«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
5 Clifford Davidson points out that the belly was traditionally a symbol of state finances and is thus particularly appropriate to an oligarchy associated with hoarding and with usury. See "Coriolanus: A Study in Political Dislocation', Sh. St. 4 (1968), 263-74, 265.
6 See Andrew Gurr, 'Coriolanus and the Body Politic', Sh. S. 28 (1975), 63-70, 67.
the plebeians is one of many acts of appeasement, such as the distribution of free corn, which are not intended to challenge the ideal of Rome but only to protect the physical manifestation of the city and its patricians. What can the plebeians know of government, asks Martius (1.1.189-94). Significantly, the word 'Rome' remains confined to the store of the patricians.
The few occasions when it is used by them to embrace a shared civic identity occur when the plebeians are required to fight, as at Corioli (1.7.2), or when Coriolanus is praised or defended (2.1.159). At these times, the manpower of the plebeians is required and they are invited to locate themselves within the legend of Rome, forgetting the materiality of their lives and the discomfort of their empty bellies for Rome's metaphorical and diachronic body. 8 The concerns of both sides are for a time subsumed in rituals of collective identity.
The man who makes this possible is Rome's champion, Coriolanus.
Coriolanus' education in the legend of Rome is the inevitable result of his ancestry and his birth as a 'man-child' (1.3.16). Nevertheless, Martius has an unusually devoted and ambitious
Roman mythographer in his mother:
I, considering how honour would become such a person - that it was no better than, picture-like, to hang by th'wall if renown made it not stir was pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame. (1.3.9-13) This metaphor of the painting brought to life in Shakespeare may remind us of Lucrece's identification with the Troy painting in The Rape ofLucrece (itself indebted to Aeneid I, 450From her observations of Hecuba, Lucrece learns how to portray the tragic Roman 7 The one occasion when the plebeians alone represent Rome is in the anticipation of Coriolanus' invasion.
Since the hero's banishment was their work, it is their city that will be destroyed. Cominius says: 'He'll shake your Rome about your ears', 4.6.103. This positing of the city as somewhere and something else echoes Coriolanus's own removed perspective.
8 See Arthur Riss, 'The Belly Politic: Coriolanus and the Revolt of Language', ELH 59 (1992), 53-75, 60-3.
matron (1465-70, 1496-8). She also relates the pollution of her body by Tarquin to the rape of Helen that began the Trojan War (1369) and to the infiltration of the city by the Trojan horse.
Lucrece is inspired to loose the corrupted blood from her veins that the city of Rome may be purified and its survival assured.9 Volumnia's idea of Coriolanus brought to life from a painting is one expression of the pressure in all Shakespeare's Roman plays to reanimate the glory of Roman ancestors. In Julius Caesar, Brutus is drawn into the conspiracy in part to prove his relationship with the Brutus who expelled Tarquin. 10 Coriolanus must live up to his Roman ancestors but also to his Trojan antecedent, Hector, as both Volumnia (1.3.42-5) and Aufidius remark (1.9.11-2)."
Martius has been created by Rome to embody its code of Romanitas, the principles upon which the whole city supposedly stands: bravery and constancy, self-sacrifice, the pursuit of honour. These values are expressed in the eulogies uttered over Martius in private but also in public as rites of appropriation whereby 'Rome must know/ The value of her own' (1.10.20After the battle at Corioli, Cominius looks forward to uniting the city, even against its
will, in self-wonder at the hero's exploits. He imagines the scene:
9 Linda Woodbridge elaborates upon the symbolism of the body as state, with particular attention to the political
implications of Lucrece's rape, in 'Palisading the Body Politic', True Rites and Maimed Rites: Ritual and AntiRitual in Shakespeare and His Age ed. by Linda Woodbridge and Edward Berry (Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1992), 270-95.
10 Robert Miola describes Shakespeare's habit of'reworking dramatic situations and scenes in his Roman art' in Shakespeare's Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 16.
