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Représentations et identités sexuelles dans le théâtre de Shakespeare

Delphine Lemonnier-Texier

“Not of a woman’s tenderness to be”: Shakespeare’s Reassessment of the Notion of Femininity in Coriolanus

Jonathan Pollock

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1One cannot help but admire the way Shakespeare transforms a theatrical constraint—the interdiction of women on the Elizabethan stage—into a source of dramatic complexity. A lesser playwright would simply have done his best to naturalise the convention so as to render it almost imperceptible, thereby neutralising the unwanted comic charge that invariably accompanies travesty. Yet in Shakespeare’s hands, theatrical necessity becomes the mother of structural and thematic invention: not only are the boy actors called upon to cross the gender divide, but the characters themselves explore and exploit the ambiguities of sexual identity. The importance in the comedies of cross-dressing is the most obvious example of this; but the blurring of sexual identity is also a major resource of the later tragedies, especially those concerned with Roman history. Is it not remarkable that towards 1607 Shakespeare should write three tragedies in quick succession—his last—in which women are seen to play a key role in the affairs of state by exercising an ascendancy over their lover, husband or son? Of course, mothers, wives and daughters play an integral role in the tragic destinies of Hamlet, Lear and Othello. But what characterises Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Volumnia is their conscious desire for masculine prerogatives in a world which relegates women to the domestic sphere.

2Never was the exclusion of women from the political arena more absolute than in ancient Rome. It is therefore all the more curious that Shakespeare should choose to dramatise precisely those two episodes of Roman history in which women did play a predominant role: the foundation of the Republic, and the advent of the Empire. In both Anthony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, the dramatic action gives rise to an elaboration of the very notion of femininity. The values traditionally associated with women are reassessed and redefined on a plane quite distinct from sexual biology. In turn, Shakespeare invites us to ask the following questions: does the concept of femininity belong to the realm of affectivity or to that of social behaviour? Does it designate properties of a psychological or physiological nature? Is it an affair of convention or of instinct? Whatever the answers, one thing is certain: it belongs to a dichotomy, and can only be defined in relation to its binary opposite, masculinity. Coriolanus, especially, provides us with a hyperbolical representation of virility from which a photographic negative can be drawn in order to define femininity. Of course, the play goes on to show that masculinity and femininity are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive, but rather the extremities of an ever fluctuating polarity. Nevertheless, however virile the women may prove to be, or however effeminate the men, whatever indeed the degree of contamination, Shakespeare does maintain an essential difference. This difference is symbolised by the erect male sexual organ and its metonymic counterparts, swords and daggers.

The masculine ideal of unity and its feminine contrary

3The virtues that Coriolanus espouses are the traditional Roman attributes of virility. They are essentially military values, if by “military” we are to understand those qualities appertaining to the hot-blooded warrior hero rather than to the cold-headed military tactician. Thus Cominius declares, in his encomium of Coriolanus:

  • 1 Shakespeare William, The Tragedy of Coriolanus, ed. R. B. Parker, Oxford, Oxford University Press, (...)

It is held
That valour is the chiefest virtue, and
Most dignifies the haver. If it be,
The man I speak of cannot in the world
Be singly counterpoised (2.2.81-851).

4The relevance of such a virtue in peacetime is one of the interrogations of the play, hence the use of the conjunction “if”, which changes a former certainty into a supposition. But before we examine how the play points up the contradictions and shortcomings of these customary masculine values, it is important to establish what they are. They may be ascertained from the glimpses that Coriolanus gives us of his virile ideal throughout the play. Shakespeare goes to great pains to show us that this ideal is based entirely upon the notion of unity, in opposition to the duplicity of the two tribunes, the trinity formed by the womenfolk and the multiplicity composed by the plebeians. The oneness to which Coriolanus aspires can be understood in three different respects.

5Primarily, oneness for Coriolanus is a question of constancy. “I am constant” (1.1.237) are among his first words to Cominius, that is to say: “you will find me unchanged over the years and whatever the circumstances.” Even at the most inopportune moment, as when the plebeians take back their acceptance of him as consul, he insists on reiterating what he has said in the past against grain doles and the creation of the tribunate: “Let them pull all about mine ears […], yet will I still/Be thus to them” (3.2.1-6). And when he remains unmoved by Menenius’ embassy in the last act, Coriolanus is approved of by Aufidius in the same terms: “You keep a constant temper” (5.2.92). Such constancy contrasts not only with the legendary inconstancy of women and the fickleness of the populace who “With every minute […] do change a mind” (1.1.179), but also with the Machiavellian “policy” of generals at war and of politicians in peacetime, when it is honourable “to seem/The same you are not” (3.2.49). The fact that it is a woman, Volumnia, who advocates this last point of view only enhances the stereotypically feminine nature of dissemblance and hypocrisy.

