Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Gendered Virtue and the Operations of the Will in Symbiotic Relationships: An Analysis of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, All's Well That Ends Well, and Coriolanus

Unhae Langis.

Gendered Virtue and the Operations of the Will in Symbiotic Relationships:
An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Coriolanus

The word virtue reveals a long lineage of multitudinous meanings. Out of these, six will be pertinent for the purposes of this analysis: 1) virtu, an inherent power, capacity, or excellence of something; 2) “force for life” (Donaldson 39) or anima; 3) female honor, as in maiden chastity and marital fidelity; 4) virtus, male, “heroic” honor; 5) moral excellence through Aristotelian mean, or temperance, and 6) efficacious power. This linguistic multivalence of virtue informs my cross-genre examination of gender reversals in three works of Shakespeare: Venus and Adonis, an erotic narrative poem, All’s Well That Ends Well, one of his so-called “dark comedies,” and Coriolanus, a “Roman” tragedy. Despite their different genres, I have brought together these three works for comparison because they each present as the lead female character, what one might call a virago, a woman acting as a man. Against the virago, each work presents a lead male character who tries to defend himself against female incursion into his subjectivity, whether through Venus’s virtu or anima, Helena’s female honor, or Volumnia’s virtus. In this sense, he is metaphorically if not sexually a virgin, guarding his inviolate self. In Venus and Adonis, the beautiful male, Adonis, as the model of feminine virtue, or chastity, guards against Venus’s overflowing sexuality threatening to blur the boundaries of individuality. In All’s Well That Ends Well, Bertram, newly wed, runs off to war, eschewing the menace of marriage upon distinct selfhood. In Coriolanus, the title character nobly tries to assert a sense of self against the encroachments of Volumnia, the “mother-state.” All three works explore the symbiotic relationship of two-in-one and the intricate operations of the individual will within the intimate human relationship, be it a bond of lust, of marriage, or of mother and offspring.


Unhae Langis  (United States)
Asst. Lecturer in Writing
Department of English
University of Southern California

  • gender
  • identity
  • subjectivity
  • intersubjectivity
Person as Subject
  • Venus Adonis Helena Bertram Coriolanus Volumnia

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)