He, too, is escaping his class and the constraints attached to it so as to create a foil to his future regal person. In a revealing monologue occurring at the beginning of 1 Henry IV he tells the spectators about his strategy Hal may be dissolute and not as masculine as his father wishes, he has a good time with Falstaff and enjoys an amazing sense of freedom.
The debasement from man to beast or from man to effeminate man which appears as a powerful source of anxiety in Elizabethan England is transformed in these plays into a positive, comical and enriching process. While the play made a stage hero of John Talbot, considered as a national hero in English history for his bravery against the French, it also portrays him in highly unexpected gendered terms. Heroism, in the Talbot family, is gendered as feminine. O, if you love my mother, Dishonour not her honourable name To make a bastard and a slave of me.
Now they are neither. Now women kill, and men weep for it. In Part III , it is a man who weeps. After exploring the relationship of the warrior-hero with his warrior-queen in Macbeth and in antony and Cleopatra 23 , Shakespeare explores the contradictions of the role in his relationship with his possessive mother Caius Martius Coriolanus is both the epitome of masculinity and heroism and a weak child surrendering to a chiding mother.
Make you a sword of me?
In Coriolanus , heroism on the battlefield is the hyperbolized hallmark of masculinity, but battlefield heroics and masculinity translate poorly into Roman politics so that the play, just like its eponymous protagonist, offers resistance to appropriation. A clue as to the reasons for such resistance may lie in the obsessive presence of the body in the fabric of the play. The metaphorical body of society is the central political reference in the speeches of the patricians, while the physical body of Coriolanus is the object of the eager gaze of all the other characters, and particularly the people.
A similar displacement of conventional gender fields can be identified in the importance given to the domestic sphere and to female characters in the play. The exposition presents Caius Martius in the public sphere in Act 1, scene 1. The spectators expect to see him in the private sphere and thus access his inner thoughts, as befits a conventional protagonist. Just as Caius Martius in the battle of Corioles and its outcome can be considered as a stereotype of masculinity, the women in Rome Volumnia, Virgilia and the lady Valeria are overdetermined as conventionally female.
The tension established between the hyper-masculinity of Caius Martius on the battlefield and the demeaning of his manliness into a form of effeminacy in the city is often interpreted as resulting from the dynamic of antithesis that pervades the play, the male space of the battlefield being opposed to the female space contained within the gates of the city. After waging war on Rome with its fiercest enemies the Volsces, Coriolanus is finally defeated by kneeling women and their silent tears. He accepts his death while they are welcomed triumphantly back in Rome.
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare, Jonathan V. Crewe (Paperback, ) for sale online | eBay
The outline of the plot sketches out its strongly gendered dynamics which seems to value self-sacrifice and endurance over sheer military ability and battlefield heroics. After all, the saviour of Rome is Volumnia, not Coriolanus. Whereas King James was a pacifist, his son was surrounded by supporters of military ideals and at the time when Shakespeare turned to Roman history to create Coriolanus , there was a strong public debate on military values He is a lion That I am proud to hunt Martius is at the same time the symbol of absolute masculinity, and because the language used is that of chivalric brotherhood, a sexually ambivalent symbol.
O, let me clip ye In arms as sound as when I wooed, in heart As merry as when our nuptial day was done, And tapers turned to bedward! It is easy to deduct by analogy that the field is but another stage, and that masculinity is a role to be performed. It is not so much that Caius Martius refuses to stage himself or sees this as a debasement of his masculinity. Indeed in the context of the battlefield and for the benefit of a certain spectator, namely Aufidius, he is willing to play a part.
My throat of war be turned, Which choired with my drum, into a pipe Small as an eunuch or the virgin voice That babies lull asleep! Only on the battlefield does his body fit the part of the male hero. In the civilian context of the Roman republic, unless he agrees to perform the part that is expected of him, his body does not signify anything. When she first appears, Volumnia does not only define herself as a somewhat incongruous Spartan mother who was pleased to let him seek danger and to send him to cruel wars, she also demonstrates her amazing ability to play, literally, the part of Caius Martius by impersonating him.
Spirit, Soul, and City
On the mimetic level, the spectators see a woman able to impersonate quite perfectly a man—Volumnia, in other words, literally becomes her son—and on the performative level, the dramatic illusion is temporarily suspended, and the spectators are reminded of the male actor in the dress on stage, both dimensions concurring to create a particularly powerful presence in the person of Volumnia, who proves able to perform both female and male parts. This has devastating consequences for the status of masculinity in the play, as it effectively reduces it to a part that a woman—and at this stage in the plot she is a very conventional woman, staying at home and doing what women do—can perform.
Once Coriolanus has been expelled and has turned to the Volsces, his army threatens Rome with destruction. The powerless Senators decide to send embassies to Coriolanus to beg him to spare Rome. Cominius fails dismally and so does Menenius after him Act 5, scene 1.
Act 1 Scene 5
The women of Rome, ie. While he stands for the epitome of battlefield masculinity again, she insists on her feminine frailty. All the swords In Italy, and her confederate arms, Could not have made this peace Call all your tribes together, praise the gods, And make triumphant fires. Strew flowers before them. Unshout the noise that banished Martius, Repeal him with the welcome of his mother. Volumnia is the opposite, and the universal performer defeats the limited one.
This play is difficult and unconventional in more than one way, but one key for understanding it probably lies in the fact that the true hero is not Coriolanus, but Volumnia. Similarly, Bruce R.
Smith lists medical theories and literary texts showing that masculinity was as much of a social construction as femininity. Bruce R. Mangan analyses the characters of two moralities, Mankind c. In his introduction, Digangi highlights the fact that homosexuality as a concept did not exist in the 16 th century and that a number of critical anachronisms loom large when we try to find in those texts the modern notion of a discourse on sexuality p. The central ideal in Galenic physiology concerning the sexual organs is one of essential continuity, the difference between male and female being one of degree and not of nature, men being a more perfect version of the same form that is imperfect in women.
Macbeth and Antony are two other obvious examples. I think that it is precisely this anomaly, the fact that those female characters are shown as heroic in the manly sense that is meaningful in the universe that the plays depict. V aught and Lynne D ickinson B ruckner eds.
See Wells, op. For a detailed analysis of gender in Macbeth , see W ells , op. Conn L iebler ed.
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