6This leads us to a second aspect of oneness: personal integrity, which excludes the practice of play-acting and deceit. Integrity translates the Latin notion of honestum. Hence, the sentiment Coriolanus has of his own dignity induces him “to honour [his] own truth” (3.2.123) rather than to stake all upon external honours (honos, honoris), oak garlands, war bounty, honorific titles, eulogies or political charges. But Coriolanus’understanding of personal integrity is also strangely literal. He likes to think of himself as integral, undivided and indivisible, an individuum whose “singularity” (1.1.276) is one of atomic hardness and simplicity. “Let it be virtuous to be obstinate” (5.3.26) he says to himself when the embassy of Roman women arrives in the Volscian camp; and later on in the same scene Volumnia taxes him for his “hardness” (5.3.92). Coriolanus is a man who stands his ground, a soldier and a politician who refuses to retreat even for tactical reasons. To his mind, integrity rhymes with inflexibility, constancy with invulnerability, moral rectitude with digging in one’s heels and staying put. Such behaviour testifies to an exacerbated sense of “manhood” which is in fact, as Cominius points out, none other than “foolery when it stands/Against a falling fabric” (3.1.247-248). This is precisely the kind of ideal to which Coriolanus hopes his son will conform, so that young Martius may “prove/To shame invulnerable, and stick i’th’wars/Like a great sea-mark, standing every flaw” (5.3.72-74). The verb stand is one of the most often used words in the play, and is almost always related to Coriolanus. Given the bawdy connotation associated with the term in others of Shakespeare’s plays—the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet, for example—, it is difficult not to admit a phallic model behind this ideal of hardness, stiffness, firmness and uprightness in the face of adversity. From the point of view of the stage action, Martius is seen to embody this phallic ideal when his men “take him up in their arms” on the battlefield, and brandish him over their heads: “O, me alone! Make you a sword of me?” (1.8.77).

7The atomic individuality is by nature intact, untouchable even, shut in upon its own opacity. The opposite qualities are precisely those which are traditionally associated with femininity: openness, penetrability, versatility, tenderness. These are the propensities that Coriolanus fights against when his wife and mother plead with him to spare Rome. At the sight of Virgilia, his hardness softens: “I melt, and am not/Of stronger earth than others” (5.3.28-29). A little later in the same scene, he draws the conclusion: “Not of a woman’s tenderness to be/Requires nor child nor woman’s face to see” (5.3.130-131). His refusal to show his wounds while canvassing in the market-place is certainly proof of his modesty, itself a feminine quality, but it is also a way of denying his own vulnerability and lack of wholeness. Comic writing in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance often associated wounds (vulnus, vulneris) with the female pudenda (vulva): in Chapter xiv of Pantagruel, for example, Rabelais relates how a fox uses its brush to relieve an old woman whom it believes has been stabbed in the groin. The idea that the female body bears the mark of a symbolic castration is a lot older than Freud.

8The female body also lacks integrity because it differs from itself. The belief stems from Plato, but it is summarised by Rabelais in the following way:

  • 2 Rabelais François, Les Cinq Livres, Paris, Le Livre de Poche, 1994.

[…] Nature leurs a dedans le corps posé en lieu secret et intestin un animal, un membre, lequel n’est es hommes, on quel quelques foys sont engendrées certaines humeurs […] par la poincture et fretillement douloureux des quelles (car ce membre est tout nerveux, et de vif sentement) tout le corps est en elles esbranlé, tous les sens raviz, toutes affections interinées, tous pensements confonduz (Le Tiers Livre, XXXII2).

9This animal parasite with which women are afflicted is none other than the uterus, commonly known as the “mother”. Judging from certain passages of King Lear, it is likely that Shakespeare had read:

  • 3 Jorden E., A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, London, 1603.

A BRIEFE DISCOURSE OF A DISEASE CALLED THE SUFFOCATION OF THE MOTHER. Written uppon occasion which hath beene of late taken thereby, to suspect possession of an evil spirit, or some such like supernaturall power. Wherin is declared that divers strange actions and passions of the body of man, which in the common opinion, are imputed to the Divell, have their true naturall causes, and do accompanie this disease. By Edward Jorden Doctor in Physicke. London, 16033.

