Masculinity In Coriolanus

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In Coriolanus, ‘masculinity is constructed in response to maternal power…’ (Janet Adelman). How useful is feminist criticism for your reading of the play? Feminist criticism focuses on the construction of gender roles, psychoanalysing literature to explore the issue of male and female identity. Coriolanus has interested feminist critics because of its complex exploration of the relationship between Coriolanus and his mother, Volumnia. The power in their relationship does not come from their gender or social standing, but their character. Feminist critic Janet Adelman has commented that Coriolanus gets his power from Volumnia; his ‘masculine’ strength is created from hers. A gender role is a set of societal norms that dictates which types of…show more content…
Her enforced social role, the ‘paradoxical position of mothers in patriarchy’, has restricted her from releasing her own warlike aggression. She can, however, raise her child to do so, and it is in this way that she, too, can fight for Rome — through her son. Volumnia feels aggression on her son’s part. She delights in the idea that he has fought and been bloodied: ‘it more becomes a man’ to have battle wounds than golden trophies. She says ‘the breast of Hecuba looked not lovelier than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood’ – the love between mother and baby and a heaving bosom did not look half as attractive to Volumnia as a man who bled from fighting his enemy. She brags that she raised him such a brilliant fighter as to be best in all of Rome. When he was young, she sent him off to fight when other mothers might have tried to keep their sons home safe, because fighting is the only way for boys to become men. Maus says Volumnia “identifies vicariously with her war hero”. She admits to Coriolanus that she has a better mind for military and political matters than he, ‘a brain that leads [her] anger to better vantage’ (3.2.27-29) but out of the two of them, he can only publicly make political decisions. It does not matter to her what Coriolanus, her only son, thinks, as long as she is in
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