«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 ...»
Scilla, proceeds from forth a traitor's heart. (1.1.214-25) 74 Scilla makes good his promise. Banished, his goods and titles confiscated, his house razed to the ground, his friends executed, Scilla returns to revenge himself upon Rome. The scarlet robes of the Senate do bleed into the streets. 75 However, The Wounds of Civil War suggests how Roman such behaviour is with a sense of shame and admiration. The two generals, Scilla and Marius, are both accused of tyranny at various points in the play. They both prey upon Rome but do so in the name of Rome. Despite the laments of Antony and Granius that it is unnatural for Rome to prey upon itself (1.1.298-317), in fact the opposite seems true. 76 In Jonson's Catiline (1611), the conspirators reflect upon the golden age of Scilla's rule when Romans massacred their own kind without distinction. Women and children, old men, pregnant wives all fell. The living were piled up in heaps with the dead. Such is the ambitious Roman's exorbitance (1.1.229-53). Catiline promises 'And this shall be again, and more and more' (254). 77 Clifford Huffman has attempted to defend Coriolanus from such comparisons by placing his 74 The Wounds of Civil War ed. by Joseph W. Houppert (London: Edward Arnold, 1969).
75 Ibid. Scilla declares, 'Your streets, where erst the fathers of your state/ In robes of purple walked up and down,/ Are strew'd with mangled members, streaming blood', 5.1.5-7.
76 In "Antike Roman", Ronan describes parricide as an expression of the saevitia which, like some other Roman qualities, 'exceeds the normal hierarchical bounds of humanity", 129. This transgression is particularly envisaged in the beast/god complex of the Roman tyrant, 125-50.
77 Catiline ed. by W. prBolton and Jane F. Gardner (London: Edward Arnold. 1973).
revenge in the context of other Shakespearean drama. The citizen's invasion of his country
with foreign troops is not uniformly condemned:
In Titus Andronicus the Gothic army virtually disappears after victory, as stress is laid on Rome's regeneration; and in Macbeth, the tyrant is "ripe for shaking" (IV.iii.238) by forces associated with Heaven and righteous government. In Shakespeare, then, approval is accorded foreign invasion only if it has positive, even religious, associations and does not thereafter harm the country. 8 Huffman has to admit that these extenuating factors do not play a part in Coriolanus.
However, he proposes that the audience would have had other reasons to withhold their opprobrium from the invader. In the light of contemporary condemnations of democracy, characterising the tribunes as evil and popular rule as chaotic misrule, Huffman sees Coriolanus' invasion as an attempt to rescue his country. Furthermore, in James I's Basilikon Doron he finds a precedent for the ruler's revenge upon his own people if an injustice has been committed. Huffman argues that the Senate clearly views the banishment of Coriolanus as an injustice and therefore authorises the invasion. Hence, 'the audience would be forced to endorse, although not without horror, just and heroic revenge on a state now misled by tribunes' (211).
There are a number of objections that could be made to this critique, not least that it assumes the audience would support the absolutist assertions of James I. There seems little evidence to suggest that the Senate endorses Coriolanus' action. The patricians may argue that his revenge is just, but they did not intercede in his banishment. Moreover, Huffman suggests 78 Coriolanus in Context. 210.
that the injustice endured by one man justifies the destruction of an entire city. The critic's location of Coriolanus in the context of Shakespearean invasions will yield a far more condemnatory portrait of the hero than he acknowledges. If we set Coriolanus alongside Lucius in Titus Andronicus and Alcibiades in Timon ofAthens, we can see how malicious and utterly impolitic or uncivic is his revenge.
In Titus Andronicus (1594), Lucius is banished for an attempt to rescue two of his brothers from execution. When he tells his father the news, after the execution of those brothers but
before the discovery of Lavinia, Titus responds:
As in Coriolanus, we have the same imagery of Rome devouring its faithful warriors and, as in Timon of Athens, the city walls encircle a jungle, a place of ravening beasts.
Titus, Marcus, Lavinia and Lucius all make a vow to revenge the Andronicii family. Lucius' part is given him by his father. He is to gather an army from the Goths and advance on Rome (3.1.284-6). 79 In the event, there is no fighting. Titus performs his own domestic revenge in 79 Hans-Jurgen Weckermann draws attention to the similarity between Lucius and Coriolanus' plots. In particular, he refers to Tamora's idea that she can woo Titus into dissuading his son from invading: 'None of these details were contained in Shakespeare's probable source for the Titus Andronicus story and so they can legitimately be attributed to his own fusion of the material about the stark warrior of Rome's late Empire with the well-known story of Coriolanus, that prototype of martial valour from the days of the early Republic'. See 'Coriolanus: The Failure of the Autonomous Individual' in Shakespeare: Text, Language, Criticism: Essays in Honour ofMarvin Spevack ed. by Bemhard Fabian and Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador (Zurich and New York: OlmsWeidmann, 1987), 334-50, 334.