10By definition, that which is one cannot enter into conflict with itself, nor lose control of itself. Now, the possession of a uterus, and the possibility of hysterical passion (“Passio Hysterica, Suffocatio, Praefocatio, and Strangulatus uteri, Caducus matricis, &c.”) that this entails, means that a woman is never sure to remain mistress of her own person. In as much as femininity encapsulates this idea of intrinsic and extrinsic otherness, the concept cannot be made to designate a precise identity; on the contrary, the concept of femininity would appear to subvert the very notion of identity. If identity means “sameness”—and such is the signification of the Latin radical, idem—, then it is a purely masculine prerogative. To affirm one’s identity is to affirm one’s masculinity, as there is no “other” form of identity available.

11The third major aspect of oneness, after constancy and integrity, is self-sufficiency. The fact that this is also a political ideal is hardly surprising: Coriolanus extends his model of personal unity to the body politic as a whole; the creation of the tribunate, for example, “bereaves the state/Of that integrity which should become’t” (3.1.160-161). The tribunes are quick to conflate autarky and autarchy and to accuse Coriolanus of “affecting one sole throne/Without assistance” (4.6.34-35). “Where is this viper,” they ask, “That would depopulate the city and/Be every man himself?” (3.1.265-267). To be fair, though, Coriolanus puts less store by the acquisition of “a power tyrannical” than by personal independence and exploits performed single-handedly: not only does he defy Aufidius in single combat, but as Cominius reports of him:

Alone he entered
The mortal gate of th’city, which he painted
With shunless destiny, aidless came off,
And with a sudden reinforcement struck
Corioles like a planet (2.2.108-112).

12Etymologically, alone derives from the expression all one: Coriolanus is “all one” in the sense that he is lacking in nothing. The “multitudinous” plebeians, on the contrary, are consistently portrayed as dependant and incomplete, mere “fragments” (1.1.220), or worse: “scabs” (1.1.163) and “measles” (3.1.81) which contaminate the body politic. The unity that the tribunate confers upon them is a fragile one, always ready to dissolve into a pure multiplicity of opinions; and, besides, this fragile unity has been won at the cost, if we are to believe Coriolanus, of the greater unity of the Roman state. In all these respects, the plebeians partake of the nature of femininity.

  • 4 Bacon Francis, The Essays, ed. J. Pitcher, London, Penguin Books, 1985, p. 226.
  • 5 Ibid., p. 173.
  • 6 Bright Timothy, A Treatise of Melancholie, London, 1586.

13Of course, Coriolanus will fall woefully short of the manly ideals of constancy, integrity and autonomy that he has set himself; indeed, the tragic dilemmas with which he is faced are largely the fruit of these ideals themselves. An angry man, by definition, is not able to be constant because, like a hysterical woman, he can always fall prey to his anger. Shakespeare’s source, Plutarch, insists on the incapacitating effects of such a passion (“Life of Coriolanus”, chapters 21 and 41). In his essay, “Of Anger”, Francis Bacon makes it a sign of feminine weakness: “Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns: children, women, old folks, sick folks4.” In “Of Ambition”, he puts it down to an excess of choler, which is “an humour that maketh men active, earnest, full of alacrity, and stirring, if it be not stopped. But if it be stopped, and cannot have his way, it becometh adust, and thereby malign and venomous”5. Adust choler (literally, bile which has undergone combustion in the body) is a form of what Timothy Bright calls “unnatural melancholy”, and is the proximate cause of the most severe mental disorders6. Coriolanus’ intention to wreak vengeance upon Rome by setting the city ablaze is therefore none other than the exteriorisation of the fire that is consuming his blood.

14The fact that this former champion of Rome should conceive of such a project, and become an ally of his country’s enemies in order to accomplish it, reveals to what extent an exaggerated sense of personal integrity can lead tragically to its exact opposite. By betraying his country, Coriolanus betrays his very raison d’être as a soldier-citizen who has always put his country’s welfare above his own. In so doing, he also vindicates, with hindsight, the tribunes’ accusations of treason. These were a tactical move, designed to destabilise the would-be consul by taking “The vantage of his anger” (2.3.260). Such is also Aufidius’ intention when he berates Coriolanus for having spared Rome. But this time the words used to goad Coriolanus are not only “traitor”, but also “boy”. Coriolanus is cut to the quick because he is unable to admit the veracity behind these insults. For it is true that he is a “boy of tears” (5.6.103): not only does he break down and weep at a critical moment of Volumnia’s embassy, but such behaviour proves that he has remained as emotionally dependant upon his mother as ever—his actions are a far cry indeed from his masculine ideal of absolute autonomy. It is the exact nature of this maternal ascendancy that needs to be elucidated if we are to understand Shakespeare’s concept of femininity in other than negative terms (inconstancy, hysteria, dependence).

