Rebels of Comedy

I found it interesting in class discussion of the “Rules of Comedy,” not just the rules themselves but who is living outside of the comedic world. If we agree that Angelo and Isabella are living outside the norm, then why is only Angelo being punished at the end of the play and Isabella is left unharmed? Or is her punishment to be married to the Duke? Both of these characters to do not follow the rules of comedy, but I understand that they are living outside of the world in very different ways. Angelo is the false angel, who believes that everyone should uphold the morals that he possesses yet is completely hypocritical. Isabella lives by her own set of standards and morals while feeling no real need to impress on others.

Examining the character of Angelo, although he does sit on his high horse he does in some aspect dip his toe in the comedic realm. He does embrace disorder in a certain way, he tells Isabella she can only save her brother if he could have sex with her. Isabella even says “That Angelo is an adulterous thief, An hypocrite, a virgin-violator; Is it not strange and strange?” (V.I. 41-43) Does that not embrace the pleasures of the body? Yes, he does not fully indulge in sex but starts to explore the bodily pleasures. He is also a hypocrite so does this not also show his participation in the disorderly world? He preaches so much about being moral and setting the country straight but secretly is just like everyone that he is punishing. So if Angelo is embodying this realm to a certain degree why is he the only one being punished? Or is his punishment not truly a punishment because he does get to marry an acceptable woman, who does not actually have any moral issues and he can explore his new found bodily pleasures with. Then possibly he his not being punished but instead given a woman on a silver platter. Rewarded for him embracing the madness. Yes, he does not get Isabella, but at least he gets to be with someone.
Isabella also lives outside of this comedic world and is left seemingly unharmed. But does Isabella really get off scott free? I don’t really agree with this sentiment, but I also do not really know because within the text alone it does not allude to either direction whether she is happy to marry the Duke or upset. I think this thought becomes more convoluted and this is where actors and directors really come into play to help make this ending clear for her. Isabella wanted to devote her life to being a nun and now all of the sudden that is no longer her choice. By the Duke’s proposal the choice in reality is outside of her hands. She will be damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t; you can’t truly deny a Duke’s proposal without possible repercussions taking place. As I have stated before, I do not feel like the Duke is so malicious but rather a playful, kind man so I do not believe that he would have any ill-doing on Isabella’s life but I’m sure he would be unhappy. So possibly Isabella is being punished. This thought also seems unjust because she did nothing wrong to anyone within the play, she kept her nobility.
So possibly there is a loop hole to this whole Rules of Comedy idea. If you consistently keep up your beliefs and morality the punishment can get you because you are not playing the game correctly but if you show change within yourself and indulge in the body’s pleasures and allure to fun then you are left unharmed.

3 thoughts on “Rebels of Comedy

  1. Rachel Ritacco

    This is tricky business. You bring up some good points about comeuppance: who gets it, and who escapes it. The answer may lie in the fact that this is not strictly a comedy. It's classified as a "problem" play, which would justify why the comedic rules have been blurred a bit. I think both Angelo and Isabella are punished in their own way, although Angelo's is more obvious. He is forced to marry someone for whom he does not care at all. Isabella is also forced to give up her life as a nun in order to marry the Duke. This may not seem like a punishment to anyone else, but it matters to her, and the fact that she does not say anything at the play's end speaks volumes, I think. The difference between her punishment and Angelo's is that the audience WANTS him to be hurt for what he has done.

  2. AimeeL

    At the end of your blog, the cliche "Good guys finish last" popped into my head. Ultimately Angelo had what was coming to him; he was trying to deny citizens of Vienna physical pleasure and in return he received emotional displeasure by having to marry a woman he did not love. But Isabella remained good and virtuous and in return she is forced to surrender her ambition to become a nun. It is unfortunate, but most works of Shakespeare include a sacrifice in some form.

  3. Cyrus Mulready

    These are some very smart reflections on the ending of the play and how to fit our understanding of it as "comedy" with the plot. We often view plays as stories about independent characters/people who have control over their own lives. This is of course a fiction–the characters are subject to the plot and, above all, the playwright. What is interesting for me about the end of this play is that tension between what Isabella might want/desire, and the requirements of the comic plot. We'll see other conflicts in this class between playwright and character, but this may be the most impressive example we encounter!


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