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.
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
In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure there exists a paradox of the punishment of fornication only being able to be lifted by more fornication. I am referring to the deal that Angelo attempts to make with Isabella, her virginity for her brothers freedom. This issue, however, is reflective of a greater anxiety of the state invading personal spaces. From Claudio’s arrest to the loss of Mistress Overdone’s livelihood to the bargaining of Isabella’s virginity, the destructiveness of the state’s involvement with matters concerning sex as an anxiety of the play is evident. Continue reading
Sex! Sex sells: we hear this all the time. Sex is sold, we hear this all the time whether it is in conversations about advertising or prostitution; Cressida in Troilus and Cressida; or the relative value of women and men at Dartmouth as they progress through their time here on the “Dartmouth X”: in all of these instances sex is a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder.
The limited value of virginity: “But even now worth this, and now worth nothing?”
Beginning with Salarino’s extended metaphor in Act One, Scene One, describing one of Antonio’s ships run a-ground as a violated woman, female worth in Merchant of Venice is connected to chastity.