A Feminist Perspective of Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice

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A Feminist Perspective of Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice

Isabella's only power could be in saying 'no', her 'no' to Angelo that she would not leave the world despoiled and soulless, 'no' to Claudio that she would sacrifice herself, 'no' to the nunnery that she had wished to enter or 'no' to the Duke's offer of marriage. Isabella's role ability to be self-determining was quite different from Portia's advocacy in The Merchant of Venice, for Isabella was the tool of the Duke, fulfilling his scripting. Her nun's garb should have ensured a neuter role, and she intended her pity and love for her brother to involve her in this world only so far as to counsel him in honour. Despite her self concept, two men of the world
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Conversely, Isabella was notable because she was always trapped and endangered, by affection for her brother, by revulsion against the deputy, by reverence and trust of the Duke.

Measure for Measure contained a correctional element in revealing that concupiscence spread through all layers of society, and that any solution was made complex by variations in honesty about sexuality. How could one administer justice that eliminated the exploitation, crime and disease associated with sexuality, when honest and loving people would be executed under the same system? What other economic viability would there be for prostitutes if the profession were outlawed? After all, the Duke had Isabella procure Mariana for Angelo. Shakespeare's achievement lay in showing the pervasive nature of the problem and the impossibility of untangling disasters by the application of an absolutist law.

The construction of Isabella as a nun, intercessor in prayer for those who would involve themselves in sexuality, intensified the case against exploitation by the powerful male. Antonio's "Who would believe thee?" still rings horribly true, as courts in the twentieth century wrestle with how much knowledge or assumption

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