" On Coriolanus' epic associations, see Reuben A. Brower, Hero and Saint: Shakespeare and the GraecoRoman Heroic Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 354-81; Richard C. Crowley 'Coriolanus and Epic Genre' in Shakespeare's Late Plays: Essays in Honour of Charles Crow ed. by Richard C. Tobias and Paul G.
Zolbrod (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974), 114-30 and John W. Velz "'Cracking Strong Curbs Asunder":
Roman Destiny and the Roman Hero in Coriolanus', ELR 13 (1983). 58-69.
The climax of Cominius' first eulogy on the battlefield is the renaming of the hero. Following Cominius' second eulogy, the hero is elected to the consulship. It only remains for the senate's choice to be ratified by the plebeians. The spectacle of Coriolanus in humble garb revealing the scars won for his country is a ritual that cuts to the heart of the Romans' attitude towards their mythic hero. The citizens view the wounds as if they too had shed blood for their country. Coriolanus has exhibited all the virtues they know themselves to possess but
have not displayed so extravagantly:
He must live as they dare not. He must be in actuality what they can only behold in dream. While they can live in the actual and not very wonderful city of Rome, he must inhabit the institutional fiction of it which they have in their minds. He must excite them with displays of an excellence to which their earthbound souls cannot and dare not aspire. They know the need to live in the actual world; but they also cannot give up the 'religious' necessity for having one man amongst them who is, as Menenius says, 'too noble for the world'. 12 However, interpretations of Coriolanus are by no means uniform, reflecting the ambiguous signification of 'Rome' and 'Roman'. Cominius recognises that the patricians will admire their hero only Tth'end'. The plebeians' hatred for the hero, which has previously inspired them to plot his assassination, means that to praise him is to speak 'against their hearts'. The play opens with a scene in which various plebeians debate the ethics of their revolt. They 12 Long, The Unnatural Scene, 75-6.
conclude that Coriolanus, the city's great hero, is no less rebellious. From the beginning then, the plebeians identify the hermeneutic dilemma at the centre of the play, namely how to interpret the hero. 13 If he fights to defend Rome from its enemies, then he must be a patriot.
However, his own assertions that he does not defend the plebeians but would rather fight them render these actions obscure unless Rome is seen as a community apart from plebeian life. If Coriolanus can be an 'enemy to the people' (1.1.8), 'a very dog to the commonalty' (27) and yet serve his country (28-9), the plebeians are left with a definition of country that completely excludes them. They find matter for their rebellion in the hero.
Martius' invective against the plebeians defines himself and thus Romanitas in opposition to them. In the first scene he complains of their inconstancy. They are hares when they should be lions, geese instead of foxes (168-70). Any reputation dependent on their opinions is
Constancy is perhaps the central virtue of the Stoic doctrine and the one that most powerfully influences Coriolanus' actions. He apparently never changes his mind and is incapable of flinching from any task he has determined upon. It is this steadfastness that he wishes for his son (5.3.70-5). The more complex Stoic ideas of constancy will be discussed later in this chapter. It is enough for the moment to point out the simple contrast Coriolanus draws between himself and the plebeians. Plutarch writes that men 'marvel[ed] much at his 13 Menenius insists that the plebeians should not judge the warrior by his words, whilst Coriolanus demands that he be known by his deeds alone.
constancie, that he was never overcome with pleasure, nor money, and how he would endure easilie all manner of paines and travailles'. 14 Coriolanus' Stoic disregard for wealth is also a
much-praised virtue, as Plutarch suggested, and it too forms a part of Cominius' eulogy:
The hero is subsequently disgusted by the soldiers who scavenge in the ruins of the city for items that a patrician would consider worthless (1.6.4-8).
However, what Coriolanus finds most reprehensible and most incomprehensible in the plebeians is cowardice. Of all the values Romanitas encompasses at this early stage in Rome's history, heroic and martial bravery are the most admired: 'It is held/ That valour is the chiefest virtue' (2.2.83-4) 15 and in this context Coriolanus stands alone, as exemplified by his victory alone in Corioles. 16 His disgust at Roman cowardice finds expression three times
in the play, most notably in imagined comparison with his own valour:
As each virtue of Coriolanus was seen to reflect his Roman philosophy, so Coriolanus 14 Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes tr. by Sir Thomas North (London 1595), 235-57, 236.
