Measure for Measure
How we cite our quotes:
No, holy father; throw away that thought;
Believe not that the dribbling dart of love
Can pierce a complete bosom. Why I desire thee
To give me secret harbour, hath a purpose
More grave and wrinkled than the aims and ends
Of burning youth. (1.3.1)
When the Duke shows up at his place, the Friar assumes that he's come to talk about his sex life. The Duke, of course, thinks the "dribbling dart of love" is for sissies and young people. Is Shakespeare making a reference to Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo frequents Friar Laurence's cell to discuss Rosaline and Juliet? If the Duke is so opposed to love and sexual desire, what is it about Isabella that makes him change his mind at the end of the play? Is the Duke, like Angelo, turned on by Isabella's virginity?
Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die:
More than our brother is our chastity. (2.4.23)
When Angelo propositions Isabella, he puts our girl in the worst possible position by asking her to choose between sleeping with him and letting her brother die. Almost immediately, Isabella determines that her virginity is more valuable than her brother's life and the play asks us to think about whether or not Isabella makes the correct decision. At the same time, Shakespeare lets Isabella (and the audience) off the hook when the Duke hatches a plan to save Claudio's life and Isabella's virtue.
Brain Snack: In Shakespeare's main source for the play (Promos and Cassandra), the young woman who corresponds to Isabella's character actually sleeps with a corrupt judge to save her brother's life. Why do you think Shakespeare decided that his heroine would refuse to have sex?
[...] This night's the time
That I should do what I abhor to name,
Or else thou diest to-morrow.
Thou shalt not do't.
O, were it but my life,
I'd throw it down for your deliverance
As frankly as a pin. (3.1.11)
For Isabella, the thought of having sex is so horrifying that she can't even bring herself to say the word out loud. When she declares that she'd gladly sacrifice her life for Claudio, it becomes clear that, for Isabella, sex is worse than death.
This idea surfaces repeatedly throughout the play. Elsewhere, Isabella says, "Better it were a brother died at once / Than that a sister, by redeeming him, / Should die forever" (2.4.14), meaning that Isabella thinks she'll go to hell if she hooks up with Angelo (2.4.14). For more on this, check out "Quotes: Mortality."