On Matriarchal Thirst for Power in Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Racine's Britannicus

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Saddam Sassi
Uzma Panhwar


This paper aims to analyze a significant aspect in Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Racine's Britannicus, that is, the thirst for power. This phenomenon involves two crucial secondary characters; Volumnia and Agrippine, mothers respectively of Caius Marcius Coriolanus and Britannicus. Both Coriolanus and Britannicus are political tragedies re-enacting the politics in the Roman Empire. Shakespeare and Racine use history to convey realism. Plutarch's The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (1579) is Shakespeare's most obvious source in writing Coriolanus, while Racine relies upon (as he explains in his preface) the Annals of Publius Cornelius Tacitus as the main historical source for writing Britannicus. The struggle or thirst for power is nothing new but one unique aspect in Coriolanus and Britannicus is that certain female characters are no less sly, avaricious, or immoral than their male counterparts. Volumniain Coriolanus and Agrippinein Britannicus are such characters. This thesis aims to analyze their character in terms of their wickedness in designing for power.The protagonists in boththey are protective and loving mothers on one side and cunning and domineering on the other. This double personality they show makes them intriguing non-Manichean characters.

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