In measure for measure there are two characters that at first glance seem to be from two different worlds but a closer analysis shows that they are actually very similar. This is the case with Angelo and Isabella. When we first meet Angelo we see a ruthless leader who enforces the law as severely as he can and Isabella is the complete opposite, she is a virtuous and chaste young woman who was ready to devote her life to God. Both Angelo and Isabella have strict moral views; they both exhibit pride and are guilty of self deception.
In scene, when Isabella and Angelo first meet straight away we can distinguish the similarities between them. For example, Isabella uses the same language as Angelo and the two of them are able to finish each other’s sentences indicating that they are on the same thinking level and that they are actually not that different as both knew what the other was intending on saying. Isabella like Angelo is denying her sexuality. Isabella uses religion as a repression of sexuality where as Angelo represses his sexuality by enforcing harsh rules in Vienna regarding fornification and does not allow himself to express any feelings openly.
One could argue that both Angelo and Isabella are sexually frustrated. Isabella is a pure and chaste young woman who happens to be in a corrupted society and it could be argued that her decision to join the nunnery was a way of sexual control and that she does not trust herself in the society that she is in and needs restraint “but rather wishing a more strict restraint” (1:4,L3). Angelo is a puritan and as a puritan he has to be able to control his sexuality which is why he doesn’t express he desires or emotions and this leads to characters describing him as “a man whose blood is very snow broth” and in his soliloquy Angelo can’t describe what he is feeling towards Isabella because he was never able to speak out openly about sex, emotions, love etc. “What’s this?” “What’s this?” (2:2, L 164) .For both of these characters repressing their sexuality discourages the audience from identifying with them.
Another similarity that Angelo and Isabella both share is that they are put in a sordid situation by the Duke. The Duke put Angelo in charge of power whilst he left knowing full well that Angelo is a man made out of steel and will enforce the strict laws and as a result Claudio was condemned for fornification by Angelo who led to Isabella pleading for his life. The Duke is the only character who could intervene but chose not to. Isabella and Angelo are both troubled characters struggling to come to terms with their own inner nature. Both characters share their feelings and thoughts with he audience in soliloquy. Angelo (2:2) and Isabella (2:4) this is the only time that the audience can begin to understand these characters more and are able to empathise with them.
One could argue that another feature both of these characters share is hypocrisy Angelo is an authoritive figure but does not practice what he preaches. He is a hypocritical character because he is condemning Claudio for fornification whilst going against his own law by asking Isabella to sleep with him.Similarly, Isabella readiness to give away another person’s chastity (Marianna) is quite hypocritical because she refused to give up her own chastity because it was not morally right but was quite eager for Marianna to give up hers. It could also be argued that both Angelo and Isabella are selfish characters. Angelo’s selfishness is evident in the way he abandoned Marianna due a lack of dowry and Isabella’s selfishness is evident in the way she was prepared to value her own virginity more than her brother’s life and the fact that she wanted Marinna to give up her virginity could also be seen as a selfish act.
Both Isabella and Angelo are proud characters. Angelo is a proud man because he will not back down from enforcing the severe laws in Vienna even when Isabella pleads with him to spare her brother’s life. I think Angelo feels that if he backs down then people will begin to take advantage of him as they did with the Duke so I think he feels it’s imperative to be proud and honourable because that is the only way people will know you mean business and will look up to you. Isabella is a proud character in the sense that she would rather her brother lost his life rather than her give up her virginity to save him. To Isabella honour and pride means more than saving her own flesh and blood. “Die, perish….not words to save thee”
In conclusion, many critics have noted the similarity between Isabella and Angelo D.L Stevenson in his book, The Achievements of Measure for Measure, Ithaca 1966 notes the similarities between Angelo and Isabella, He claims ‘She is kind of observe of Angelo… the play is only allowed to come to an end only at the moment of exact equivalence between Isabella and Angelo. It only ends s when Isabella has really become the thing she has argued for in Act II, merciful’ (against all sense” the duke points out). What D.L Stevenson is arguing here is that in a sense Isabella looked up to Angelo because he was this authorative male figure but Isabella is also a strong female who was able to withstand pressure from this authoritive male figure.
I agree with D.L Stevenson, I think that Isabella does look up to Angelo because he is a proud, authoritive being and I think in a way Isabella actually see a bit of herself in Angelo in the sense that neither of them can express themselves sexually as freely as they would have liked to therefore they resort to extreme situations to avoid confronting their true inner selves. They are both proud yet hypocritical characters who don’t see any wrong in their own actions but are quick to blame others, for Isabella a prime example is when Claudio asked her to give up her virginity and she was outraged by what he suggested “O you beast!, O faithless coward!, O, dishonest wretch!” but yet she expected Marianna to do the exact thing she refused to do.