Measure for Measure is not a celebration of family values, the play points towards both the political virtuosity, which sustains the comic, and the humbler self-knowledge that preserves the integrity of the virtuoso. Human virtue can only be chosen in freedom, but we need not deny ourselves the opportunity of ensuring that this choice is not stifled by the subtly related powers of abstract intellectualism and carnal necessity
Isabella in Measure for Measure personifies innocent virtue. Isabella offers an example of the highest possible character; since she will not sacrifice her own honor or her brother's in order to save her brother's life. She holds strong convictions as far as her morals are concerned, and considers her own soul and salvation. Pure; intelligent; beautiful, her outer beauty a reflection of her inner purity; loving, hers is an untested virtue that withstands the ultimate trial as shown in her appeal for mercy towards Angelo whom she believes to have ordered the execution of her brother. This action overcomes the questions aroused about her character when she is unwilling to sacrifice her virtue to save her brother's life. To finally allay all doubt as to how Isabella is "measured," the Duke's proposal at the end of the play stands as proof she has passed the test.
Isabella understands her chastity in a way that is largely similar to Angelo's austere virtue. We first meet her at the convent where she is about to become a nun, pleading for stricter restraint and discipline in an order already notorious for its austerity. Once she has taken her final vows, she will no longer be able to hold normal conversation with men:
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...to plague and punish us."
Shakespeare's Isabella is portrayed as an upright young woman who remains true to her ideals. In human relationships ideals can be found out of line when in opposition to another's ideals, but this does not lessen Isabella's virtuous character in the least.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare's Sombre Tragedies. London: Oxford UP, 1930.
Leech, Clifford. "The 'Meaning' of Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Survey 3 1950
Rossiter, A. P. Angel with Horns and Other Shakespeare Lectures. Ed. Graham Storey. London: Longmans, Green, 1961.
Shakespeare, William. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. 1969. Baltimore: Penguin, 1971.
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