Isabella as an Independent Female in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

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It seems rare in a Shakespearean play to find a female character to whom women in this new millennium can relate. Modern women are expected to be strong, independent, educated and intelligent, and in control of their own destinies. Women are also considered to be on equal footing with their male counterparts in regards to abilities, privileges, and rights. Although these ideals may not be completely realistic in the real world, in general, these are the ways in which a twenty-first century woman is perceived. In the time period Shakespeare was writing in the abilities and roles expected of women were very different. For women in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, there are extremely limited roles women can fulfill and all of them centre …show more content…
As a nun Isabella would have little contact with men and would not be answerable to anyone other than her female order. Isabella is unavailable to any men, even Angelo. She does not conform to one of the roles society deems appropriate for a female. She is a virgin but has no intention of marrying. She believes passionately in her faith and would not sacrifice her body for any sinful reason, meaning that she would never become a prostitute. As a virgin destined to remain so the rest of her life, Isabella falls outside of Angelo's understanding.

Even before she takes the vows Isabella does not seem to have any strong male roles directing her life. Claudio is her only relation and she spends the duration of the play trying to rescue him rather than the other way around. Rather than rendering her vulnerable this lack of male dominance seems to suit Isabella quite well. She is intelligent and outspoken in her defence of her brother, boldly contradicting Angelo on several occasions. Angelo claims there is "no remedy" (2.2.49) to Claudio's sentence but Isabella does not accept this saying, "Yes, I do think that you might pardon him" (2.2.50). Just ten lines later she does this again, boldly questioning what he has told her instead of accepting Angelo's decree. Isabella even dares, in this same speech, to instruct Angelo in her beliefs about mercy as most becoming of a person in authority: "Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword, / The marshal's truncheon, nor the
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