«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 ...»
its limits.20 Coriolanus is perceived by the tribunes as a violator of civic freedoms, one who disregards the people's 'liberties' and 'charters' (2.3.180) in pursuit of his own 'power tyrannical' (3.3.68). In Rome, and in London, Coriolanus is 'turned into a scapegoat whose expulsion both makes possible and bears witness to the expansion of the city and its "liberties".' 21 Nevertheless, whilst casting Coriolanus as scapegoat, Marcus also suggests that banishment reflects his 'inability to function' within the republican system.22 Coriolanus' banishment has often been seen as essentially predetermined, as the inevitable realisation of his anti-social attitudes. These attitudes thus approximate to a fatal flaw. Janette Dillon writes, 'It is clear that Coriolanus's banishment is the logical consequence of his inward solitariness, and this inward solitariness is itself not a characteristic developed by particular events, but inherent in his nature'. 23 The precedent for such a critique is found in Plutarch who observes in relation to Coriolanus that "all men that are wilfully given to a selfe opinion and obstinate minde, and who will never yeeld to others reason, but to their owne: remaine without companie, and forsaken of all men' (243). Whilst Plutarch predicts the 'banishment' of any man so flawed,
he does consider this Roman's upbringing as a factor in the formation of his character:
for lacke of education, he was so chollericke and impacient, that he would yeeld to no living creature: which made him churlishe, uncivil, and altogether unfit for any mans conversation. (236) Both Plutarch and Dillon suggest, then, that there is something in Coriolanus' being that 20 Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare, 165-8.
21 Ibid., 203.
23 Shakespeare and the Solitary Man. 145.
prevents him from living in society. What that might be is most famously explored by Aristotle in his Politics, a text which Shakespeare may well have recalled in the writing of his play." Aristotle expounds on the naturalness of the city as an organism and of man's desire to live in a community since he is not self-sufficient: 'But he that can not abide to live in companie, or through sufficiencie hath need of nothing, is not esteemed a part or member of a Cittie, but is either a beast or a God'.25 The anti-social nature of the solitary man is thus bestiality or divinity. Both these characters are assigned to Coriolanus after his banishment.
He is imagined as a viper (3.1.263), a dragon (5.4.13) and a male tiger (5.4.29). At the same time, He sits in his state as a thing made for Alexander. What he bids be done is finished with his bidding. He wants nothing of a god but eternity and a heaven to throne in. (5.4.21-5)
Cominius describes Coriolanus' generalship of the Volscians:
Nevertheless, there is also an important sense in which Coriolanus chooses his nature and this is a perspective found in Shakespeare's play and in his sources. Plutarch suggests that the Roman's obstinate refusal to yield supremacy to anyone is thought of by him as 'a token of magnanimitie' (243). The reference to Coriolanus being 'wilfully given to a selfe opinion' 24 F. N. Lees makes this claim and proposes that Shakespeare most probably used the 1598 translation of the Politics, Aristotles Politiques, or Discourses of Government. Translated out of Greeks into French, with Expositions taken out of the best Authours... By Lays Le Roy, called Regius. Translated out of French into English. At London printed by Adam fslip Anno Dom: 1598. See Lee's 'Coriolanus, Aristotle, and Bacon' in RES\ (1950), 114-25.
25 Quoted from 'Coriolanus, Aristotle, and Bacon', 119.
may also suggest self-determination. In the 1598 translation of the Politics, the translator, I.
D., includes a number of revealing glosses of his own. In particular, he observes
I. D. suggests that the solitary man's desire to live by himself may be just that, a desire, an 'inclination', an ambition. He exemplifies the dangerous urge to solitude as that of the 'bloody and cruell tyrant', represented in many contemporary tracts as highly unnatural. The solitary man and the tyrant share an anti-social ambition.27 This ambiguity seems to me important for our understanding of Coriolanus. The patricians do not find him unfit for their conversation though he was fashioned for the battlefield rather than for civilian life. Coriolanus' deliberate individualism is at first profoundly social. It reflects his ambitions for Rome. When the warrior becomes so passionate about the political situation in 3.1, he is grieving for a patrician city that was once self-determining but is now dependent upon plebeians for its security. This vulnerability alone makes it unworthy of itself and of Coriolanus. We need not see the hero's accusations that the plebeians are unworthy of society as a subconscious recognition of his own incivility. If Coriolanus is unfit for society it is for that cankered city which debases his idealised Rome. He has no desire to belong to this world. If Coriolanus is anti-social then is it not by the judgement of a society to which he has 26 Ibid..
