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Shakespeare's Coriolanus... anticipates and corroborates modern-day analyses emphasizing the sociopolitical dimensions and determinants of antitheatrical discourse. In the present essay, I would like to shift my focus from questions of class/status to questions of sex/gender, endeavoring to trace the links between Coriolanus’s antiperformative zeal and his ultra-masculine identity. For though it is true that Coriolanus opposes the dissimulation of others on political grounds (i.e., it creates social confusion), what causes him to reject play-acting in his own person is the sexualized fear that it will unman him (i.e., turn him into a squeaking virgin or crying boy). In this manner, the play presents Coriolanus’s antitheatricalism as resting upon a gynophobic foundation—which can be said to anticipate yet another thread in modern-day criticism. However, the play not only exposes this gynophobic foundation but also undermines it: first, by using the figure of the boy to show that Coriolanus’s ostensibly antiperformative manhood is itself a theatrical effect; and, second, by using the figure of the maid to show that the “unmanly” subject positions Coriolanus scorns are not without virtue of their own. Throughout, the drama uses both the boy and the virgin to call into question Coriolanus’s masculine quest for autonomy and integrity, casting it as a kind of anxious incoherence.


This article was originally published in Shakespeare Bulletin, volume 31, in 2013. DOI: 10.1353/shb.2013.0055

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Johns Hopkins University



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