On Will: Time and voluntary action in coriolanus and the sonnets

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This essay examines the category of voluntary action in Coriolanus and sonnets 129, 133–36. Following Aristotle’s analysis of how temporal circumstances allow an action to be understood as both voluntary and involuntary, the essay describes three registers in Shakespeare’s use of time to describe political and erotic action. In Coriolanus and sonnet 129, action is measured according to the instant of its performance. Alternatively, sonnets 133 and 134 use the suspended time of conditional bonds at law (bail, mortgage, surety) to describe how the caught Petrarchan speaker might, in the lyric environment, operate as though freely. In sonnets 135 and 136, Shakespeare recasts the potential of that lyric-conditional temporality in terms of the relationship of the passive will to the object that activates it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-270
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Aristotle
  • Desire
  • Law
  • Petarchanism
  • Subjectivity


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