Maternal law

15Coriolanus is not as alone as he likes to think. Despite Menenius’opinion to the contrary, he does manage to “atone” (4.6.75) with Aufidius, at least for a while. Their “at-one-ment”—word formed after the medieval Latin term, adunamentum— is described in the language of nuptial union: “But that I see thee here,” exclaims Aufidius, “more dances my rapt heart/Than when I first my wedded mistress saw/Bestride my threshold” (4.5.116-119). According to the servants, Aufidius “makes a mistress of him” (4.5.200), as if the two of them formed “one flesh”, in the same way that Coriolanus does with his wife, Virgilia, the “Best of my flesh” (5.3.42). But for a union to be viable, it is important that each one feels that the other represents that part of themselves which they are lacking. This is perhaps the perception that Aufidius has of Coriolanus. As for Coriolanus, he simply develops the previous situation of rivalry and emulation to the full, by removing himself to Aufidius’ house and taking his place at the head of the Volscian army. Coriolanus and Aufidius constitute mirror-images for each other: theirs cannot be a reciprocal union or balance of complementary natures, but a tension by which the one drains the substance of the other, reducing him to a mere shadow. The world is not big enough for the two of them.

16Coriolanus’ relationship with his mother is quite different. She is no alter ego, no rival whose status is to be envied and usurped, at least not at the outset of the play. She does not represent an idealised version of Coriolanus’own self, but the primitive (m)other, the earliest “object” in a child’s development, subsequent to his initial separation from her. This does not explain the extent of Volumnia’s influence over Coriolanus, however. Shakespeare draws upon an indication given by Plutarch in the opening chapter of his “Life”: in this most patriarchal of societies, Caius Martius (Coriolanus) has no father. Volumnia has wished to compensate for this lack by assuming the roles of both mother and father. Indeed, such is her desire to make “the only son of [her] womb” (1.3.6) a man that she abandons her maternal attributes entirely:

The breasts of Hecuba
When she did suckle Hector looked not lovelier
Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood
At Grecian sword, contemning (3.1.42-45).

  • 7 Homer, The Iliad, tr. Lattimore R., University of Chicago Press, 1961 [1951], p. 437.

17This is a veiled reference to Book 22 of Homer’s Iliad, where Hecuba, “[laying] the fold of her bosom bear and with one hand [holding] out a breast7”, pleads with Hector not to confront Achilles outside the city walls. By having Volumnia express sentiments contrary to those of Hecuba, Shakespeare draws our attention to the unnatural character of her maternal affections. It is as if she has chosen to abandon the qualities of a mother in order to fully take upon herself those of a father. The consequences for Coriolanus are complicated in the least, for not only does he have a mother for a father, but he has also a father for a mother. When a mother behaves as a father should—according, that is, to Roman and Elizabethan norms—, the resulting model of personal ethical conduct is likely to be exaggeratedly masculine.

18Nevertheless, the embodiment of parental and social law remains a woman in Coriolanus’ case. “Law” is to be taken in its widest extension as meaning not only the laws of the city, but also those laws on which such laws are based: the laws of language and of human behaviour. It is thus a woman who dictates Coriolanus’ conduct and ethical choices. And because she “holp to frame” her son (5.3.63), she helps also to frame his desires; his dreams of military glory were originally hers, just as were his political aspirations: “what he hath done famously,” if we are to believe the First Citizen, “he did […] to please his mother” (1.1.33-36). It is she who decides that “he shall stand for his place” as consul (2.1.145), and who declares “Only/There’s one thing wanting” (2.1.197-198), despite her son’s reserves as to the necessary means of acquiring office.

  • 8 Fenichel O., “Die symbolische Gleichung: Mädchen = Phallus”, Internationale Zeitschrift für Psycho (...)

