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Shakespeare, Cymbeline, masculinity, chivalric masculinity, civic masculinity


Scholarship on early modern masculinity and male sexuality has not considered Cymbeline at any great length. Yet Cymbeline is jammed with men embroiled with the difficulties of the quest for national identity, a quest connected with the complications of shaping man's erotic identity. In Cymbeline the construction of masculinity depends upon one man's measuring of himself against another man, for example, Posthumus against Iachimo, Cloten against Posthumus; of one male community against another, of Romans against Britons. It has been a traditional tendency of gender-oriented criticism to interpret male subjectivity in Cymbeline as part of the process of forging British national identity. Recently, however, in a study of gender in Shakespeare's Roman plays, Coppelia Kahn has moved away from what I would call a conceptualization of the powerful and stable masculinity in its public sphere of the battlefield and politics into the private sphere of sexuality and marriage. Kahn discusses the extent to which heroic masculinity is fractured in Cymbeline, insofar as its frequent association with wounds suggests that "virtus remains an open wound in the sense of a persistent but unsuccessful attempt to fix, stabilize, delimit masculinity as a self-consistent autonomy." Kahn's acute observation brings me to my subject: that is, the association of the male anxieties in Cymbeline for the stability of masculinity, and the construction of male erotic identity within the public sphere of economy, which conflicts with the imperial and heroic aspects of the play. I argue that the simultaneous negotiation of male subjectivity in both heroic and commercial spheres in Cymbeline already signals the shift from chivalric to civic form of masculinity in Jacobean drama.