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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1213  Tuesday, 13 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 2000 10:13:58 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 2000 21:27:02 +0000
        Subj:   Isabella's Chastity

[3]     From:   Lance Wonder <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 2000 10:30:31 PDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity

[4]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Jun 2000 13:06:58 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 2000 10:13:58 -0700
Subject: 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity

As the discussion of this topic drifts momentarily to the matter of
Angelo's possible exculpation on the ground that his he failed to
accomplish his evil intent (through no virtue of his own), and the
legally-disposed members of our community argue whether he was
indictable or not, I see close poetic parallels with Michael Frayn's
"Copenhagen."   Bohr and Heisenberg (their shades after death, that is)
debate various moral issues surrounding Heisenberg's seeming adoption of
the Nazi cause, Bohr's somewhat tardy enlistment with the American
a-bomb team, and their respective intentions at the famous but ambiguous
meeting during the war when Heisenberg visited his old mentor in
Copenhagen.  At the end of the play, when each has argued his case to
the other, Bohr's wife  Margrethe makes the telling point that at least
Heisenberg never killed anybody with his project, while the project Bohr
supported caused the death of thousands.  Results count for something.

Poets seem to get this point, and aim to present morality and justice in
their infinitely complex relationship, while most of us get bogged down
in exploring and presenting a logically consistent analysis of a single
facet.  Sure, criminal intent is a bad thing, especially when followed
by conduct in aid of the criminal plan.  And in some jurisdictions it
may be punishable.  But if we also are shown how Providence has turned
that criminal purpose to good ends, we find it harder to say "It should
never have happened." Justice embodied in law is more often than not
attenuated to almost homeopathic dilutions, at which point the cold
logic of the letter of the law can easily defeat its underlying
purpose.  The discontinuity between Angelo's likely guilt from the
perspective his own legalistic rigor and his innocence in the eyes of
the devout Isabella  --  his intended but unharmed victim --  force us
to consider both aspects at once.

So, though it's useful to analyze the issues from the strictly legal
level of precise judicial and statutory interpretation, let us remember
that is exactly the level with which Angelo is most comfortable (and in
his pathetic and heart-frozen view of things, impels him to request the
death penalty).  The play asks us to move from that very accessible but
morally inadequate level of comprehension to the more difficult one
expressed by Isabella and adopted by the Duke, the rulers-to-be of a
more enlightened Vienna (and how many of us really, really, really think
Portia played fair?). Let's hear some passionate defense of Isabella's
jurisprudence; it may help us avoid electing an Angelo next  November.

This is not a paid political announcement.

    Tony B.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 2000 21:27:02 +0000
Subject:        Isabella's Chastity

Ian Munro quotes Katherine Maus to good effect. I think that she is
right to argue that, for the most part, "the law ignores unacted
desires."  I also agree with Ian that focusing on the political aspects
of the contest between the Duke and Angelo is a good way to get deeper
into the play.  Moreover, Sean Lawrence helpfully suggests that MM is a
play that "draw[s] its  power by playing on and blurring" distinctions.
Amen to that!

To amplify on Sean's insight, isn't it true that the characters in this
play mix and match as they wish?  Don't they, perhaps even without
knowing it, conflate the theological with the legal, the political, and
the personal, thus failing to make meaningful distinctions when they
should?

If we take Ian's advice and focus on the political, isn't Angelo trying
(without being totally aware of it) to show up the Duke?  (Here's how to
enforce the law: let me show you, Vincentio!)  And isn't the Duke doing
precisely the same thing? (Here's a lose-lose situation that I'm going
to put you in, Angelo!)

Isabella's presence makes the contest between them a love contest as
well.  Isn't 3.1 a two-part imitation of 2.2 and 2.4?  That is, just
after Angelo falls in love (lust?) with Isabella and hatches a plan to
"have" her, a bit later, the Duke does the same thing!  Interestingly,
Angelo is more clear-sighted about what he is doing than is Vincentio,
who doesn't really want to admit to himself what he is actually up to.
He rationalizes his actions by using moral and theological rhetoric.

Thus, Lucio (and Harry Berger) "illuminate" this Duke: he is, indeed, a
Duke of dark corners.  Or so it seems to me.

--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lance Wonder <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 2000 10:30:31 PDT
Subject: 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity

Carol Barton says,

>I respectfully refer Learned Counsel to the RICO laws of his own state
>(the acronym for which I may have misspelt, being a law-abiding
>non-conspirator myself), as to whether or not the law punishes intent .
>. . as well as the laws concerning "assault with intent to kill."
>
>And rest my case.

You lose.  It is not the intent to commit murder that is punished, but
the assault.  It is one thing to try to commit murder (attempt) or agree
to commit murder (conspiracy) and quite a different thing to want to
commit murder.  Even RICO (federal, not state, Carol) doesn't punish
wannabe racketeers.

The more interesting issue -- which was much mooted when the Model Penal
Code was in draft -- is whether one is guilty of an attempt when,
unbeknownst to the perpetrator, success is impossible under the
circumstances.  This is pertinent to Ed Taft's comment that Angelo "is
certainly guilty of something, but, given the bed trick, of what?"

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Jun 2000 13:06:58 -0700
Subject: 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1203 Re: Isabella's Chastity

In response to my questioning of Ed Taft's assertion ("The intent to
commit a crime is all it takes to make us guilty of that crime in the
eyes of God."), I have been referred to both official Roman Catholic
doctrine (no reference) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.28:
...whosoever  looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed
adultery with her already in his heart (KJV)). But neither is completely
satisfactory as an answer.

The latter is, of course, an absolute commandment to a committed
Christian, but it refers to sin rather than crime. Ed and others may
disagree, but I find the distinction absolutely crucial. Christians (and
others who belong to what have been called the Semitic guilt religions)
live in a nearly constant state of sinfulness. The vast majority of
these sins are venial, but they are not unimportant and are the reason
why we are expected to pray, go to worship, confess and so forth. The
gist of the Lord's Prayer is that Christians ask for forgiveness of
their sins, while promising to forgive all the wrongs done to them.

In the case of "looking with lust," for instance, the sin is committed
with the look. It is easily done, and the experience of both my own life
and what I know of most other American males is that it is going on with
depressing regularity. The same occurs with greed, envy, violence and
lots of other ugly thoughts that pass through our consciousness on a
daily basis. But these are not crimes, partly, of course, because no one
else knows about them, more importantly because they are things we do to
ourselves rather than to others. What you do about a sin of this sort is
to recognize its existence, confess it (regretfully) to God, and promise
to try and do better. You haven't harmed anyone except yourself -- the
purity of your own soul.

If you *commit* adultery, though, or steal money, or injure, rape or
kill someone, then you have certainly sinned in one of those traditional
areas, but you have done a good deal more than just commit a venial sin,
and the matter cannot be corrected by ordinary repentance. Since the
victim is not yourself, you cannot go to God in private and work it out
with Him. As vile a man as Claudius recognizes that fact: "But O, what
form of prayer / Can serve my term? 'Forgive me my foul murder'? / That
cannot be, since I am still possessed / Of those effects for which I did
the murder . . ")

I will be happy to search out any references Ed can offer in the learned
doctors he cites (in translation, please, I have but small Latin and
less Greek), but I have a feeling we are talking at cross purposes.

don bloom
 

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