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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Measure for Measure and Isabella
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0201  Wednesday, 22 March 2006

From: 		Frank Whigham <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 21 Mar 2006 15:14:26 -0600
Subject: 17.0195 Measure for Measure and Isabella
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0195 Measure for Measure and Isabella

 >Carol Barton writes,
 >
 >>It might be difficult for the males in this discussion to
 >>understand the very real and physical as well as spiritual  >sense
 >of corruptedness and violation that a woman feels  >when her body
 >is mauled and penetrated against her will  >by a man she does not
 >want-whether that man is the  >once-beloved husband who has had sex
 >with her a thousand  >times before, or a criminal rapist forcing
 >her at knife-point.  >For a virgin, especially one who has
 >committed herself to a  >life of inviolate celibacy, the sense of
 >defilement is compounded  >several orders of magnitude. Isabella
 >need not be Mother  >Teresa to feel as she does---or to have the
 >right to feel that way.
 >
 >This is so. But isn't the play making the point that, however awful
 >Isabella's submission to Angelo may be for her, she is invited to *
 >offer* herself for her brother (although he is deeply wrong to ask
 >her for such a gift)?

(1) Why is the capacity to feel horrified at being raped to be seen as 
inherently or hierarchically gendered? Men can be raped as readily and 
as damagingly as women -- in prison or war, for instance; see Capote's 
remarkable play The Glass House or Hosseini's equally notable novel The 
Kite Runner. And fear of being sodomized is clearly extremely potent for 
many men, to judge from the deployment of the act as a sadistic trope in 
gritty prison dramas. I can imagine an explicitly homophobic argument 
for the act being more toxic to males, the violation being double 
(against one's will, with a defiling gender). In any case, the hierarchy 
stated seems to me to ignore one vulnerability in favor of another. 
There's plenty of horror to go around.

(2) Isabella certainly has the right to feel horrified by Angelo's 
repellent proposal, but the play equally certainly endows her with some 
sadomasochistic sexual energies (that ruby jewelry, for instance). How 
these relate to her outraged and possibly self-righteous or even 
narcissistic sense of violation is an important question. Why, after 
all, seek to be tied up really nice and tight? As a famous article on 
magic girdles by Al Friedman and Richard Osberg suggests, one might 
imagine Shakespeare asking (as with Goneril and Regan) whether such 
bindings are meant to lock things out or lock things in. The second, 
misogynist, possibility is very typical of Shakespeare, I think (or at 
least of the great plays written about this time). Webster's Ferdinand 
offers another pleasure-in-containment parallel.

MFM might be richly filmed by Pedro Almodovar, who would bring a 
sensibility nicely Catholic (in Marlowe's florid sense) to the task. 
Indeed, Marlowe would have found much to enjoy in MFM -- not least that 
happy ending, but also Isabella's imperiously plural reference to 
herself, a la Tamburlaine: "More than our brother is our chastity."

~Frank Whigham

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