«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 ...»
They will be morally compelled to give him their voices. Noble deeds demand noble acceptance (2.3.4-13). This is much closer to Coriolanus' ideal of honours given automatically through desert not desire. But the hero's disgust for the plebeians makes even 'kindness' too high a price to pay. He sees courtesy inevitably tending to flattery and selfloss.
He cannot trade:
Coriolanus repeatedly opposes himself to the giving and receiving of food. At the opening of the play, he is associated with the withholding of corn by the Senate and later condemns its free distribution. Whilst he expects the plebeians to starve silently and with dignity like Romans, he offers himself as a model for that starvation. Janet Adelman has argued persuasively for an association between food and vulnerability in Coriolanus. To willingly starve is an expression of an individual's independence from the world and in particular of the protagonist's independence from his mother. Adelman points out the connection between
the reciprocity implied by language and by feeding:
Asking, craving, flattering with fair words are here not only preconditions but also equivalents of eating: to refuse to ask is to starve; but starvation is preferable to asking because asking, like eating, is an acknowledgement of one's weakness, one's dependence on the outside world. 39 Coriolanus' failure to communicate is one of his most notorious anti-social characteristics.
However, this can also be seen as a refusal to sully his words in a corrupt linguistic economy:
'Fickle, vacillating, mutable, constant only in capriciousness, the plebeians exercise a corrosive influence upon language'.40 Coriolanus proposes a language in which sign and signified are inseparably joined without ambiguity or punning but in Rome this must be translated into a desire for private language or silent action.41 The idea of a private language is explored by John Plotz who sees juxtaposed within the play private truth, based on past and present selfhood, and public deception, directed towards future gain. Here, we find a defendant of Coriolanus' anti-social longings. Arguing against Cavell's criticism that Coriolanus ought to fashion himself to society,42 Plotz recognises his independence as a critique of society. He argues that despite the protagonist's inability to create a world elsewhere based on the private self and despite perhaps the undesirability of a private world, Coriolanus' stance is valuable. J At the ceremony of displaying wounds and asking for voices, Coriolanus is asked to betray 39 "'Anger's My Meat'", 133.
40 'Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words', 213.
41 D. J. Gordon writes: 'Shakespeare offers a show of the civil life in terms of empty, perverted, destructive relationships between speaker and utterance, word and subject, which is between man and man and man and himself. In this play no one is innocent, except Virgilia who is silent'. See 'Name and Fame: Shakespeare's Coriolanus' in Papers Mainly Shakespearian ed. by G. I. Duthie (London: Oliver & Boyd, 1964), 40-57, 49.
42 See Stanley Cavell '"Who does the wolf love?": Coriolanus and the interpretations of polities' in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, 245-72.
43 John Plotz, 'Coriolanus and the Failure of Performatives', ELH 63 (1996), 809-32, 820-1.
his principles by trading in wounds and words. Furthermore, he is asked to do this by the patricians who supposedly share his principles. In fact, the patricians have long considered the warrior as a piece of merchandise in their own economy of honour. Volumnia imagines her son as a means to buy honour for herself (1.3.7-9). She encourages him to flatter the plebeians and thus win the consulship for the sake of his 'friends' (3.2.62-4). In anticipation of the honours to come, Volumnia and Menenius haggle over the number of wounds he bears and the price they will fetch (2.1.140-52). Coriolanus' resistance to such a trade is hypocritical. He has long been a trader hi the ritual of winning honour for Rome and being honoured by the city, which includes the plebeians. Whilst he spends much of the play devaluing their voices and the honour they can bestow, Coriolanus is nevertheless outraged when that honour is not forthcoming. Plutarch makes this point in his comparison of Coriolanus and other men who refused to flatter the people. He commends Metellus, Aristides and Epaminondas because, unlike Coriolanus, they "despised that which the people could give or take away'.44 Subsequently, they did not bear a grudge when punished by the
people, in particular when they were banished:
For he that disdaineth to make much of the people, & to have their favour, should much more scorne to seeke to be revenged when he is repulsed. For, to take a repulse and deniall of honour so inwardly to the heart, commeth of no other cause, but that he did too earnestly desire it. (260) Despite his unwillingness to hear himself praised or to participate in rituals, even those for the benefit of the patricians, Coriolanus needs these rites as much as Rome does. Deeds must be named, skills acknowledged, honour must be requested and given for virtue depends on 44 'The Comparison of Alcibiades with Martius Coriolanus', Lives, 257-60, 259-60.
the acknowledgement of the community. Whilst every act of appropriation is a recognition of Coriolanus' singularity, he is appropriated to the Roman legend and to the city of Rome.
