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Isabella as an Independent Female in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure Essay

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It seems rare in a Shakespearean play to find a female character to whom women in this new millennium can relate. Modern women are expected to be strong, independent, educated and intelligent, and in control of their own destinies. Women are also considered to be on equal footing with their male counterparts in regards to abilities, privileges, and rights. Although these ideals may not be completely realistic in the real world, in general, these are the ways in which a twenty-first century woman is perceived. In the time period Shakespeare was writing in the abilities and roles expected of women were very different. For women in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, there are extremely limited roles women can fulfill and all of them centre around sexuality and serving men sexually. A woman is either chaste or unchaste, a wife or a whore, and there is very little differentiating the two. A wife is subservient to, and dependent upon, her husband for her care and well-being. A prostitute relies on a man's lascivious appetites and good will to survive. Even a virginal maid is only so long enough to secure a respectable marriage or to fall into the disreputable world of prostitution. As a nun, promised to God, and with no male figure directing her life, Isabella exists outside society's narrow boundaries and creates conflict for the male characters of the play. In act 2 scene 2 Isabella demonstrates just how independent and strong she is and the reader can see how her failure to fall neatly into one of Angelo's expected categories for women creates problems for him. This scene demonstrates how clearly comfortable and confident Isabella is in herself and how uncomfortable Angelo is with her.

Isabella is in the final stages of becoming ...


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...nce or outspoken tendencies. The world of Measure for Measure is not really ready for a woman of Isabella's personality and temperament. The male characters she comes in contact with are unsure of her, try to dominate her and to undermine her abilities to control her own life. She creates the discomfort and conflict one could expect in a real society given similar circumstances. Nowhere is this demonstrated more than in the scene where Isabella confronts Angelo about her brother's sentence. Shakespeare clearly demonstrates her strength, confidence and independence and reveals Angelo's insecurities and inability to accept Isabella outside of his narrow world view.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. "Measure for Measure." The Norton Shakespeare.

Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997. 2029- 2086.
Measure for Measure. Videotape. D


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