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“Isabella’s Feminist Ethics in Measure for Measure” Cristina Alfar

October 24, 2019 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure occupies an ethical space in Vienna’s culture of female exploitation, a practice she critiques throughout the play. As a parrhēsiast, in Foucault’s terms, she exercises a rhetorical expression of the truth, a right of all to speak that truth to power, and especially, the right of the citizen to correct the sovereign. Isabella’s silence in response to the Duke’s proposal acts as a parrhēsiatic withdrawal of consent to his power and a revolutionary form dissent, in Butler’s terms; she rejects the sovereign’s desire for “bad parrēsia” (what Foucault describes as a sycophantic form of flattery), installs a politicized form of silence, and removes her body from the Duke’s regulatory control.  Measure for Measure stages a parrhēsiatic form of citizenship performed by Isabella who emerges as an active citizen speaking from a dramatic and political ethical center which, Cristina León Alfar argues in this talk, is feminist.

Please note: this talk contains information about rape which may be triggering to some survivors

Cristina León Alfar is Professor of Shakespeare, late 16th and early 17th century English drama and Women’s and Gender studies in the English Department at Hunter College, CUNY.  She is the author of Women and Shakespeare’s Cuckoldry Plays: Shifting Narratives of Marital Betrayal (Routledge 2017), Fantasies of Female Evil: The Dynamics of Gender and Power in Shakespearean Tragedy (U of Delaware P, 2003), and articles on Shakespeare and Elizabeth Cary. She is currently finishing The Selected Correspondence of Elizabeth and Anthony Bourne (under contract with Routledge), co-edited with Emily Sherwood. She is also an editor, with Helen Ostovich, of the book series, “Late Tudor and Stuart Drama: Gender, Performance, and Material Culture,” (Medieval Institute Publications). This essay is part of new work she is pursuing on parrhesia and feminist ethics in early modern English drama.

Co-sponsored with the Society for the Study of Women in the Renaissance (SSWR) and the CUNY Academy for Humanities and Sciences.


October 24, 2019
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


Room 9205
Graduate Center, CUNY
New York, NY 10016 United States
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