Article Title

Staging the Convent as Resistance in The Jew of Malta and Measure for Measure


Kimberly Reigle


This essay is a study of two virgins who confine themselves to nunneries—Measure for Measure’s Isabella and The Jew of Malta’s Abigail. Although both plays have received a great deal of critical attention independently, the common use of convents in these works has not yet been explored. The presence of convents within these plays provides an alternative for maidens aside from marriage, the veil. This is problematic because there were no active convents in early modern England; therefore, the convent represents a space of resistance within The Jew of Malta and Measure for Measure. The opportunity the convent provides is further complicated because the plays are not focused on the maiden’s destiny of marriage, but on the potentiality located within the virginal body, the potential of use. Since perpetual virginity is an option for Abigail and Isabella through the confines of the cloister, their use potential is foregrounded, as a father and brother attempt to control the potential within each woman’s body. Due to these conditions, life outside the convent is depicted as much more dangerous than life inside the convent, and both characters come to identify the nunnery as a place of protection.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.