Brother-Sister Relationships in Early Modern Drama

Salim E. Al-Ibia, Ruth M.E. Oldman


This study aims to evaluate the commodified brother-sister relationship in Early Modern drama. It examines three different samples from three major playwrights of this time period: Isabella and Claudio in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (1603), Charles and Susan in Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), and Giovanni and Annabella in John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1632). The three aforementioned cases are closely evaluated through a Marxist-feminist lens. The study finds out that the brothers in the three examined plays are not very different since they all encourage their sisters to sacrifice their chastity to achieve some sort of personal interest. Interestingly enough, the sisters vary in their responses to their brothers’ requests of offering their bodies to help their brothers. Obviously, Shakespeare offers the ideal version of a sister who does everything in her power to save a brother. Yet, she refuses to offer her body in return to his freedom in spite of her brother’s desperate calls to offer her virginity to Angelo to save the former’s life. Susan of Heywood is also similar to Isabella of Shakespeare since she refuses to sell herself in return to the money needed to save her brother. However, Ford offers the ugliest version of a brother-sister relationship. The brother wants to have a love affair with his sister who yields to his sexual advances and eventually gets pregnant.


Brother-sister Relationships, Family Affairs, Female Body, Incest, Early Modern Drama

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