Isabella, who appears in Measure for Measure, is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and loveable characters. She has been idealized and denigrated by others. Some of them praised her nobility on the scene with her brother, while others charged her inhumanity towards her brother.
Furthermore, Isabella wanted to be a nun; a proper analysis will clarify the fact.
Some critics look upon Isabella as a saintly character. Saintliness involves perfection, and a saintly woman must be above all carnal desire and must be above all the temptations of the flesh. A woman’s chastity is her most prized possession; it is her most precious attribute; it is her glory. Early in the play, Lucio pays tribute to Isabella by saying that he regards her as a thing “enskied and sainted by her renouncement” and as an “immortal spirit, to be talked with insincerity.”
Isabella Maintains Her Chastity And Saintliness Simultaneously
The saintliness of Isabella’s character is evident in her decision to renounce a secular life and accept the life of a nun.
Again, our impression of Isabella’s saintliness deepens by how she pleads on her brother’s behalf during her second interview with Angelo. In this scene, we find her bold by resisting the offer made by Angelo to pardon her brother’s life on the condition that she should surrender her virginity to him and satisfy his lustful desire by her.
Isabella, in reply, says that to her, chastity is more valuable than the life of her brother. From this point, we may say that she is not prepared to sacrifice her chastity even to save her brother’s life.
Isabella’s saintliness is seen not only in her love of purity and chastity but also in her merciful and kind disposition. When she first meets with Angelo, mercy is the central theme of her speeches. She earnestly requests Angelo to pardon her brother and says that if he pardons her brother, neither heaven nor man will grieve at the mercy which he would show.
Isabella Emphasizes Mercy As Powerful As A Just Ruler
Isabella makes a most moving speech that reminds us of Portia’s quality of mercy in The Merchant of Venice. In this speech, she says that neither the king’s crown, the mayor’s sword of justice, the military commander’s baton, nor the judge’s robe becomes any of these powerful men as much as mercy does.
Isabella is more argumentative and stern to save her virginity and her brother’s life when she says to Angelo that mercy is considered a virtue in the ruler. She begs Angelo to remember that we must be merciful because God was merciful in redeeming the human souls through Christ’s martyrdom.
Isabella also reminds him to think of his faults before condemning Claudio to death. So, we may say that Isabella is trying her best to save her brother’s life without surrendering her chastity to Angelo.
Isabella Emphasizes Saving Her Chastity Rather Than Her Brother’s Life
There is another ardent proof of saving her chastity. It becomes apparent when she goes to her brother in prison. Here she informs him about her interview with Angelo and the outcome.
At this time, Claudio requests her to save his life by accepting Angelo’s condition. At this proposal by Claudio, she becomes furious, and she is about to lose her very balance of mind and her self-control.
Here, we find Isabella unusually scolding Claudio. She tells her brother that she would now offer a thousand prayers for his death and not a single prayer for his survival. Though it is not a sisterly and womanly behavior, she does it only to save her chastity.
Isabella Proves That A Woman’s Chastity Is Priceless
Some critics object that Isabella should have saved her brother even at the cost of her chastity surrendering to Angelo. These critics opine that human life is more important than a woman’s virginity, but it is also a fact that a woman’s chastity is her crown, a glory she can never retrieve once it is lost.
In this respect, Isabella is right at her stand. Her desire to become a nun can readily be appreciated.
Isabella is attractive to men despite her cold and holy nature and her desire to enter a convent.
Like Helena in All’s Well that Ends Well, Isabella is devoted and sincere but lacks humor. Her arguments for mercy compare favorably with Portia’s in The Merchant of Venice.
Many critics call Isabella the most ponderous of Shakespeare’s genius women and therefore almost negligible.
If you are preparing for your exams or any assignments on Measure for Measure, you might also want to consider purchasing the following books.
Name of the Book Name of the Author Amazon Purchase Link
Measure for Measure (Text Book) William Shakespeare Click for Amazon Price
STUDENT’S GUIDE: MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Measure for Measure – A William Shakespeare Play with Study Guide (Literature Unpacked) Eleanor Henderson Click for Amazon Price