Gender Quotes Page 2
How we cite our quotes:
Believe me, queen, your swarth Cimmerian
Doth make your honour of his body's hue,
Spotted, detested, and abominable. (2.3.2)
We talk about this quote under "Race," but it's worth discussing here as well. When Bassianus and Lavinia catch Tamora alone in the woods with her lover, Aaron, Bassianus implies that Tamora's "honour" has been soiled by her black lover. The idea that a white woman would be contaminated if she had sex with a black man was a common one in 16th century England. We see something similar in Shakespeare's Othello, where several characters believe that Desdemona's relationship with Othello will stain her.
O, do not learn her wrath; she taught it thee;
The milk thou suck'dst from her did turn to marble;
Even at thy teat thou hadst thy tyranny.
Yet every mother breeds not sons alike:
Do thou entreat her show a woman pity. (2.3.7)
There are a couple of things to note in this passage, in which Lavinia begs Demetrius and Chiron not to rape her. First, when Lavinia says "even at [Tamora's] teat thou hadst thy tyranny," she's voicing a 16th century idea that mothers could pass on their traits and characteristics to their children through their breast milk. Second, when Lavinia begs Chiron to ask Tamora to "show a woman's pity," she associates compassion with femininity and violence with masculinity. When Tamora refuses to be merciful, the play suggests that she's somehow unnatural because she's behaving like a man.
Something similar happens in Shakespeare's Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth associates cruelty with masculinity in her famous "unsex me" speech.
She is a woman, therefore may be woo'd,
She is a woman, therefore may be won,
She is Lavinia, therefore must be lov'd. (2.1.6)
Demetrius's obnoxious remarks suggest that, since Lavinia is a woman, her sole purpose in life is as a sexual object for men to conquer. Soon after this little speech, Demetrius and Chiron determine that the most expedient way to possess Lavinia is to rape her.
Compare this passage to Shakespeare's Richard III, where Richard approaches the wooing of Lady Anne in a similarly predatory way and asks "Was ever woman in this humour wooed? / Was ever woman in this humour won?" (Richard III, 1.2).