21 For Aristotle the solitary man is partly dangerous due to a lack of restraint. He suggests that the man who is.
in Homer's words, 'tribelesse, lawlesse, and houselesse' will seek war 'as being not restrained by the yoke of marriage', ibid., 118.
no wish to belong?
The critical commonplace that Coriolanus is anti-social derives from two basic interpretations. There is the Plutarchan concept of a man essentially defective, a man who does not know how to live among men, without any agenda behind his solitude.28 A historicised version of this argument is taken up by critics who see him as defective for a particular age, lacking for example the skills of political cunning and adaptability required by the city state. As Patricia Meszaros puts it he is 'caught in the historical process, the passing of an era'. 29 These representations of Coriolanus shade into the more sophisticated critique which views the hero as ideologically and consciously opposed to society itself or to a particular regime. Stanley Cavell and Janet Adelman represent the hero as rejecting the dependency and desire upon which reciprocal communal relations are founded. Specifically, Coriolanus' opposition to plebeian culture has been explored as an expression of aristocratic ideology, anachronistic in Republican Rome and in Jacobean England. Shannon Miller proposes that Coriolanus may be consistently identified with King James I. Both men insist upon the absolute authority of the ruling elite (or king) against the commons' 'ancient' rights.
Both men express open contempt for the populace and shun the common gaze to the detriment of their popularity. For Miller, the play is a 'textual negotiation of the political tensions of the period' in which the hero's banishment is a subversive expression of antiAccording to Willard Famham, Coriolanus' pride renders him 'monstrously deficient as a human being', though this pride is also the source of his virtues. See Shakespeare's Tragic Frontier (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1950), 263. A similar approach is taken by Carol M. Sicherman in 'Coriolanus: The Failure of Words', ELH39 (1972). 189-207 in her thesis that Coriolanus is incapable of using language. It is notable how often critics associate Coriolanus with failure, Coriolanus's failure or Shakespeare's.
29 "There is a world elsewhere": Tragedy and History in Coriolanus', SEL 16 (1976), 273-85, 275. John W.
Velz also suagests that Coriolanus' heroic code is anachronistic in the new city state in 'Cracking Strong Curbs Asunder' monarchical feeling. 30 I want to explore here, with reference to some of these arguments, the schism between
Coriolanus' ambitions for Rome and for himself. Jonathan Goldberg writes:
Although it may look to our eyes as if Coriolanus plays the individual against society, nothing could be further from the truth. Coriolanus aims at devouring the world in order to become it. 31 Sicinius refers to Coriolanus as one who would 'depopulate the city and/ Be every man himself (3.1.264-5). As an expression of the hero's peculiarly civil and uncivil ambitions, this is particularly insightful. Coriolanus' famous isolation, his insistence upon acting alone, is an assertion of self but also identifies him as a potential microcosm. He will be the city alone. That aristocratic Rome reads this solitude as an expression of virtue is suggested by
Menenius. He condemns the tribunes thus:
I know you can do very little alone, for your helps are many, or else your actions would grow wondrous single. Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone. (2.1.34-7) Zvi Jagendorf suggests that Coriolanus's solitude enacts a particular aristocratic fantasy, that of the private, self-sufficient body. His antagonism towards the plebeians is expressed as the 30 Shannon Miller, 'Topicality and Subversion in William Shakespeare's Coriolanus", SEL 32 (1992), 287-322, 292-3. Miller suggests a parallel between Sir Edward Coke's quarrel with the King in 1608 and the tribunes' banishment of Coriolanus. She describes how Coke opposed James' attempts to increase royal prerogative, insisting 'The comon lawe protecteth the king'. James responded by reversing the sentence as Coriolanus does, 'the King protecteth the lawe and not the lawe the King'. Miller remarks that whilst Coriolanus cannot banish the city, the King is able to enforce his reversal of Coke's statement by law. For both men, the attempt to overcome the will of the commons may be seen as tyrannous and akin to rebellion, 305. For a consideration of Coriolanus and James I's absolutism see Jonathan Goldberg's James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), 185-93.
