Book Review – The Rule of Manhood: Tyranny, Gender, and Classical Republicanism, 1603-1660 by Jamie Gianoutsos

Megan Chance reviews Jamie Gianoutsos’ The Rule of Manhood: Tyranny, Gender, and Classical Republicanism, 1603-1630 (Cambridge University Press, 2020), £75.

In The Rule of Manhood, Jamie Gianoutsos seeks to excavate the masculine norms of republicanism, arguably furthering Hanna Pitkin’s work on masculinity forty years earlier. [1] Her research sits alongside that of Anna Becker and Katherine Gillespie, who collectively emphasise the necessity to centre gender in conversations about republicanism. [2] Gianoutsos also cites Quentin Skinner’s work ‘The Genealogy of Liberty’, however, to argue that even renowned intellectual historians had not recognised the definitions which they were crafting were inherently gendered terns. Skinner’s study of liberty as non-domination did not recognise that the definitions of ‘free’ and ‘servile’ on which he relied were heavily gendered concepts, and Gianoutsos posits that reading gender could aid the development and use of these definitions. [3] In the first part of the book, Gianoutsos succinctly presents a classical discourse of tyranny fuelled by gendered concepts of power and order, presenting the intellectual origins of English republicanism in masculinity and patriarchy. In the second part, she bases her study firmly in the seventeenth century to understand the way gendered narratives impacted the events of the English Republic and Revolution (1642-1660). In doing so, she relies on work by gender historians who have established the social significance of the construction of gender in political narratives of the Civil War.

Gianoutsos first sets out the classical concepts of gender that were central to the histories laid by the Roman past. The Roman past offers idealised portrayals of manhood whereby idioms of tyranny were based on masculine failure. Men were required to master the self, asserting autonomy and dominance to exercise virtue. Their virtue was very fragile – a point also noted by Pitkin. Gianoutsos also spends a significant proportion of time determining what ‘masculinity’, ‘manliness’ and ‘gender’ meant in the seventeenth century context. Classical and Renaissance discourses of tyranny and its distinctions often adopted antithetical rhetoric which opposed the failed, effeminate tyrant to masculine man. Gianoutsos employs this model using distinctions based in the works of Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero. Despite these many articulations of power through gender, however, Gianoutsos shows that there was no monolithic standard of manliness because the normative standards were consistently contested to meet political ends. Classical stories of masculinity presented men as warriors, lawmakers and/or fathers, all of whom were courageous, cunning, dutiful, obeyed and ensured protection. However, Gianoutsos notes Christian writers also ‘Christianised’ Roman masculinity – and Englishmen followed suit. ‘Vir’ began to include not only classical the excellences of man, but Christian virtues too, such as piety and dedication. [4] This hybrid definition of ‘vir’ relied on men exerting autonomy, authority and morality in their perception of masculinity and its attachment to a dynamic and everchanging set of virtues.

Gianoutsos further develops an understanding of masculinity by reconstructing classical republican thought in England, which developed as a solution to the problem of the ‘emasculating’ tyranny embodied by the Stuart king, James VI and I. Gianoutsos utilises Milton’s Paradise Lost to illustrate Adam’s autonomous articulation in comparison to Eve’s untamed impulsiveness. Milton maintains Adam can only remain upright and free through rational self-management. Despite this definition of masculinity appearing to be against its binary of femininity, it is important to consider femininity did not become a common term until the late seventeenth century and this is a metaphor for ‘masculinity’ and ‘effeminacy’.  Gianoutsos characterises Milton’s definition of true manhood against failed masculinities: Milton bases his concepts of liberty and a free commonwealth in manhood, self-control and autonomy and begins to develop masculinity against the binary feminine. In doing so, he and his contemporaries provide some of the first arguments which can be found in defence of domestic liberty from ‘double tyranny’ – that is, masculine domination in politics and in the household. Understanding the importance to classical republicanism, thus, requires Milton and his contemporaries to be read through a gendered lens.

Gianoutsos further establishes the importance of the classical past and the antithetical rhetoric of the masculine man versus the tyrant by comparing James VI and I to Nero. She looks at the way the story of Nero was appropriated in the 1620s to debate ideas of patriarchy, obedience and defining tyranny as failure to govern household and commonwealth. Classical authors such as Racitus, Suetonius and Dio Cassius are drawn upon by Gianoutsos. Their discussions of Nero were cited as examples of tyranny and his name was commonplace; writers detailed his violent and sexual crimes, torture of Christians, murdering family, bestiality, sodomy, incest, in order to demonstrate his atrocious tyranny and debate the limitations of obedience to monarchical power. Gianoutsos draws comparisons in the print of The Tragedy of Nero which seemed to associate James’ refusal to enter a war for the Protestant Cause as effeminate – in the classical period, the ability to bear arms was a defining feature of masculinity. Nero was similarly often accused of household mismanagement and cuckolding within the court, leading to questions surrounding his autonomy.

Historians of gender have established the social significance of gender construction in this period and the ways gendered discourse is often found to shape political thought. This gendered rhetoric however has led to a neglect of the significance of masculine language in republicanism. Republicanism has enjoyed a longstanding relevance to political society – its endurance tied to an ability to present the republic as a mechanism for historical progress as much as its relevance as a political model. In the English revolution, republicanism offered itself as an alternative model to a tyrannical monarchy – republicanism was the virtuous, masculine man, able to contrast itself to the failed, tyrannical monarchy. The work by Gianoutsos illustrates how implicit gendered narratives are within republicanism. She successfully engages with previously ‘agender’ narratives of republicanism to re-establish the importance of reading gender to truly understand political systems in the English Republic. By illustrating how deeply classical ideas of gender have permeated into republican theory, furthermore, she also allows space for similar investigations in the early Dutch, Venetian, French and American Republics.

[1] Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, Fortune Is A Woman, (Chicago: Chicago University Press. 1999).

[2] Anna Becker, Gendering the Renaissance, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 2020); Katharine Gillespie, Women Writing the English Republic, 1625–1681. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2017).

[3] Quentin Skinner, ‘A Genealogy of Liberty’, (Stanford, 2016).

[4] The word ‘vir’ is difficult to translate, so has been left in Latin here. The term means ‘man’, but also forms the root of ‘virtue’. The exact implications of the word, and the relationship between masculinity and classical morality, are currently a subject of debate.

Image credit: A broadside satirising Oliver Cromwell’s dissolution of the Long Parliament, 1653. Accessed from the British Museum Online Archive here and reproduced according to their CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

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