The nunnery

Convent del Redemptor, photo by Enfo, available through Creative CommonsLike the friary, the nunnery reminds us of the importance of spiritual values which are examined throughout the play. The only scene set in the nunnery is Act I sc iv, but the many references to Isabella as ‘sister' – not only to Claudio but also as a novice nun – keep this idea in the audience's mind.

Shakespeare uses the scene in the nunnery to remind the audience of what Isabella, by her choice of this enclosed life, is both accepting and renouncing. She is to become a ‘votarist of Saint Clare' (the order of ‘Poor Clares', followers of the first female disciple of Saint Francis of Assisi, still exists as a well-known order of nuns dedicating their lives to God and choosing to live in poverty). Earthly pleasures and materialism are not important to Isabella. (See also Imagery and symbolism > Money and materialism).

It is also clear from Act I sc iv that nuns give up sexual relationships with men. As the nun Francisca explains to Isabella:

‘When you have vow'd, you must not speak with men
But in the presence of the prioress;
Then, if you speak, you must not show your face;
Or if you show your face, you must not speak.'

This insistence on sexual restraint and purity establishes for the audience on Isabella's first appearance that chastity is vitally important to her – an attitude which will be central to issues within the play.

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