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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Isabella's Chastity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1258  Wednesday, 21 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jun 2000 21:31:58 +0000
        Subj:   Re: Isabella's Chastity

[2]     From:   Yvonne Bruce <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jun 2000 06:59:20 -0400
        Subj:   Isabella's Chastity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jun 2000 21:31:58 +0000
Subject:        Re: Isabella's Chastity

I agree with Dana's explanation that Angelo and Mariana are betrothed
via a pre-contract and accept her point that in that sense a conceived
child would indeed "have a father." But as Dana points out, the child
might not get "the emotional or economic contributions" of a father.
Isn't this point of yours a key one, Dana?  Isn't a large part of the
problem in Vienna that unparented children are all over the place as a
result of young men going to the brothels?  And doesn't this fact
compound the problem in the future?  By the way, the boy who sings to
Mariana about false love at the start of 4.1, why does she send him away
so quickly?  Who is HIS father?

Terence Hawkes writes, "The duke isn't thinking anything. He can't
think.  He has no mind to think with.  He's not a living human being.
He is part of a work of fiction. It's a funny old business. It's called
art."  If characters can't think then they cannot feel, either.  So why
do some characters deliver soliloquies and others shout out in pain?  If
they can't think or feel, then they cannot have motivations. So why do
some characters tell us their motivations?  If they have no motivations,
then they cannot act. So no plot would be possible, and every play would
be a tableau without a word spoken.  Characters do think, feel, have
motivations, and act -- all of this goes on in the mind of the artist,
and the clues are in the play for us to unravel as best we can.

Sean Lawrence asks a central question about MM: "Whether such
mystification exhausts morality, and more broadly, whether self-interest
exhausts motivation."  Well, I see two possible answers, Sean. First, as
in satire, the moral point of view may be said to rest in the audience,
which MEASURES the measures on stage and finds them lacking. (Surely
this is true in, say, Epicene, where there is no morally normative
character, and the audience must judge the pluses and minuses of each of
the gallants.)  More important, perhaps, is the suggestion that MM,
among other things, is a play about how absolutism necessarily leads to
the demise of the ethical and the moral.  That is, if power is absolute,
then it inevitably becomes infected by the personal. (If you can do
almost anything, then you can do whatever you want.)   Hence, the Duke's
plan is not at all what it seems, or even what he thinks it is.

Michael Skomand is right to point out that I have overstated the Duke's
thoughts. (Score one for Terence.)  I think it more accurate to say that
the Duke is pretty sure that Angelo has fallen (as Michael says), but he
can't know for sure: Angelo MIGHT be tempting/testing Isabella.  This is
the beauty of Vincentio's plan, though.  By instructing Isabella to go
to Angelo and say "Yes," the Duke puts before Angelo once again the sexy
novice and increases the possibility that Angelo will give in (if he
hasn't yet) and yield to his lust, a lust which he surely feels because
the Duke feels it too.

As for Mike's point about MM being a comedy: well, yes, but there are
all different kinds of comedies.  It may be that genre controls meaning
and interpretation, but what if Shakespeare is turning the genre inside
out?  He does this in Trolius and Cressida, doesn't he?  And for a long
time, critics have called MM a "problem comedy."  As Anne Barton once
put it, " If the Duke is an image of Providence, there would seem to be
chaos in heaven."

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Yvonne Bruce <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jun 2000 06:59:20 -0400
Subject:        Isabella's Chastity

Perhaps Professor Hawkes' tetchiness is hairsplitting over Professor
Taft's choice of words. If so (or if not), perhaps Professor Hawkes
might glance through Frank Kermode's latest on the various thought
processes revealed by Shakespeare's language.

Yvonne Bruce
 

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