Measure for Measure
How we cite our quotes:
Behold, behold. where Madam Mitigation comes! I
have purchased as many diseases under her roof as come to-- (1.2.9)
When Lucio brags about how much money he's spent at Mistress Overdone's brothel (and the number of STDs he's contracted), it's clear that the unruly Mistress Overdone thumbs her nose at the legal system and operates outside the sphere of masculine authority.
It is a man's voice. Gentle Isabella,
Turn you the key, and know his business of him;
You may, I may not; you are yet unsworn.
When you have vow'd, you must not speak with men
But in the presence of the prioress:
Then, if you speak, you must not show your face,
Or, if you show your face, you must not speak.
He calls again; I pray you, answer him. (1.2.4)
Nuns at St. Clare's aren't allowed to talk to a man and show their faces at the same time. They can do one or the other but not both. Also, any speaking or showing of faces to men must be done in the presence of the prioress (head nun).
Brain Snack: In 1538, Henry VIII (the English king who broke with the Catholic Church) began the dissolution of all the monasteries and convents in England. This eliminated an important option for women who would seek life as nuns. By the time Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure around 1604, there weren't any left. There were, however, plenty of them in Vienna (the seat of the Holy Roman Empire), which is the setting of Shakespeare's play.
Yes, truly; I speak not as desiring more;
But rather wishing a more strict restraint
Upon the sisterhood, the votarists of Saint Clare. (1.4.1)
In a previous passage, we saw how Mistress Overdone breaks the law by running a brothel. Here, when we first encounter Isabella, we find out she wants to join a convent (a very strict convent at that). But why? Is it because she's seeking refuge from the kind of corruption and sleaziness that's so rampant in Vienna? Or, is this another way for a woman to lead a life independent of men?
Why does Shakespeare place his two major female characters on opposite ends of the social spectrum? Is a woman's only option to be a virgin or a whore?