There are various possible responses to Isabella here: it is
possible to see her as totally selfish, unwilling to buy her
brother's life by sacrificing her chastity to Angelo. We may
agree with Claudio in his judgement that
"it is no sin
Or of the deadly seven it is the least."
Death is, after all "a fearful thing" and
it is not herself that Isabella is condemning to it.
We may, therefore, feel that Isabella's reaction to Claudio's
request that she submit to Angelo is excessive. Certainly her
language is emotive and highly charged, especially in the speech
beginning with the vocative triplet.
However, no one could accuse her of selfishness in Act 5 when
she joins Mariana in pleading for the life of Angelo to be spared.
At this later point she is scrupulously fair and impartial,
even though she still believes her brother to be dead at Angelo's
instigation despite, as Angelo thinks, having enjoyed her the
Some would say that her speech here reeks of fanaticism. Those
who would claim this might refer also to her desire at the beginning
of 1:4 for "a more strict restraint" within the convent.
At the end of the play, though, her behaviour is merciful
rather than legalistic, as shown in her argument for Angelo
"His act did not oe'rtake his bad intent;
And must be buried but as an intent
That perished by the way."
Had Isabella wanted to be legalistic and inflexible about
it she could have poited to the section of the gospels in which
Jesus argues that sins of intent are as bad as the actual sins
On the other hand, maybe she has a point: Claudio's initial
reaction, before fear set in, was to agree that such an act
was inconceivable, calling forth his unequivocal response "thou
shalt not do't" If it is his fear, not his judgement that
is controlling his thinking now, perhaps there is justice in
her subsequent questions -
"Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?
Is't not a
kind of incest to take life
From thine own sister's shame?"
Maybe the vehemence of her response at this point arises not
only from her disappointment in him but also from a sense that
she has been betrayed both by justice and by her brother.
We see equal vehemence and an equal sense of betrayal at the
beginning of Act 5 when Isabella confronts Vincentio with the
injustice that has been done to her by Angelo. The language
is as passionate in each case.
What is more, we mustn't forget that Isabella was about to
take vows and become a nun, a bride of Christ, and this was
due to happen "this day". It is not surprising that
Isabella is somewhat fazed by this turn of events. The accusation
of selfishness might perhaps be challenged by her assertion
that her life would readily be sacrificed for him, that she
"throw it down for (his) deliverance
As frankly as a pin."
The question is, do we believe her? I think the play requires
that we do, as Isabella is not meant to be the one on trial
here, the real villains of the piece being Angelo and Vincentio.
It could be said that Isabella does take risks in publicly confronting
Angelo as she does in Act 5; she has no assurance of how her
complaint will be recieved and she is not aware, as the audience
is, that her friar is in fact Vincentio. As far as she knows
when she is bundled off to jail, it's for real.
Ultimately I believe the audience is meant to respond positively
to Isabella; she is the victim yet she demonstrates true Christian
forgiveness in her behaiour towards Angelo and compassion towards
These are the issues I'd be looking at if writing this essay.
I expect you would want to be more specifically analytical about
language use. This is just to start you thinking and show you
a possible structure.