5.1.450-454).
legally, Isabella is right, but she is a novice! Morally, she is dead
wrong. The intent to commit a crime is all it takes to make us guilty of
that crime in the eyes of God. Hence, if I decide to rob a bank but
cannot find the right time to do so, in God's eyes I am still a robber,