Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Isabella's Redemption
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1712  Friday, 7 October 2005

From: 		Clark J. Holloway <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Thursday, 6 Oct 2005 21:27:56 -0700
Subject: 	Isabella's Redemption

I imagine the subscribers (and Hardy) are getting a bit tired of Measure 
for Measure, but I'd like to share some observations I posted to HLAS a 
few years ago regarding my reading of Isabella.

In Act IV, scene iv, the Duke gives a rather lame reason for withholding 
the fact that Claudio is still alive from Isabella, when he says: "But I 
will keep her ignorant of her good, / To make her heavenly comforts of 
despair / When it is least expected."  But I think the text makes it 
clear that the Duke has a much deeper reason for his deception.

Although Isabella intends to become a nun at the beginning of the play, 
I agree with those who say that she is not well suited to a life in the 
habit.  She initially lacks the Christian virtues of mercy and 
forgiveness.  She holds a grudge against Angelo when he propositions her 
in Act II, and is disgusted by her brother's weakness in Act III.  The 
Duke witnesses her condemnation of her brother in III, i, and has heard 
her opinion of Angelo when he eavesdrops on their conversation.  In IV, 
iv, Isabella tells him that she wants to pluck Angelo's eyes out after 
she is told of her brother's "death," and damns Angelo for not living up 
to his bargain.  The Duke tells her at this point that her railing 
against Angelo doesn't hurt him, and doesn't profit her a jot.  I think 
that the Duke is well aware that she could profit by a lesson in mercy 
and forgiveness.

After having the provost squirrel Claudio and Barnardine away in "secret 
holds," the Duke re-enters the city as himself and stages his little 
show with Angelo, Mariana, and Isabella.  After he has the disgraced 
Angelo married to Mariana, he calls for his immediate execution, saying, 
"An Angelo for Claudio, death for death. / Haste still pays haste, and 
leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and measure still for 
measure."  But note that the reference to "measure for measure" comes 
from Luke 6:38.

Referring back to that chapter of the Bible, we find that "measure for 
measure" is not a cry for vengeance, no "eye for an eye and tooth for a 
tooth," it's a promise from Christ that generosity and mercy will be 
rewarded by generosity and mercy.  Starting with Luke 6:35:

"But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing 
again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of 
the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.  Be ye 
therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.  Judge not, and ye 
shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: 
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:  Give, and it shall be given unto 
you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, 
shall men give into your bosom.  For with the same measure that ye mete 
withal it shall be measured to you again."

But still the Duke carries on with his little show.  While Isabella 
stands by and watches, he sentences Angelo to death, despite Mariana's 
pleas for his life.  But for what purpose?  He has already saved 
Claudio's life.  He has publicly humbled Angelo and made him fulfill his 
promise of marriage to Mariana.  So why does he persist in going forward 
with his deception?  It's because he's waiting for Isabella to show 
mercy and forgiveness.

 From her knees, Mariana pleads with Isabella to join her and beg for 
Angelo's life.  The Duke asks Mariana why Isabella should kneel down in 
mercy, in the face of her brother's ghost, and ask that Angelo be 
forgiven for his crime-practically goading Isabella into the recognition 
that her continued silence is unchristian.  It is only after Isabella 
kneels down in supplication, forgiving Angelo and begging that he be 
shown mercy, that the Duke calls the provost forward and winds up his 
little drama.

It seems to me that the Duke has intentionally withheld the fact that 
Claudio is still alive from Isabella in order to give her an opportunity 
to show mercy and forgiveness.  A chance to grow spiritually and gain 
some maturity.  She wasn't really cut out to be a nun, and perhaps she 
realizes this at the end.  If so, I think she probably accepted the 
Duke's proposal of marriage.

- Clark

[Editor's Note: Clark begins this post with a supposition: "I imagine 
the subscribers (and Hardy) are getting a bit tired of Measure for 
Measure." In fact, there are several works that I have been considering 
retiring from discussions for a while.]

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.