Processing Measure for Measure as a twentieth century female is terrible. It is uncomfortable to say the least, to watch a pious virginal woman be forced to choose between her brother’s life and her agency over her body. Not only does Angelo want Isabella’s, body and virginity, but he also wants her consent. He wants Isabella to want to have sex with him—freeing him of guilt perhaps? And so, Isabella, in quiet the bind, decides to manipulate the situation and the comedic trick titled ‘The Bed-Trick’ by A.D. Nuttall, in his article for the Shakespeare Survey, occurs.
The past debates around Isabella’s worth as a character perturb Marcia Riefer, author of “ ‘Instruments of Some More Mightier Member’ : The Constriction of Female Power in Measure for Measure.” Riefer, combatting past interpretations of Isabella as either an “angel” or a “vixen” develops a clear argument about the damaging effect of patriarchy in the play Measure for Measure, dividing her argument into six clearly articulated and logically flowing points. Continue reading
Isabella’s response to Angelo’s sexual proposition in Act 2 Scene 4 of Measure for Measure displays Shakespeare’s true genius and lexical prowess. After reading this passage numerous times, I found myself rethinking the sexual state of women who “endure the livery of a nun” in “austerity and single life” (I.1.70/90), as Theseus described in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critics claim that Isabella’s refusal of Angelo’s advances is a testament to her “pathological sexual repression.” One Shakespearian surmises, “beneath the habit of the nun there is a narrow-minded but passionate girl afflicted with an irrational terror of sex which she has never admitted to herself” (Barton, 580). However, I believe Isabella’s sexual desire is not repressed, but satisfied through alternative means with an unseen partner, the man she has devoted her body and soul to: Jesus Christ. Continue reading
The Duke in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure plays a role in nearly every affair between characters throughout the play. Whether he is explicitly fulfilling his role as the Duke of Vienna or in disguise as a friar, the Duke acts as a puppeteer and pulls most of the strings throughout the play. Continue reading
Why does Isabella fail to persuade Angelo to spare Claudio’s life? Bernice Kliman, in her article, Isabella in Measure for Measure, states that it is because she fails to use the formulaic rhetoric established by ad Herennium, one of Shakespeare’s sources for Measure for Measure. But is Kliman’s characterization of Isabella true to the text or colored by the literary comparisons she chose to make?
Many critics of Measure for Measure have focused on a sexual Isabella—not necessarily as overtly sexual, but perhaps sexually repressed, confused, naïve or, in some of the worst cases, provocative. I want to introduce the idea of an asexual Isabella.
Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction to anyone, and while it still remains barely visible in both the straight and queer communities, it is as real and present as any other sexuality. But in a world that sexualises women in every situation, pushes sex on us at every moment, and tells us that romantic relationships are necessary to our happiness and wholeness, asexuals often remain unnoticed or misunderstood. Continue reading
Ah, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — it’s no wonder Shakespearean scholars consider it a “problem play” (JStor – Measure for Measure and Elizabethan Comedy). Both the Duke and Isabella have some obvious moral issues that raise questions that need to be answered when deciding how the play is to be performed.
Measure for Measure in past critical analysis has been called one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” along with All’s Well That Ends Well and Troilus and Cressida (and others, arguably, including Merchant of Venice). I must have a problem, because Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure rank among those plays I have enjoyed reading the most. Maybe enjoyed is the wrong word, but they’re satisfyingly unsatisfying, twisting the rug out from you at just the right moment to not inspire tragedy, but revulsion—in my case, pained laughter (See: Hector’s utterly ignoble death at the hand(s) of Achilles and his many Myrmidons; the Duke’s seemingly undesired proposal to Isabella at the end of Measure for Measure).