Measuring ‘Measure for Measure’

William_Hunt_Claudio_and_Isabella_Shakespeare_Measure_for_MeasureI really have over-committed myself at the moment and as a result I’m getting very little time for reading for pleasure.  Something is definitely going to have to be done about that, but not until this week is out of the way and I’ve met all my obligations in respect of teaching and leading discussion groups.  So a brief post today based around my thinking on Measure for Measure for a discussion group cum lecture on Wednesday.

I’ve always thought that Measure for Measure was one of the more difficult of Shakespeare’s plays for a modern audience to understand.  Not only is there a lot of legalistic and religious argument to pick over, especially in the first three acts, but some of the laws that relate to the various types of marriage contract make so little sense these days that the basic premise of the play can seem nonsensical.  Let’s face it, if a law that says a man can be executed for having sex before marriage were to be implemented today then we would be about to see a very drastic culling of the population.

In fact, when Angelo condemns Claudio to death for getting Juliet with child he is overstepping the bounds over the law in 1604 as well, the more so because the contract of marriage that Juliet and Claudio have entered into would actually have been made more binding by intercourse. However, there were people who were asking for strengthened laws in this area and in 1650 adultery was made punishable by death, so Shakespeare would have been exploring an area that the growing influence of Puritan sects had brought to the fore.

So, parts of this play can be difficult both to understand and to give credit to.  However, the more I’ve worked on the text and read around what the various commentators have to say the more I am amazed that no one seems to have picked up on a point that I feel should be blindingly obvious. In order to save Claudio’s life, Angelo demands that Isabella, Claudio’s sister, sleeps with him.  Now, in contrast to his sources, Shakespeare makes Isabella a novice and so the debate as to why she should not give herself in exchange for her brother centres around the question of her chastity.  To some extent it replaces the question of her honour, which has been the core of the debate in the source materials.  Commentator after commentator, picking up on the fact that Isabella displays the characteristic extremeness of the newly converted, points out that she has misunderstood the notion of chastity and that it is as much a spiritual state of mind as a physical state of body. In other words, if she was to give herself to Angelo in these circumstances her spiritual chastity would not be violated.

Fine!  Let’s hear it for spiritual chastity.  But, what no one seems to point out is that if she did what Angelo demands she would be walking into a room and allowing herself to be raped.  Because let’s not be in any doubt about this, rape is what Angelo is proposing.

As it happens, I find it very hard to warm to Isabella.  She is as unforgiving in her stance as Angelo in his and has little in her that accords with any sense of Christian forgiveness.  In many respects they are two for a pair and the city or country ruled by them or their like would soon know the horrors of the rule of the despot and the inquisition.  However, that is immaterial. Whether I like her or not makes no difference to the way I feel about what’s been asked of her and the fact that I can’t find any commentators who even mention the word rape appalls me.

I shall certainly be bringing this up with my class on Wednesday afternoon to see if they think I’ve got this out of all proportion but I would be interested to hear what any of you think as well – preferably before Wednesday so that if I am going off on one without just cause I can be saved from making a complete fool of myself.

The Chasing of the Tail

woman-reading-by-the-harbour-james-tissotThe most popular pastime in our house this week has been that known as chasing one’s tail.  When I first retired my problem was not finding time to blog but rather finding things to blog about because suddenly I was left with a great deal of time on my hands and very little with which to fill it.  Isn’t it funny how things change?  Now I am running around witless, chasing said tail, because I have so much that needs doing that I don’t know how I am going to find the necessary hours and minutes in which to complete it all.  And, of course, just when I haven’t got time to deal with it, my main computer has died (RIP) so I can only hope that this missive, going out on a wing and a prayer, will reach you all.

Earlier this week, Stefanie, over on So Many Books, wrote a post about wanting to prioritise and if ever I needed to follow her good example it is now.  Which is why I am making time to write here because it will  help me sort out what has to be done, what ought to be done and what it would be a good idea to do if I possibly can.

There are some things I can’t shift.  So, I have to take myself off to Stratford in an hour or so and go and work with the students over there.  That’s a regular Thursday commitment during the Autumn and Spring terms and takes up most of the day.  I also have to prepare for the regular Shakespeare class that I teach for a local group, this term on Measure for Measure, and that takes considerable thought as they are working at Masters Level. Ideally, it should get a least two hours a day.  Aren’t ideals a wonderful thing!

Then it is my turn to lead the Bookworms reading group discussion next Wednesday and I haven’t even started the book, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, let alone given any thought to how I’m going to shape the discussion.  At least I have got the two meetings this week, one on Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont  and the other on The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, out of the way.

Oh, and just for good measure, I’m starting a course on historical fiction, Plagues, Witches and War with Coursera on Monday and there is a considerable amount of preliminary reading that I have to do for that.

And this is before I even start to think about the things I ought to do, like getting the computer mended or replaced.

Looking at that list there are two things that simply cannot be allowed to slip whatever else does and they are the preparation for the Shakespeare group and Bookworms.  Other people are relying on me where those are concerned and so they have to take priority.  Then comes the historical fiction reading and only after that can I start to look at all the work on medieval history and culture that I promised myself I would get round to this Autumn.

Do you know, two sets of retired people told me yesterday how bored they were.  How do they manage it?  There are times when a bit of boredom would be a welcome distraction!  And now I’ve just looked at the clock and I really have to go.  Have a good day.