15 Plutarch writes: 'Now in those dayes, valiantnes was honoured in ROME above all other vertues', ibid., 236.
16 Lartius describes him as a soldier 'Even to Cato's wish' (1.5.28), Cato being the 'Censor' renowned for his advocacy of the traditional military virtues of Rome.
interprets the plebeians' particular 'philosophy' as denying their membership of Rome.
Cowardice, materialism, inconstancy are diametrically opposed to what the Roman should be.
Coriolanus' conviction that the plebeians are not truly Roman is expressed in a number of
ways. At his trial before the people, he alludes to their foreignness:
His references to them as slaves may also hint at their non-Roman birth, as well as to their alienation in aristocratic Rome (1.1.197, 1.6.7, 3.2.8-9).' 7 Yet, Coriolanus goes further by implying that the plebeians are anathema to any society. Their unfitness for political rights is expressed in his description of them as "dissentious rogues' (1.1.162) and 'the mutable rankscented meinie' (3.1.70). These terms reveal the bestiality central to Coriolanus' argument that they do not belong in society. They are 'curs', 'rats', "the beast with many heads'.
Coriolanus does not stop with bestiality but goes on to deny them any kind of completeness.
They are only fragments, or shreds of men identified as voices, mouths, a multitudinous tongue. So inimical to society are these creatures that not only do they corrupt like an infection, they are themselves measles (3.1.82).
17 The word 'slave' was a common pejorative term which need not imply anything about the literal status of the recipient. Coriolanus applies it to Aufidius as well as to the plebeians. However, the repeated and unemphatic appellation of a messenger in 4.6 as a 'slave' may suggest Shakespeare imagining slaves in Rome. See Charles Wells, The Wide Arch: Roman Values in Shakespeare (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1993), 140-3. Certainly, the practice of taking Volscians prisoner suggests that many would become slaves. Hence, Coriolanus may have been 'whooped out of Rome' by foreigners.
Christopher Givan is not alone in arguing that Coriolanus defines himself against the plebeians with such vehemence because in them he recognises what he may become. 18 Specifically, the critic remarks how the terms of Coriolanus' vilification of the plebeians, that they are childlike and inconstant, objects and numbers, will be applied to the warrior in due course, the 'boy', the traitor, the 'thing' and the number of wounds. 19 However, Givan does not explore one implication of this reification, that Coriolanus and the plebeians essentially compete for civilian rights. In Plutarch, Coriolanus supports a plan to rid Rome of some of its seditious and 'diseased' members by transporting them to Velitres, a city depopulated by plague (241). Martius 'did compell those that were chosen, to go thither, and to depart the citie, upon great penalties to him that should disobey' (242). Shakespeare may hint at this when Coriolanus welcomes the prospect of war 'to vent/ Our musty superfluity' (1.1.225-6).
Furthermore, Leah Marcus 'localizes' the play in the struggle between city authorities and the Privy Council for jurisdiction over particular 'spaces' in London. The Lord Mayor and his aldermen chafed at the existence of liberties beyond their control, in particular Blackfriars and Whitefriars, as seen in the Elizabethan controversy over the London stage. James I made further attacks on London's autonomy by encroaching on its power to prosecute those within 18 'Shakespeare's Coriolanus: The Premature Epitaph and the Butterfly', Sh. St. 12 (1979), 143-58. Janet Adelman concurs that Coriolanus 'uses the crowd to bolster his own identity: he accuses them of being exactly what he wishes not to be', that is hungry, malnourished. See '"Anger's My Meat": Feeding, Dependency and Aggression in Coriolanus' in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays ed. by Murray M.
Schwartz and Coppelia Kahn (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 129-49, 135.
Arthur Riss suggests that Coriolanus needs antagonists from whom to defend his 'borders', and sees the plebeians fulfilling this role, "The Belly Politic', 57.
19 'The Premature Epitaph and the Butterfly', 143-4.