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“I am always directed by you” – Mariana “I am directed by you” – Isabella. Both these lines are addressed to the Duke. What do they suggest about women status in this play? What other evidence can you find to support your view? Measure for Measure is a play written by William Shakespeare in the seventeenth century which crucially presents the role of women. Women were viewed as pure and were not expected to be promiscuous, but dependent on men with few options or choices.
Shakespeare’s interpretation of women in Measure for Measure very much reflects society’s opinion of women at the time, where men had more freedom and should be given more respect than women. The society at that time was a patriarchal one, where a male was a considered a God like figure and ultimately the leader, and below him was the king and then the nobles. However, although the society gave men more rights than women, Measure for Measure demonstrates that men also had more responsibilities.
This is shown through the situation with Claudio and Juliet, as although they are both equally to blame for Juliet’s pregnancy, it is Claudio facing the death penalty. The women of Measure for Measure are generally quite low in the ranks of importance and respect; they are not spoken of with any importance. Juliet is the object of Claudio’s sexual release and Mariana is the long lost forgotten fiancee of Angelo, who was abandoned by him when she lost her dowry in a shipwreck.
The only woman who kind of breaks the trend of the lowly women is Isabella, who has the courage to stand up to Angelo for her chastity. In the first half she is pushed between Angelo and Claudio while she decides what to do and refuses to respond Angelo’s advances, then in the second half, she takes her orders from the Duke which shows that on the other hand she is still obedient toward the Duke, following all of his instructions. In Act V, Scene 1, the Duke shows his opinion of women when talking to Mariana, he says: “Why, you are nothing then: neither maid, widow nor wife”.
According to the Duke’s point of view, the other woman who truly is free is Mistress Overdone as she earns her own money and is able to get some freedom; at least she doesn’t have to stay at home cooking. The main female character in Measure for Measure is Isabella; she represents a very pure female character. This is first seen at the start of the play by the fact that she is training to become a nun and by the strong Christian values she appears to have. This is then emphasized later when she is told her brother’s life will be saved if she agrees to sleep with Angelo.
She refuses this offer, placing her chastity and her Christian values above her own life. This illustrates that a woman’s purity is highly valued, while a woman being promiscuous is not accepted. Mariana is another female character in the play and she is quite different to Isabella. None of these three men, Angelo, Claudio or the Duke, seem to think that her CHOICE matters- her body is to be bargained for whether for lust, life or love.
When the duke asks Mariana to allow him a private discussion with Isabella, she replies, “I am always bound to you”, as if she is speaking to an old friend. And again, when the duke tells her he respects her, she answers that she knows it and has found it to be true, suggesting a long-term relationship. This statement also shows that she is his subject. The adjective ‘bound’ means that she is obliged to do as he wishes and also compelled to do so. She uses the adverb ‘always’ to him which shows that she will always follow his example and will do his will in any condition.
Her absolute trust is manifested when she agrees to entrust her chastity as the Friar asks. In the Jacobean society Shakespeare lived in, women would have always done as they were bid by order of men, but especially if the order was given by a man of religion. These words show the absolute compliance that the Duke is able to gain through becoming a disguise (pseudo-)friar. The Duke abuses this religious power to gain insight into people’s souls for his own ends.
He knows that Angelo wishes Isabella to ‘give up the treasures’ of her body and uses the two women to gain more power over Angelo. The same applies to when Isabella says to the Duke, “I am directed by you”, this statement also shows how women respected men and how men were above in authority. As mentioned above, there are no independent women in Measure for Measure, this is not strange, considering the setting and Shakespeare’s own era; there are prostitutes and nuns who are given no chance to control their own lives most of all they seem to have no choice in any matter.