Homosociality

In the last couple of months, I’ve been taking a Masters-level course in Shakespeare, in which I wrote a lengthy paper on cuckoldry and the male anxiety caused by the fear of it in both Much Ado About Nothing and Othello. It turned out pretty well. More importantly, though, is that is introduced to me a sociological concept called homosociality. Basically, it’s same-sex relationships–loving, caring, mentoring, supportive–but not romantic or erotic in nature. The link I drew in the paper was between the fear of female sexuality and how the men’s previous homosocial bond through the military made it easier for them to accuse the females of adultery. Maybe the whole homosociality thing has been on my mind, but I see it in Coriolanus as well.

Interestingly, there are homosocial bonds not just between members of a group (say, an army), but also between ranks within groups (officers, or leaders). In Coriolanus, however, we find a weird variation of this: the affinity between the leaders Martius and Aufidius, despite the fact that they come from two separate armies. When, in the opening scene of the play, Martius learns that the Volscians are on the military move, he responds,

 They have a leader,
Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to ’t.
I sin in envying his nobility,
And were I anything but what I am,
I would wish me only he.
  • I.i.226-30

Here, the bond is not simply between soldiers, but between leaders… of opposing armies. Martius admits to envy, and even pride: “He is a lion / That I am proud to hunt” (I.i.233-4). This leonine comparison is much better than the one he has for the non-military members of his own nation: the “common cry [or pack] of curs” (III.iii.121).

When he reveals himself to Aufidius, Martius states,

 But if so be
Thou dar’st not this, and that to prove more fortunes
Thou ’rt tired, then, in a word, I also am
Longer to live most weary, and present
My throat to thee and to thy ancient malice;
Which not to cut would show thee but a fool,
Since I have ever followed thee with hate,
Drawn tuns of blood out of thy country’s breast,
And cannot live but to thy shame, unless
It be to do thee service.
  • IV.v.96-105

It’s a wonderfully complex sentence (yes, that’s a ten-line sentence). Martius equates himself with the man he once said he hated: if Aufidius is too tired to fight in another battle, then Martius is too tired to live, and presents this throat for Aufidius to cut; if Aufidius fails to cut it, the inaction will show the Volscian a fool, and will shame him–the only cure for which is to allow Martius to fight for him. And when Aufidius accepts him, giving him half of the Volscian army, it is with this statement of brotherhood: “A thousand welcomes! / And more a friend than e’er an enemy” (IV.v.149-50). The foes, opposites, are now brought together and their homosocial bond is strengthened.

Of course, when Aufidius later feels more like “his follower, not partner” (V.vi.38), it is a breaking of the homosocial bond, not between members of the same army but of the same rank, a tearing apart that leads to Aufidius plotting Coriolanus’ death. After the death, however, Aufidius’ “rage is gone, / And [he is] struck with sorrow” (V.vi.145-6), a mourning for a lost brother.

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