This paradox is particularly signified by his renaming:
Giving the name "Coriolanus" to him is to give him fame, a name that will last, honour, a new individuality, like a baptism: 'By deed-achieving honour newly nam'd'. It asserts his uniqueness, but a uniqueness that is an assertion, a uniqueness given in relationship to those who gave it.46 The name 'Coriolanus' is a part the hero is willing to take on. However, the patricians suggest that there are other names he must be willing to perform in order to be called Consul.
He becomes an actor to be tutored in his part (3.2.106, 109-10). There are gestures of humility he must enact in the public space and words to go with them. Volumnia unflinchingly promotes diplomacy at the expense of truth and integrity. Her son must speak.
Cicero also argued that the constant man should be prepared to change his role in society if the state required it. His principle of 'decorum', the foundation of a morally good life, requires man to act in consistency with his two characters. One character is universally shared by mankind, based on the Stoic ideal of man as dignified, self-sufficient, constant, 45 Calderwood points out the contemporary relevance of this idea: 'In the Renaissance concept of honor, for instance, authentic honor involved a harmonious merger of self-esteem and public esteem, inner nobility publicly recognized as such. On this view, self-worth does not fully exist until it has achieved a station in the public consciousness as represented by fame, glory, good name, reputation', 'Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words', 218. See also Gordon, 'Name and Fame: Shakespeare's Coriolanus', 46-7.
46 'Name and Fame', 51-2.
following the dictates of Reason rather than of Opinion. The other character is individual and
encompasses particular talents and personality traits. Cicero writes:
we must so act as not to oppose the universal laws of human nature, but, while safeguarding those, to follow the bent of our own particular nature [...] For it is of no avail to fight against one's nature or to aim at what is impossible of attainment. 47 However, men must also seek to 'make the interest of each individual and of the whole body politic identical'.48 When the two cannot be reconciled, Cicero suggests that the individual must adapt to the state's requirements. Coriolanus cannot do so. He remains constant to 'mine own truth'. Geoffrey Miles offers a brilliantly illuminating consideration of the two doctrines
of Roman constancy in Shakespeare's Roman plays:
Ciceronian decorum is a moderate, social virtue, that of a good citizen who fulfils with consistency and temperance his proper role in society. Senecan constancy is the virtue of a heroic individual who stands alone like 'a Colossus' (JC 1.2.137) or 'a great sea mark' (Cor. 5.3.74), is primarily concerned with his own self-sufficiency and self-perfection, and aspires to the nature of a god. There is obviously a potential conflict between the two.4 Miles suggests that Coriolanus is viewed from both perspectives in the play. The patricians imagine that he plays a role for the state in the Ciceronian fashion. Coriolanus views his steadfastness and self-consistency as that of the Senecan sapientis. The conflict between these two definitions of constancy comes in the scene where Coriolanus must humbly ask the plebeians for their forgiveness and for the consulship. For Volumnia, her son's self-betrayal is necessary to his political career and hence there is a consistency in this change. However.
47 DeOfficiis. 113.
48 Ibid., 293.
49 Shakespeare and the Constant Romans, 14.
for Coriolanus, the acting of a different role would destroy the integrity of his whole personality, reflected in the image of each bodily part rebelling against the other (3.2.112-20).
Coriolanus responds 'Rather say I play/ The man I am' (14-5), refusing to act whilst implying that, as the patricians believe, his career has been based on the performance of a particular role. The distinction lies in the commitment with which Coriolanus has played his part. Miles
the man who despises acting comes to define his own moral code in terms of theatrical decorum. He has found an appropriate part, identified himself totally with it, and plays it with such unalterable consistency that he cannot step outside it [...] he endows decorum with the heroic absoluteness of Senecan constantia sapientis. 50 Ironically, Coriolanus has taken Ciceronian precepts on choosing a suitable role in society to Senecan and anti-social extremes. 51 By investing his role with greater conviction,52 he becomes anathema to the state and is banished.
