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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0207  Thursday, 23 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 15:54:25 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0189 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

[2] 	From: 	Kristen McDermott <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 22 Mar 2006 12:38:38 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0201 Measure for Measure and Isabella

[3] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 12:02:56 -0500
	Subj: 	Measure for Measure and Isabella


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 15:54:25 +0000
Subject: 17.0189 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0189 Measure for Measure and a Puzzle

On whether Isabella's surrender to Angelo would constitute rape or 
prostitution, Don Bloom writes:

 >"You just
 >have to know what you're setting up as moral premises in order to
 >make your argument."

Indeed. Can someone familiar with the theological currents of 
Shakespeare's day briefly summarize the official Catholic and Anglican 
Church positions on prostitution and the relative culpability of whore, 
pimp, and john in said transaction? Should Lucio be compelled to marry 
the prostitute whose child he may have sired? Is Claudio guilty for 
urging his novitiate sister to "give it up" to Angelo in exchange for 
his life. Is Isabella guilty for refusing the exchange (in veneration of 
St. Clare) though willing to offer up her life instead? Does Marianna's 
loss of dowry invalidate Angelo's covenant with her? Not quite analogous 
is Augustine's case (with his implicit pardon) in DE SERMONE DOMINI... 
of the wife giving it up to a rich man for gold to save her husband 
(with her husband's consent). What are the formal moral premises in M4M?

I can't help but see the Duke's donning the friar's habit as reflecting 
the Henrician assumption (usurpation, to Catholic eyes) of spiritual or 
sacral authority by the Tudor-Stuart state. King James in his writing 
carries divine right ideology to new heights. The ruler is seen as 
natural father, shepherd, and minister to his people--the deputy on 
earth of Christ himself--now responsible for both his subjects' souls 
and bodies. He is prior to and above the law (Note the Duke's charge to 
Angelo not merely to enforce but "qualify" the law). In Erasmian terms, 
he becomes abbot of the "monastic state." Nor does James shrink from 
advocating and himself engaging in secrecy and deceit for so-called 
higher ends--hence the DOLUS BONUS or "good trick." At play's end, 
Isabella, after passing the Duke's test of mercy to Angelo, is now 
worthy to become bride to Christ's new avatar-- displacing the clerical 
Catholic locus of sacrality. (See Debora Shugar's POLITICAL 
THEOLOGIES... for the full argument.)

On the other hand  (there's always an other hand with WS), Lucio's 
slanderous lies regarding the "Duke of dark corners" may bodyguard the 
truth, as Arnie Perlstein and Ed Taft suggest. Can we be sure Lucio has 
sired the prostitute's child? Is the Machiavellian Duke once more 
evading his own responsibility and selecting yet another Angelo in Lucio 
to clean up his (the Duke's) own mess? Yet one more substitute?

Joe Egert

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kristen McDermott <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 22 Mar 2006 12:38:38 -0500
Subject: 17.0201 Measure for Measure and Isabella
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0201 Measure for Measure and Isabella

 >"(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"

Frank Whigham makes a very important point about the mistake of assuming 
that only females can be sexually vulnerable. We should also remember 
that the original Isabella was, of course, played by a boy/young man. 
Lots of good studies in the last ten years have considered the ways our 
assumptions about how early modern sexuality is staged are complicated 
by the eroticized presence of the "boy" actors, who might well have 
presented opportunities for male audience members to worry about both 
male seductiveness ("a nest of boyes able to ravish a man," Middleton on 
Blackfriars) and male rape (c.f. one of the boys in Jonson's Cynthia's 
Revels, who says, "What, will you ravish mee?. . . I'lde crie, a rape, 
but that you are children" [99, 102-3].)

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Thursday, 23 Mar 2006 12:02:56 -0500
Subject: 	Measure for Measure and Isabella

Commenting on the kinky side of Isabella, Frank Whigham asks, "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."

Or maybe neither. Despite her passion and fiery rhetoric, Isabella may 
secretly wish to lose control, to hand it over to someone else. Near the 
beginning of the play, she seems to want to be controlled by the 
sisterhood, which, in turn, is dedicated to the ultimate father-figure, God.

At the end of the play, the Duke puts her in a predicament that eerily 
mirrors what she at first wanted. By the end of Act 5, the Duke has 
presented himself as a seemingly all-powerful demi-God who has contrived 
to save the day for everyone. Moreover, he has put Isabella in a "tight" 
corner: how can she say "No" in public, in front of an admiring crowd, 
to the father-figure who has rescued her brother? And who seems to have 
master-minded a "happy ending" for all? In fact, her marriage to the 
Duke seems part and parcel of this "happy" ending.

It strikes me that one major difference between Angelo and the Duke is 
that the former is quite honest and open about his plans and feelings. 
The Duke, on the other hand, hides both from us - and perhaps even from 
himself as well. So I think the Duke is fully capable of having seen 
Isabella's passion for restraint and used it, along with her longing for 
a father figure, to get what he wants: her.

Ed Taft

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