The Virtuous Isabella in Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure is not a celebration of family values, the play points towards both the political virtuosity, which sustains the comic, and the humbler self-knowledge that preserves the integrity of the virtuoso. Human virtue can only be chosen in freedom, but we need not deny ourselves the opportunity of ensuring that this choice is not stifled by the subtly related powers of abstract intellectualism and carnal necessity
Isabella in Measure for Measure personifies innocent virtue. Isabella offers an example of the highest possible character; since she will not sacrifice her own honor or her brother's in order to save her brother's life. She holds strong convictions as far as her morals are concerned, and considers her own soul and salvation. Pure; intelligent; beautiful, her outer beauty a reflection of her inner purity; loving, hers is an untested virtue that withstands the ultimate trial as shown in her appeal for mercy towards Angelo whom she believes to have ordered the execution of her brother. This action overcomes the questions aroused about her character when she is unwilling to sacrifice her virtue to save her brother's life. To finally allay all doubt as to how Isabella is "measured," the Duke's proposal at the end of the play stands as proof she has passed the test.
Isabella understands her chastity in a way that is largely similar to Angelo's austere virtue. We first meet her at the convent where she is about to become a nun, pleading for stricter restraint and discipline in an order already notorious for its austerity. Once she has taken her final vows, she will no longer be able to hold normal conversation with men:
"If you must speak, you must not show your face, or, if you show your face, you must not speak" (I.iv.12-13). Speech and deed can never be allowed to occur together since this would only reveal the corruption inherent in our nature"
Claudio's sister Isabella is dragged out of the convent to plead for him, on the assumption that her superior virtue might move Angelo's heart to pardon her brother. Does it? No. Rather, it pierces right through Angelo's cold Puritanism and sets his heart and other bits on fire. We see through this carefully controlled man into the roaring pit that he has tried so hard to conceal. He falls a victim to the very passion he is prosecuting in Claudio; in doing so, he comes to represent the conflict between good and evil in Vienna as he struggles with the knowledge that he cannot control his own desires.
When Claudio describes his sister to Lucio in I.i.182-186, he says " . . . in her youth there is a prone and speechless dialect, Such as move men; beside, she hath prosperous art when she will play with reason and discourse, and well she can persuade."
On arriving at the convent where she is preparing to take vows, Lucio at first glance recognizes her for a virgin "as...