The main character, Isabella, is a very virtuous and chaste young woman who faces a difficult decision when her brother is sentenced to death for fornication (unlawful sex). Isabella does not approve of her brother's actions at all, but she pleads for his life out of loyalty and sisterly devotion. She is a spiritual person who starts off wanting to become a nun, however her decision to enter a convent is never explained. She is a character who seems to be indecisive as she doesn't really seem to know what she wants or who she is. It is as if Shakespeare is demanding the reader and audience to understand her more than Isabella understands herself.
Isabella is the main focal point of the play's sexual dynamic, as Angelo finds himself almost overwhelmed with her purity, and even the ...view middle of the document...
Lucio describes her as submissive and therefore very convincing. Perhaps it is her naive nature that attracts both men, who are obviously interested in power, given their government posts.
In act 2 scene 4, she is faced with the decision of sacrificing her virginity in order to save her brother. However, Isabella believes that sacrificing her virginity would be a sin, but she then claims that she would gladly give her life instead. Of course, this is not really an option, since Angelo has proposed only one solution. Isabella does not really approve of what Claudio did, but she thinks the punishment is just, and hopes that Angelo might show mercy on Claudio. She sees herself as a virtuous follower of God; otherwise she would not seek to join a nunnery. It is possible that she would view her life as more valuable than her brother's in the eyes of God because she has not sinned as he has.
However, her decision for not saving her own brother is often an argument about whether or not it is justifiable.
"Then Isabel live chaste, and brother die:
More than our brother is our chastity.
I'll tell him yet of Angelo's request,
And fit his mind to death for his soul's rest."
- Act 2 Scene 4
On one hand, Isabella is standing up for her own principles when she refuses to have sexual intercourse with Angelo. On the other hand, she is essentially condemning her own brother to death.
While she claims that she is acting purely out of religious and moral concerns, she must have some thought for herself as well. She does not want to have sexual relations with Angelo, and she knows that she should not have to do that. However, her brother's life is at stake. Perhaps she is right to protect herself and her principles, especially considering that she believes in an afterlife. But on the other hand, perhaps she is too cold and selfish.