Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic
theory details the typical scenario for male identity formation through
the Oedipus Complex. The
son wishes his father would die because he wants to take his father's
place and establish his own identity. It is said that Freud
formulated this theory primarily through Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600-1601),
however, it is preempted in Coriolanus (1607-1608).
We learn in Cominius' speech that, King Tarquin was the tyrannical leader of Rome, who was banished from the land. As an adolescent boy, Coriolanus struck Tarquin in the knee and debilitated the tyrant. Coriolanus received much praise for this incredible act, however, once Tarquin is overthrown, Rome is in a capricious state. There is a power void. This vacuum of power left after Tarquin's banishment is a void which Coriolanus is forbidden to occupy. He is in a peculiar position. Manipulated by a controlling mother, Coriolanus possesses no male identity. He tries desperately to create his identity in battle -- combating Aufidius and through much blood, leading his troops to victory. Coriolanus is constantly in a state of lack which drives him to arrogant and aggressive extremes. The formation of his identity, due to a banished father figure, and a domineering mother has no positive model or validating structure. He is predestined to be negative, paradoxical, and difficult. This is most evident when Aufidius torments him by calling him "boy." Because Coriolanus cannot develop an adult masculine identity, he is childish and impossible.
Many critics have noted that when Coriolanus arises victorious after his "suicide mission" beyond the gates of Corioli, his bloody body looks almost like a newborn baby. Thus, Coriolanus is reborn in the battle. Because of the masculine setting of war, this rebirth can distance him from his original fatherless, feminine identity. Coriolanus is driven to pursue an all male military career. This career he hopes will allow masculine independence and masculine identity.
Coriolanus' relationship with Aufidius warrants more discussion. Though archenemies, they share a strong intimacy. They have repeated confrontations alive with passion and desire. When Coriolanus first gets to battle Aufidius, he is excited and thrilled over the chance of an encounter. There is a strong homoerotic attraction between them that is apparent every time they meet. This claim is supported by the following quote spoken by Aufidius:
Thou hast beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me.
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,
And waked half dead with nothing.
Aufidius has been having orgasmic dreams about wrestling Coriolanus, thus the strong homoerotic attraction between them is demonstrated through this sexually charged narration.
Yet, Coriolanus cannot identify himself through his relationship with Aufidius. Coriolanus still doesn't possess a solid identity, as Aufidius doesn't even recognize him when he arrives in Corioles.
Even at the end of the play when Coriolanus joins Aufidius as an ally, his identity is unsettled. He is seen by the Roman people as invincible, immortal, almost entirely separated from humanity. They praise him and beg him to spare Rome, but he coldly refuses. Cominius comments on the absence of Coriolanus' identity as he says,
Yet one time he did call me by my name
I urged our old acquaintance, and the drops
That we have bled together, "Coriolanus"
He would not answer to, forbade all names.
he was a kind of nothing, titleless
(V, i, 9-15)
As mentioned, Coriolanus' lack of identity is due to a controlling mother in a fatherless environment. According to the Freudian model for establishing male identity, Coriolanus is doomed. Nowhere is this more evident that at the end of the play, when Volumnia, his mother convinces him to spare Rome. He is wholly controlled by his mother, and has no voice of his own. He says, "Like a dull actor now,/ I have forgot my part and I am out,/Even to full disgrace" (V, iii, 40-42). Following his mother's demands, he spares Rome which leads directly to his demise. Thus, his controlling mother coupled with the absence of a father figure leads to his lack of identity which leads to his death.