What more disruptive theatrical figure is it possible to conceive than a heroine with no interest in romance? In Measure for Measure Isabella’s refusal to be bartered and, perhaps more importantly, her absolute refusal to treat men as if they are the most important thing in the world, is so outrageously radical that every means available has been employed to deflect, reduce, neutralize or trivialize the threat she poses. When Penny Gay discerns, in Barry Kyle’s production, ‘the force majeure which declares that men’s experience is important and meaningful, women’s merely the product of hysteria and ignorance about the real world’, her observation is applicable far beyond this single example, and could be summing up the majority of interpretations of Isabella, both critical and performative. It has been argued that this quality is inherent in the text: ‘Isabella, for all her importance in the play, is defined theatrically by the men around her for the men in the audience.’ At some level this may be inevitable, given that Isabella is not a woman, but rather a fictitious construct from a male-dominated literary period. She exists, however, in some sublimely rich and eloquent exchanges of language that pose difficult ethical questions, and productions can choose to use these in a way that curtails her more challenging aspects or in a way that celebrates them.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.