Measure for Measure Essay: The Pontification of Isabella

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The Pontification of Isabella in Measure for Measure

Within Measure for Measure the character of Isabella is characterized as an innocent pure female, and there is a focus on her ever-present moral dilemma. By using Elizabethan perspectives on women, nuns, and chastity, Shakespeare uses Isabella to reveal character traits and morality of those around her. However in opposition Isabella made be seen as an individual who pontificates too much when her brother’s life is at stake, it is perhaps easier for Isabella to suffer the condemnation of a modern audience.

Isabella is immediately established as a rare female character when her brother describes her with the statement,

"she has prosperous art

When she will play …show more content…

The most significant aspect of Isabella's character is her desire to be a nun. This immediately establishes the importance of her chastity while at the same time aiding in characterizing the setting in Catholic Vienna. Her decision to enter into a convent is especially interesting considering the fact that Shakespeare's audience was predominantly Protestant. Reformation England abolished convents and monasteries and discontinued the practice of forcing celibacy on the clergy; however, there was still a certain reverence for the holiness of virginity. This respect for virginity was, to a certain extent, superficial. Elizabethans did not always make a distinction between chastity and virginity. Isabella's spiritual commitment to abstain from sex, her chastity, would be rendered false when there was an end to the physical state of virginity. Sleeping with Angelo, even under these unusual circumstances, would make her unsuitable for the convent. By diverging from his source materials and making Isabella a novice in a convent, Shakespeare further complicates Isabella's dilemma.

As a nun, Isabella would be considered to be a bride of Christ; in much broader terms, the body of believers, or the Church, is considered to be the bride of Christ. In this respect, Isabella's decision is not merely a personal dilemma. Shakespeare uses this single character as representative of all of Christianity, or at least all of Catholicism. With statements such as


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