Isabella is one of the most important characters in Measure for Measure, along with Angelo and the Duke. Before Act 5 we have a good idea as to her character, we know that she remains by her principles and is not easily influenced by people, even close family. She wanted the rules at the convent to be stricter, which shows her very apparent free will, and determination to do things right. She has already stood up to Angelo when he propositioned her to sleep with him in return for Claudio’s life, and when she relayed this information to Claudio she stood up to even him.
All of this shows us just how much Isabella values her morals and religion, she is being extremely intransigent. At the beginning of Act 5 Isabella is to participate in the plan put forth by the Duke, she is not to accuse Angelo and if the Duke acts harshly to her then it is all part of the plan. She is not very pleased at this, in Act 4, Scene 6 she says “To speak so indirectly I am so loth”, this basically means that she hates the idea of not accusing Angelo in person. I would say that she play a very major part in the Act, most main characters do in fact, except maybe Claudio who says nothing.
She exposes Angelo for the murder, liar and adulterer that he is, and when no one believes her she speaks very passionately about how he broke his bargain. She then, near the end of the Act begs the Duke to spare Angelo’s life for the sake of Isabella; this is indeed a test of just how strong her convictions are. She takes part in the fist and one of the most important sections of the Act, when she exposes Angelo and is then called mad by the Duke. In her fist speech she claims that she seeks justice for the crimes committed to her, she really emphasises this point by repetition, “given me justice! Justice!
Justice! Justice! ” this shows her desperation to see justice carried out. When the Duke tells her to reveal this scandal to Angelo she is shocked and appalled, “You bid me seek redemption of the devil. ” Obviously saying that to tell Angelo the news would be like confessing to the Devil, which is altogether wrong. Angelo then tries to say that she is mad, she lists all of his crimes and playing along with the plan, the Duke sends her away. Despite the Duke apparently not believing her she continues with her convincing speech, saying “may Angelo, in all his dressings, caracts, titles, forms, be an arch-villain.
This does indeed interest the Duke, as he says that if she is indeed mad then she seems to be making sense. She continues in this manner until finally the Duke gets irritated and arrests her for making ‘false’ accusations. Throughout this whole conversation Isabella kept her composure, and kept up a structured and legitimate argument, even against the Duke who is the leader of her city. The Duke having her arrested must have been quite a blow to Isabella’s self esteem, as she thought he would be the perfect person to help her.
Isabella does not appear again until after the Duke has been de-robed, she asks for his pardon as she says she has “employed and pained your unknown sovereignty” he pardons her. The Duke then asks her to pardon him for not revealing himself sooner and saving her brothers life, he claims that “it was the swift celerity of his death , which I did think with slower foot came on” Isabella then pardons him, though why I do not know, she should surely be disappointed at him for letting Claudio die.
However it is apparent that people (except Lucio) hold a lot of respect for the Duke in Measure for Measure, so she might have to forgive him out of respect and compliance with him as an authority figure. The next event is one that I feel is key in determining Isabella’s true character. This shows just how far she will go to stand by her faith and morals, despite what has previously happened. The Duke has sentenced Angelo to death for ‘killing’ Claudio, Mariana pleads with the Duke not to do it but he says that it is necessary to avenge Claudio’s death.
Mariana pleads with Isabella to support her, “sweet Isabel, take my part; lend me your knees and all my life to come, I’ll lend you all my life to do you service. ” And if she does so then she will be forever in her debt. Isabella here does something that I doubt many people would do, she kneels next to Mariana and pleads for Angelo’s life. At this point in the play she does not know that Claudio is alive, yet she still begs for mercy on behalf of Angelo. Her argument says that although Angelo thought he had committed a crime he actually had not, and it is ultimately Claudio that is the guilty party.
I would imagine that this is very hard for Isabella; after all of the things she has gone through with Angelo, to now forgive him and save his life, this shows great strength of character. Isabella is left at the end of Measure for Measure with a life changing decision to make; does she marry the Duke or go to life in the convent as originally planned? I am not sure what her decision would be. Based on the events of the play, she is seen as being very set in her ways and unmovable, so on that basis she would probably go to the convent.
However in that time (1600’s) it was really the woman’s goal in life to land herself a good husband, therefore on that basis she would marry the Duke. The audience’s view of Isabella I think will be constantly changing throughout the play. At the start they may think she is far too set in her ways and is a bit cold-hearted, to let her brother die for the sake of her virginity. But in Act 5 I think that we see another side of her morality that is more human, she goes against her true feelings for a man (Angelo) to help another woman (Mariana).
I think that the audience would respect her for that noble deed. She would also be felt sympathy for, as she is being messed around by the Duke a great deal. The way he pretends that Claudio is dead and how he couldn’t do anything about it should make her extremely resentful towards her, and the audience feel exceedingly sorry for her. Overall I think that Shakespeare has portrayed Isabella as a very strong female character in a male dominated play, she is the only woman to really have her own say and individuality.
Mariana is only interested in getting her husband back; Mistress Overdone is hardly a good, strong, upright member of the community. Isabella may even be the most just and un-corrupt character in Measure for Measure. Because while most of the other main characters have major flaws or ulterior motives, she seems to wear her thoughts on her sleeve so to speak. Even though Measure for Measure is a comedy, it is apparent that it was one of the later plays (first performed in 1604), because of the mature themes dealt with like power, corruption and justice.
I think that Shakespeare put Isabella in the play to create a balance between the characters, she gives some much needed morality and common sense to a lot of the play. The audience can relate to Isabella in such a way that they initially feel some anger at her intransigence, but they inevitably later on are sympathetic of her position. At the start of the play I did not take to Isabella much, but now I believe that she is the most interesting character and defiantly my favourite in Measure for Measure.