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Isabella

Measure for Measure

Shakespeare and the Casting Couch

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Stories about women summoned as supplicants to the portals of men with the power to grant their wishes, for a price, are common across professions, across countries, across millennia. Shakespeare dramatized the dilemmas some of these women faced in more than one of his plays.

In both Henry VI Part 3 and Measure for Measure, for example,
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Tempter or Tempted?

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In Measure for Measure (2.2.197), Angelo confronts, possibly for the first time in his life, the temptation of lust. And since this is new to him and because he is highly moralistic, he is troubled and confused. He reacts by asking himself a series of questions for which he has no answers.

What’s this? What’s this? Is this her fault,
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Seduction or Harassment?

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Shakespeare delights in the seduction ceremonies of bright men with even brighter women. These dialogues, whether between adolescents like Romeo and Juliet, more mature characters like Henry V and Princess Katherine, or seasoned adults like the widow Lady Grey and the sexual harasser King Edward, in this scene (3HenryVI 3.2.36), give Shakespeare opportunities to employ dazzling webworks of rhetorical exchanges.
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Sexual Extortion

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In Measure for Measure (2.4.95), Angelo, the classic sexual harasser, adopts a method of sexual extortion similar to King Edward’s in Henry VI Part 3 (3.2.36).  Both men begin with oblique insinuations about their desires, which can be innocently misread. When the women, Isabella in Measure for Measure and Lady Grey in Henry VI,
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Yet show some pity

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Isabella
Yet show some pity.
Angelo 
I show it most of all when I show justice,
For then I pity those I do not know,
Which a dismissed offense would after gall,
And do him right that, answering one foul wrong,
Lives not to act another. Be satisfied;
Your brother dies tomorrow; be content.
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Source:
Act 2
Scene 2
Line 127

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We cannot weigh our brother with ourself

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We cannot weigh our brother with ourself.
Great men may jest with saints; ’tis wit in them,
But in the less foul profanation…
…That in the captain’s but a choleric word,
Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.
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Source:
Act 2
Scene 2
Line 156

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Because authority, though it err like others

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Because authority, though it err like others,
Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself,
That skins the vice o’ th’ top. Go to your bosom,
Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know
That’s like my brother’s fault. If it confess
A natural guiltiness such as is his,
Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue
Against my brother’s life.
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Source:
Act 2
Scene 2
Line 164

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At what hour tomorrow Shall I attend your Lordship?

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Isabella
At what hour tomorrow
Shall I attend your Lordship?
Angelo
At any time ‘fore noon.
Isabella

‘Save your honor!

Exeunt Isabella, Lucio, and Provost.

Angelo
From thee: even from thy virtue.Irony
What’s this? What’s this? Is this her fault,
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Admit no other way to save his life

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Angelo
Admit no other way to save his life—
As I subscribe not that, nor any other—
But, in the loss of question, that you, his sister,
Finding yourself desired of such a person
Whose credit with the judge, or own great place,
Could fetch your brother from Metaphorthe manacles
Of the binding law,

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To whom should I complain?

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To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,
Who would believe me? O perilous mouths,
That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof,
Bidding the law make curtsey to their will,
Hooking both right and wrong to th’appetite,
To follow as it draws! I’ll to my brother.
Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood,
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Source:
Act 2
Scene 4
Line 185

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The sense of death is most in apprehension

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Isabella
The sense of death is most in apprehension,
And the poor beetle that we tread upon
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.
Claudio
Why give you me this shame?
Think you I can a resolution fetch
From flow’ry tenderness? If I must die,
I will encounter darkness as a bride,
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Source:
Act 3
Scene 1
Line 85

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Most strange! But yet most truly will I speak

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Vincentio, the Duke
Most strange! But yet most truly will I speak:
That Angelo’s forsworn, is it not strange?
That Angelo’s a murderer, is’t not strange?
That Angelo is an adulterous thief,
An hypocrite, a virgin-violator,
Isabella
Is it not strange? And strange?
Vincentio, the Duke
Nay, it is ten times strange.
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Source:
Act 5
Scene 1
Line 42

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Most bounteous sir: Look, if it please you, on this man condemn’d

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Most bounteous sir:
Look, if it please you, on this man condemn’d
As if my brother liv’d. I partly think
A due sincerity governed his deeds,
Till he did look on me. Since it is so,
Let him not die. My brother had but justice,
In that he did the thing for which he died;
For Angelo,
His act did not o’ertake his bad intent,
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Source:
Act 5
Scene 1
Line 508

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