19If it is true that Coriolanus’ desires are shaped by his mother, then it must be said that Volumnia realizes her own desires vicariously through her son: “I have lived/To see inherited my very wishes,/And the buildings of my fancy” (2.1.196-197), she says gloatingly when Martius returns in triumph from the battle of Corioles. In other words, Coriolanus has become the symbol of precisely that which his mother lacks in order to realize the constructions of her fancy by and for herself. The phallic nature of his personality is designed—unconsciously—to remedy this absence in his mother and to bolster his fantasy of her omnipotence. Coriolanus is in the position of a fatherless son who, against all evidence to the contrary, has invested his mother with the masculine insignia of paternal authority. He can only go on denying his mother’s want, if he himself becomes that which she does not have. In this respect, his ideal of “all oneness” stems from an impossible desire to make his mother “all one”. Unfortunately, by attempting unconsciously to repair his mother’s lack of wholeness, he sacrifices his own. From a psychoanalytical point of view, being the phallus is not at all the same thing as having the phallus: the organ symbolises that which is wanting in order to achieve wholeness, and cannot therefore be considered whole in itself. According to Freud and to Fenichel, only women can embody the phallus, precisely because they are not in possession of one8. Coriolanus’ unconscious identification with an imaginary maternal phallus is therefore perfectly in keeping with the repressed hysterical traits of his character, as with his violent rejection of these traits when they find expression in the plebeians’ behaviour.

20As long as Volumnia remains the embodiment of the Law in his eyes, Coriolanus owes her obedience and veneration. However, when, after learning that the plebeians have gone back on their decision to name her son consul, she argues in favour of “policy”, play-acting and deceit, Volumnia opens a breach between her own person and her symbolic status. Although she manages to wheedle and browbeat Coriolanus into doing as she suggests, he proves incapable of following her advice, and the tribunes take advantage of his access of anger in order to proclaim his banishment. Such violent means of weaning him from his mother cannot but have disastrous consequences. Spatially, he leaves Volumnia’s house—where he has been living with his wife and son—for the house of his arch-rival and mirrorimage, Aufidius. His soliloquy upon entering Antium is that of a man painfully unaware of the real reasons behind his present situation and intentions. Acting out of spite and resentment—traditionally feminine qualities—, Coriolanus now begins to employ with the Volsces the strategies of disguise, play-acting and seduction that his mother had begged him to use in his dealings with the plebeians. In other words, he no longer identifies his being with the (m)other who embodies moral Law, but with his mother as a woman, capable, when necessary, of exploiting the whole gamut of rhetorical tricks in order to further her own ends.

21Having taken Aufidius’ place, like a cuckoo in another bird’s nest, Coriolanus next tries to usurp that of his progenitor: “I’ll never/Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand/As if a man were author of himself/And knew no other kin” (5.3.34-37). The desire to be his own mother, causa sui, does not of course only denote a certain feminisation of the hero. He has already undergone a symbolic death by banishment, and no longer answers to any name. Having lost his social identity, and therefore his human identity, he has become “a kind of nothing, titleless” (5.1.13). His being is now something which cannot be named or signified. He is “a thing/Made by some other deity than nature” (4.6.94-95), indeed a deity itself in as much as he is his own cause. This descendent of the house of the Martians dons the attributes of the god of war, and seizes the divine prerogative of vengeance: the Volsces treat him accordingly “as if he were son and heir to Mars” (4.5.197). In other words, he has become what his mother had previously represented from his point of view: the incarnation of the laws of existence. And who or what is the ultimate avatar of these laws? Not Mars, but Mors, Death, the Grim Reaper: Coriolanus intends to “mow all down before him, and leave his passage polled” (4.5.206-207).

The triple goddess

22If Volumnia manages to prevent Coriolanus from “[forging] himself a name o’th’fire/Of burning Rome” (5.1.14-15), it is because she retrieves her status (in his eyes) as representative of the supreme Law, deposing her son in the process—with mortal consequences. However, the Law in whose name she speaks has undergone a singular transformation. Volumnia now advocates the eminently Christian values of peace, mercy and forgiveness, values that are more fi ttingly represented by Virgilia. But even if her sincerity is doubtful—she is once more using all the rhetorical resources at her disposal to save the situation—, there is no doubt as to the symbolic force of persuasion that the three women bring to bear on Coriolanus. Shakespeare does not follow Plutarch in giving Valeria credit for initiating the women’s embassy, but he does maintain her as a presence on stage. It was obviously important to him that the women form a trinity in both the pleading scene and the scene of their triumphal return to Rome (without Coriolanus). The symbolic implications of such a trinity need to be recalled here.