The interpretation of Coriolanus' banishment within the play is naturally complicated by the ambiguity that surrounds his Roman virtues. The official line is 'he is banished,/ As enemy to the people and his country' (3.3.121-2). This enmity has supposedly been expressed in a number of ways. He has inveighed against the people and both dismissed and threatened their sanctioned power. As such, the tribunes represent him as an enemy to 'all seasoned office' (67) in Rome, and thus to law and order. They infer from this that he is a 'traitorous 50 Ibid., 159-60.
51 See De Officiis, 67. Miles writes: 'Out of context. Cicero's doctrine of the importance of consistent truth to oneself could be developed into an amoral and anti-social individualism which would clearly have appalled him', 36.
52 Volumnia criticizes her son for this: 'You might have been enough the man you are/ With striving less to be so'(3.2.18-9).
innovator' (3.1.177) with aspirations to become a tyrant. These capital offences should incur the death penalty. 53 It is Brutus' insistence that the people remember Coriolanus' past services to Rome that commutes his sentence to banishment (3.3.87-8). Effectively, Brutus tells the bloodthirsty mob to remember its past indebtedness to Coriolanus. Rome must not be ungrateful now. It may be that Menenius' words to this effect made a genuine impression (3.1.299-305) or more likely, Brutus encourages the plebeians to put a gloss upon their revenge, to make their decision appear more dispassionate and therefore just. If so, his attempt to preclude the charge of injustice fails utterly. Volumna and Virgilia upbraid the tribunes by remembering Coriolanus' deeds for Rome. 54 At Antium. Coriolanus himself describes the 'painful service' performed for his 'thankless country' (4.5.71) and Aufidius concurs, referring to 'ungrateful Rome' (131). Finally, Cominius and Menenius consider that Rome has deserved the revenge Coriolanus plans for it (4.6.115-23, 145-6).
Clifford Huffman has suggested that a Jacobean audience would not necessarily have invested this exile with any guilt or shame. He cites various instances in Shakespeare's Roman plays when the state is considered ungrateful and therefore responsible for the treachery of its citizens. 55 This association is certainly not confined to Shakespeare. In his survey of 'Roman' plays from 1585-1635, Clifford Ronan describes ingratitude as a major
source of the factionalism such drama explored:
53 In 3.1, the tribunes' instinct is to have Coriolanus executed (210-3). Later they justify this action to Menenius, arguing that exile would be too dangerous (288-90) though Menenius manages to dissuade them from executing him immediately. In their preparation for the final trial, the tribunes agree that whatever punishment they decide upon should be upheld by the plebeians, whether that is death, a fine or banishment (3.3.12-8).
54 See 4.2.20-2, 30, 40-5.
55 Coriolanus in Context (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1971), 207.
Whether it be Rome toward its citizens or disaffected citizens toward Rome, each party jealously guards its power, casting the opponent as a being lethally unthankful. Rome's "civil broiles" and "factious... tumultuous times" (Agrippina III.i.275-76) are usually caused by a need "to scourge lh'ingratitude that despiteful Rome / Cast(s) on" the victims and their families (Antony II.vi.22-3). 56 Some contemporary interpretations of Coriolanus' exile focus on the injustice with which he is treated. In The Consent of Time (1590), Lodowick Lloyd describes how Coriolanus profited Rome in divers services, in subduing the Volscans, in winning the citie Corioles, he invaded the Antiates, and often repressed the insolencie of the people, insomuch that the Romanes having many warres in those dayes, thus Corolianus [sic] was at them all: for there was no battell fought, no warre enterprised, but Coriolanus returned from thence with fame and honour. But his vertue and renowme gate him much en vie: for hereby hee was banished Rome by the Ediles & Tribunes of the people, against the Patricians will...57 This ingratitude is often viewed in association with Athens and its policy of ostracism.