What do Isabella’s religious faith and intention to become a nun contribute to the meaning and effect of Measure for Measure?

Isabella’s religious faith and intention to become a nun contribute to the moral ambiguity that is central to Measure for Measure. Isabella’s strongly held beliefs about morality, including sexual celibacy, are challenged when she has the chance to save her brother. Her decisions match well with the play’s emphasis on the complex issues involved in moral dilemmas.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Measure for Measure is a play that explores numerous dimensions of morality as a matter of personal faith and social convention.

Isabella is the only main character who had decided to pursue a life of seclusion and celibacy as components of her religious convictions. William Shakespeare deliberately makes her the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Measure for Measure is a play that explores numerous dimensions of morality as a matter of personal faith and social convention.

Isabella is the only main character who had decided to pursue a life of seclusion and celibacy as components of her religious convictions. William Shakespeare deliberately makes her the primary person who is called upon to question the importance of those intentions and convictions.

By focusing on her predicament, the playwright emphasizes the idea that most problems do not have easy solutions. As a person who has sworn to uphold certain values, Isabella is forced to confront the prospect of not just indulging in hypocrisy but sinning in the eyes of God. Whereas previously, she had not believed that a life devoted to faith would contradict her family responsibilities, now she must face this paradox. The strength of her faith is tested through her ability to show compassion and make sound choices.

Similar dilemmas to those in which Isabella is caught up are expressed through other characters’ equally difficult choices. As the leaders of Vienna, both Duke Vincentio and his deputy Angelo must consider how to enforce laws concerned with sexual morality. The fact that Angelo lusts after a novice nun enhances the hypocrisy of his outwardly rigid moralist stance. The duke offers a different kind of contrast, as he disguises himself as a man of the cloth in order to monitor and later correct the social transgressions that plague his domain.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on