“the Serpent Under’t”: the Manipulation of Gender Performance and the Gendered Body by Shakespeare’s Volumnia and Lady Macbeth

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“The Serpent Under’t”: The Manipulation of Gender Performance and the Gendered Body by Shakespeare’s Volumnia and Lady Macbeth

In both Coriolanus and Macbeth, powerful women exploit their power over important male figures through their manipulation of gender roles and performance. In “Identity-Formation and the Breastfeeding Mother in Renaissance Generative Discourses and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,” Victoria Sparey compares the symbolic relevance of breast milk and blood in Shakespearean literature to explain the immense power Volumnia holds over her son Coriolanus. Ralph Berry argues the sexual motivation behind Volumnia’s control in his article “Sexual Imagery in Coriolanus.” Berry states that “from Volumnia, we derive a strong impression of the interlinked impulses of sex and power” (316). Lady Macbeth’s character and influence over her husband is explored thoroughly in William T. Liston’s "Male and Female Created He Them": Sex and Gender in "Macbeth." Liston outlines the ways Lady Macbeth manipulates both her husband’s masculinity and her own femininity to achieve her personal ambitions. Although Sparey and Berry examine the motives and character of Volumnia and Liston recounts the ambitious incentives of Lady Macbeth, this paper will focus on the performance of gender and how it is used to manipulate the masculine body, the feminine body, and to overcome the societal boundaries set out for individuals at the time of Shakespeare’s writing. Using Judith Butlers concept of gender performativity, Volumnia and Lady Macbeth break their roles as the proper wife and mother and shift their gender in accordance to their current situations. The women are cunning and ambitious heroines who are able to manipulate their male counterpart to achieve their goals which they could not otherwise do as women in an extremely patriarchal society.

Volumnia and Lady Macbeth are…...

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