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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Isabella's Redemption
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1723  Monday, 10 October 2005

[1] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Friday, 7 Oct 2005 09:23:31 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption

[2] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Friday, 07 Oct 2005 14:34:47 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption

[3] 	From: 	Abigail Quart <
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	Date: 	Friday, 7 Oct 2005 15:13:34 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Friday, 7 Oct 2005 09:23:31 -0600
Subject: 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption

To Clark Holloway, who says he thinks the Duke in Measure for Measure 
withholds the fact that Claudio is alive to give Isabella a chance to 
show mercy: I pretty much agree with your interpretation, though it 
could be argued that it's ultimately Shakespeare, rather than the Duke, 
who is arranging circumstances to lead up to this moment of choice for 
Isabella.

In other words, whatever the Duke's motives may be, or whatever he may 
THINK his motives are, the result (arranged of course by Shakespeare) is 
that we who are viewing the play come to this moment of tension when we 
wait to see what Isabella will do.  I find her act of kneeling one of 
the most dramatic and moving in the play, and it is also, as you 
indicate, morally illuminating.  As for Isabella's being instructed in 
mercy and forgiveness, I grant that's likely if we're thinking of the 
characters as real people.  But in reality, of course, it's the audience 
who are being instructed in mercy and forgiveness.

By the way, though I think resistant responses on Isabella's part to the 
marriage proposal can be dramatically interesting, I lean toward the 
view that she accepts the proposal.  I do so partly because I see the 
play as suggesting that both Isabella and the Duke are wrong in 
preferring a private, enclosed, restricted existence: Isabella perhaps 
sought to be a nun for the wrong reason-to escape from "real life"-and 
she wanted the rules of the order to be even stricter than they were 
(1.4: "I speak not as desiring more, / But rather wishing a more strict 
restraint"); the Duke, though temperate and self-aware, has "ever lov'd 
the life removed" (1.3), perhaps a bit of a problem for a ruler.  For 
both, virtue seems something more passive than active.

Thus, the Duke's speech to Angelo in the first scene could be applied to 
himself and Isabella: virtue must not become for them, as it was for 
Angelo, something merely negative or passive-a lack of sinfulness or a 
retreat from the pollutions of the world-but something active and 
fruitful.  As the Duke argues, whatever we may call a person's "self" is 
not intended simply for its own use but to "illuminate" and bless others:

Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not.

The play clearly presents this as a lesson Angelo needs to learn.  But 
perhaps the Duke and Isabella need to learn it-or put it into 
practice-as well.

I believe that the Duke and Isabella's possible marriage at the end is 
best seen as symbolizing responsibility, generosity, fecundity, and 
active virtue.  For Isabella to retreat from these would suggest she's 
still stuck in the same limited emotional and moral world she starts out 
in.  It doesn't make her "strong" to do that.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Friday, 07 Oct 2005 14:34:47 -0400
Subject: 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption

Concerning "measure for measure," don't fail also to note King David's 
speech in Psalm 18:24 to 27, which enunciates this principle, which was 
already inherent in the Pentateuch's code of reward and punishment:

      18:24  Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my
      righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.

      18:25  With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an 
upright
      man thou wilt shew thyself upright;

      18:26  With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the 
forward thou
      wilt shew thyself froward.

      18:27  For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring 
down high
      looks.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Abigail Quart <
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Date: 		Friday, 7 Oct 2005 15:13:34 -0400
Subject: 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1712 Isabella's Redemption

Mr. Holloway:

 >"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."

I very much agree. And I'll add that it's more than that. Finally, 
Isabella understands someone else's pain, heart, feelings. Finally, she 
isn't looking down on the mortals. She forgives Angelo because Mariana 
loves him, craves him. She forgives, because, finally, love is more 
important than strict justice.

Only then does the Duke reveal Claudio, still alive. Only then does the 
Duke propose. If Isabella puts her hand into the Duke's hand when he 
offers it, she has no need to speak. She has given visual consent. She 
actually has to physically put her hand into the Duke's so that he can 
confirm her gesture with the line "He is my brother, too." Claudio and 
the Duke become brothers upon the Duke's marriage to Claudio's sister. 
The line is a marriage contract.

I can remember two other gesture-marriages, not in Shakespeare, but 
elsewhere. And both times, there were "problems." In Shaw's Pygmalion, 
Liza gets down on the floor to retrieve a ring she has tossed away. It 
was a gift from Higgins. At that moment, she visually marries Professor 
Higgins by showing how precious the ring really is to her. Shaw was 
astonished that the audience could get that impression. Wrote a long 
essay explaining why she really married Freddie. Audiences didn't buy 
it. They SAW the wedding.

In the movie, Pretty Woman, the producers' intent was for the couple to 
separate at the end. They filmed it that way. Test audiences rejected 
it.  Why? There is a scene where, having refused her john's money, 
Vivian the prostitute is standing at the elevator with a heavy shoulder 
bag, waiting to leave. Edward the john takes the bag from her and places 
it on his own shoulder, assuming her burdens, and leads her back inside. 
It was a visual wedding and the audience knew it even if the producers 
didn't. They reshot the ending.

If a director doesn't see the moment of the visual wedding in Measure, 
and leaves it out, the ending falls flat. It has "problems." Isabella, 
redeemed, must be seen to give her consent to live in the world of 
flesh, love, indulgence, and forgiveness.

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