23Shakespeare makes it very plain as to what he is driving at by having Coriolanus refer to Valeria as:

The moon of Rome, chaste as the icicle
That’s candied by the frost from purest snow
And hangs on Dian’s temple […] (5.3.65-67).

24The chaste maid, the doting wife and the domineering mother compose a human equivalent of Diana triformis, the goddess who rules over the terrestrial, celestial and infernal worlds. This is how John Skelton describes her in his “Garland of Laurell”:

  • 9 Graves R., The White Goddess, London, Faber and Faber, 1984 [1961].

Diana in the leaves green,
Luna that so bright doth sheen,
Persephone in Hell9 (Graves, 386).

25We are reminded of the three weird sisters in Macbeth, the trinity that Cleopatra forms with her two maid-servants in Anthony and Cleopatra, the cult of Elizabeth as Cynthia (Diana). But why does Shakespeare evoke the lunar goddess at the end of Coriolanus? Given that, according to Rabelais, “le naturel des femmes nous est figuré par la lune” (Tiers Livre, XXXII), what are the qualities that are most salient here? Does Shakespeare not wish to create a deliberate verbal (and visual) contrast between two archetypal representations of masculinity and femininity?

  • 10 Freud Sigmund, “The Theme of the Three Caskets”, tr. Strachey J., Standard Edition, vol. 12, 1958.

26The plurality of the women contrasts with Coriolanus’ singularity (even if he is flanked by Aufidius). Their tears—the moon is the sovereign of the aquatic element—are designed to quench the Bilious Man’s fire. The mutability of the moon stands in direct opposition to the ideal of constancy to which Coriolanus desperately clings. The reference to the goddess of hunting is there to remind the audience that the three women represent a new avatar of the hunting-packs which have been hounding Coriolanus ever since the lynch-mob at the beginning of the play; just as the verbal battle which ensues is a transposition of the physical battles that Coriolanus has already fought. But most importantly, Diana, as Persephone, has power over the dead. In this respect, the three women also represent the three Fates of Classical mythology. In “The Theme of the Three Caskets”, an essay devoted to The Merchant of Venice and King Lear, Freud associates the Fates with the three main roles that women play in relation to men—the genitor, the companion, the destroyer—, as well as with the three principal varieties of the maternal imago: the mother, the lover, Mother Earth10. Coriolanus does indeed refer to Volumnia as “the honoured mould/Wherein this trunk was framed” (5.3.22-23); and in her supplication to her son, Volumnia establishes a parallel between herself and “The country, our dear nurse” (5.3.111), whose “bowels” Coriolanus threatens to tear out (5.3.104). It is therefore only logical that, were he to “tread on [his] country’s ruin” (5.3.117), he would also find himself treading “on his mother’s womb/That brought [him] to this world” (5.3.125-126).

27Coriolanus’ death at the hands of the Volsces is not an historical afterthought, but the consequence of his defeat by Persephone or Atropos in human form. The male ideal of oneness has proved impossible to realise; the female party is the stronger of the two.


1 Shakespeare William, The Tragedy of Coriolanus, ed. R. B. Parker, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998 [1994]. All subsequent references to Coriolanus are from this edition.

2 Rabelais François, Les Cinq Livres, Paris, Le Livre de Poche, 1994.

3 Jorden E., A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother, London, 1603.

4 Bacon Francis, The Essays, ed. J. Pitcher, London, Penguin Books, 1985, p. 226.

5 Ibid., p. 173.

6 Bright Timothy, A Treatise of Melancholie, London, 1586.

7 Homer, The Iliad, tr. Lattimore R., University of Chicago Press, 1961 [1951], p. 437.

8 Fenichel O., “Die symbolische Gleichung: Mädchen = Phallus”, Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, XXII, 1936, p. 299-314.

9 Graves R., The White Goddess, London, Faber and Faber, 1984 [1961].

10 Freud Sigmund, “The Theme of the Three Caskets”, tr. Strachey J., Standard Edition, vol. 12, 1958.


Senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield (UK). Her previous publications include Textual Constructions of Space in the Writing of Early Modern Women (Ceredigion, 2006) and Prophecy and Sibylline Imagery in the Renaissance: Shakespeare’s Sibyls (Routledge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, New York, 2010). She has written a number of articles exploring early modern women writers and is presently working on an edition of Anne Clifford’s Great Book of Records.

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