The Gendering of Tragedy: Honor in Shakespeare's Coriolanus

Vengeance, chaos, uncertain honor and untimely death-whether describing the fall from grace of a noble king, impassioned General, or valiant warrior, each arises in the historically based tragedies of William Shakespeare. Coriolanus, Shakespeare's account of the societal and self destruction of a Roman warrior paragon, proves no exception, depicting the demise that results from any character trait excess, even honor. This particular play introduces a further element of gender to fatal excess, providing, through the characters of Coriolanus and Volumnia, a theory on the relationship between masculine and feminine honor in Roman society, a relationship which, semantically intertwined and yet independent in actualization, leads to a conflict that necessitates the play's tragic outcome in order to restore this chief virtue to both characters.

In Coriolanus both sexes value honor above limb, life, and love. Volumnia, a Roman matriarch and the primary female character in the play, establishes this value immediately upon her entrance into the plot, stating, "If my son were my husband, / I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein / he won honor than in the embracements of his bed / where he would show most...

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