31 James I and the Politics of Literature, 187.
conflict between the many-headed multitude with its clamorous voices, and the isolated, single and discrete body of Coriolanus that famously asks for nothing.
32 Riss locates this private body within a Jacobean debate about enclosing common land which led to riots in 1607:
The rebels in the Midlands Revolt were protesting the landowners' policy of transforming traditionally public, open fields into centralized, fenced in, private property [...] In essence, just as the Midlands Revolt foregrounded the conflict between a communal and private organization of property, Shakespeare in Coriolanus dramatizes the conflict between communal and private notions of the body. The movement to enclose land is metaphorically linked to the constitution of the individualistic, enclosed self. JJ Whilst Coriolanus' insistence on the private body aligns him with the power behind enclosures, it also identifies him with the rebels. Coriolanus and the plebeians are agreed upon the materiality and particularity of the body in opposition to the metaphysical body politic. 34 The state requires that Coriolanus make himself available for public use and his refusal to do so renders him 'unfit' for society. Riss describes his commitment to 'a paranoid theatre of eternal warfare in which his body is ceaselessly invaded by and must endlessly be defended from others' (56-7).
Such a notion would well account for Coriolanus' horror at displaying his wounds. Whilst they no longer bleed, these breaches in his body can yet be invaded by the invasive gaze and even touch of the multitude. When the plebeians imagine themselves putting tongues in Coriolanus' wounds to make them speak (2.3.6-7), we hear an echo of Antony's response to 32 See Zvi Jagendorf, 'Coriolanus: Body Politic and Private Parts', Sh. Q. 41 (1990). 455-69. 462.
33 'The Belly Politic', 55.
34 Ibid., 67. Riss argues that the state's unity depends upon its sublimation of the material into the symbolic.
Both the plebeians and Coriolanus resist incorporation into metaphor.
Caesar's wounds, giving them 'the voice and utterance of my tongue' (Julius Caesar, 3.1.263-4). Antony's political career is nourished by his appropriation of Caesar's wounds.
Similarly, Decius interprets the symbol of the bleeding statue as that 'from you great Rome shall suck /Reviving blood' (2.2.87-8). In Coriolanus also, the appropriation of the hero's wounds 'for his country's good' may require the annihilation of the individual. 35 Menenius prays: 'the good gods forbid/ That our renowned Rome, whose gratitude/ Towards her deserved children is enrolled/ In Jove's own book, like an unnatural dam/ Should now eat up her own!'(3.1.291-5). 36 Coriolanus' defence of his body, that is, of his Rome, is partly a refusal to trade or to reciprocate with the enemy. Jagendorf describes him as 'the hero of a one-man economy that boldly distinguishes itself from the market and the getting, spending, exchanging of ordinary men'. 37 One of the most common insults applied by the patricians to the plebeians is that they are tradesmen. When he hears of the threatened invasion by Coriolanus and the Volscians,
Menenius disdains the products of plebeian labour:
35 Miola notes that in both Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, 'the mutilated body of a Roman military hero establishes reputation and effects political change', Shakespeare's Rome, 179.
36 See Terentius' gruesome account of the dismemberment of Sejanus' corpse. The Roman crowd is transported with delight by the possession of parts of his body and is described as trading in them. Their hands are covered with his warm blood even as they lament his destruction. Sejanus His Fall (1603) ed. by Philip Ayres (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1990), 5.815-42. 895-7.
37 'Coriolanus: Body Politic and Private Parts', 464.
38 Volumnia anticipates such scorn: 'Now the red pestilence strike all trades in Rome./ And occupations perish!".
The plebeians are so strongly identified with trading and manufacture and with their own material concerns that a process of metonymy takes place (3.2.7-9, 5.4.56-8).
Coriolanus is disgusted that he should pay 'the price o'the consulship'. However, the Third Citizen has already suggested that the bestowal of that office upon Coriolanus is inevitable.