Gender and the Renaissance: Female Sexuality in Jonson’s Volpone College

In Ben Jonson’s Volpone, Celia represents the epitome of femininity in Renaissance literature. She is beautiful, submissive, quiet and helpless to resist her husband's control over her every movement. Although it is disturbing that her gender renders her a victim to male characters such as Corvino and Volpone, who treat her as though she is a possession to be won, this essay seeks to unravel the reasons as to why masculinity is threatened by female strength and autonomy, not to victimize the female characters within Jonson’s play or to vilify the men as the root of this injustice. Because masculinity and femininity can not exist without each other, both men and women must be voluntarily or forcibly complicit to function within this binary. By examining female sexuality and morality in not only the characterization of Celia but also that of Lady Would-Be Politic, Jonson reveals how women are caught in a double-bind within the patriarchal structure of Renaissance England; they must either conform to their feminine roles or risk being alienated from their communities.

Celia, the wife of Corvino (one of Volpone’s victims) has entirely conformed to the feminine role of a proper married woman. Mosca introduces her character into the...

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