Measure for Measure
How we cite our quotes:
All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be
pluck'd down. (1.2.5)
Here we learn that all the brothels in Vienna's suburbs are scheduled to be torn down because prostitution is illegal and the spread of venereal disease is out of control. When we read this, we can't help but think of the suburbs outside of Shakespeare's London, where the sex industry thrived because it was hard for officials to regulate brothels outside the city limits.
FYI: In April of 1604 (the same year Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure), King James I ordered all the tenements and houses in the suburbs be torn down to prevent the spread of the plague, which killed about 36,000 people in 1603.
And have you nuns no farther privileges?
Are not these large enough?
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)
At this point in the play, we've already encountered the hyper-sexual Mistress Overdone, who runs a local brothel. Here, Shakespeare presents the other end of the spectrum in Isabella, who is about to become a nun who will take a vow of chastity, swearing off sex forever.
When Isabella says she wishes the sisterhood she's about to join was more "strict," we wonder why. Is she seeking refuge in the convent from the corruption of Vienna? Something else?
but it is I
That, lying by the violet in the sun,
Do as the carrion does, not as the flower,
Corrupt with virtuous season. [...]
What dost thou, or what art thou, Angelo?
Dost thou desire her foully for those things
That make her good? (2.2.27)
There are a couple of things to notice here, where Angelo admits to the audience that he's lusting after Isabella. First, Angelo sees his sexual desire as something "corrupt" and compares his body to carrion (road kill) rotting in the sun. (This is similar to how Hamlet compares a pregnant – and therefore inherently sexual – woman's body to a "dead dog" that "breeds maggots" while rotting in the sun [Hamlet, 2.2.5]. Gross.)
We also notice that Angelo is turned on by Isabella's virtue. Just a few lines later, he confesses that he would never get as excited about a woman who isn't a virgin and that this is the first time he's ever experienced sexual desire. What does this suggest about Angelo's character?