which Romans and Goths prey on one another but in the context of a banquet rather than on the battlefield. Although Lucius has only a minor role in this action, his planned invasion broadens the scope of the Andronicii revenge. They come to rescue Rome from the tyrant, Saturninus. Lucius tells his army that he has letters expressing Rome's hatred of the emperor 'And how desirous of our sight they are" (5.1.4). An unnamed Goth expresses his admiration for the Roman, 'Whose name was once our terror, now our comfort' and condemns 'Ingrateful Rome' (10, 12). Lucius relates his own tragedy in nationalistic terms. He recalls how he was turned, weeping, from his country and forced to seek relief from enemies (5.3.104-7).
The subsequent description of Lucius' service to his country is intriguing:
Lucius reminds his audience of the glorious deeds he once performed for Rome to emphasise the injustice of his banishment. However, there is an ambiguity surrounding his use of the past tense. Lucius' narrative of his league with the Goths, is followed by accounts of himself shielding Rome from blows. This would imply a connection between the invasion and the defence of Rome. It is a sleight-of-hand but one that certainly serves Lucius' purposes which are to rewrite himself as Rome's hero and as its future emperor. As a comment upon Coriolanns this speech is similarly enlightening. The first of Shakespeare's Roman plays teases us with an anticipation of his last. Lucius is described as one 'Who threats in course of this revenge to do/ As much as ever Coriolanus did' (4.4.67-8). In the event, Lucius' words speak louder than his actions. His final speech is exactly what is required by circumstances.
Warriors since Coriolanus's day have accepted the need for politic speech and the ceremony of showing one's wounds is performed verbally (113). Lucius' appeal to the gratitude of Rome after the aborted invasion would have been an ideal model for Coriolanus had he returned to Rome. More than Lucius, Coriolanus could boast that he has 'preserved her welfare in my blood'. The closest he gets to such a speech is that delivered at the end of the play in Corioles, where there is no one else to praise him. Uttered in Rome, this speech would surely have confirmed the repeal of his banishment. Uttered in Corioles. the eulogy becomes an elegy.
In Timon of Athens (1607), we find an exiled warrior more akin to Coriolanus. 80 Alcibiades appears before the Senate to plead for the life of a friend condemned for murder. He expects to be granted his request but the senators treat him with contempt and finally banish him. The Athenian is outraged at their ingratitude and determines to invade the city. However, his invasion is also justified on less personal grounds. Alcibiades condemns the ingratitude shown to Timon, the senators' profits from usury and their licentiousness. Representing himself as the scourge of this 'coward and lascivious town' (5.5.1), Alcibiades claims for his invasion a patriotic motive. Yet he is quickly persuaded to pursue redress for his personal 80 The idea that Timon of Athens preceded and influenced Coriolanus is put forward by Geoffrey Bullough. He proposes that 'while drafting Timon Shakespeare came to realize the thinness of his subject, and that Coriolanus would aive a richer opportunity for a tragedy of wrath and ingratitude. I suspect that Shakespeare abandoned Timon to write Coriolanus', Narrative and Dramatic Sources, vol. 6, 239. See the previous chapter on the dating of Timon of Athens.
injury but to ignore endemic Athenian corruption. He accepts the senators' arguments that an indiscriminate revenge would be immoral and unjust (22-44) but also responds to the possible rewards attendant on preserving the city from his own threat. The Senate promises to meet 'thy full desire' and fawns upon him (53). Alcibiades agrees to proceed against his enemies within the sanction of the Senate (56-8).
There are a number of reasons why we should question Alcibiades' disinterested pose. His justifications for revenge are unconvincing. For one, the Athenian's own moral standing in the play does not justify such self-righteous disgust at the Senate's vices, in particular lechery. His relationship with Timon and his knowledge of Timon's sufferings are both underwritten and confused. Moreover, in his immediate response to banishment he showed
himself indifferent to the motives which he later claims:
Spleen and fury came before banishment, perhaps with the condemnation of his friend, but perhaps earlier. Banishment is an opportunity for self-expression. Alcibiades declares "Tis honour with most lands to be at odds./ Soldiers should brook as little wrongs as gods' (114Alcibiades' multiplying reasons for attacking Athens seek to justify his fell intent.
Although it is now thought that the banishment scenes of Timon of Athens and Coriolanus were written by different dramatists, 81 in reading the latter I am continually reminded of Alcibiades' phrase 'It is a cause worthy my spleen and fury' Coriolanus too uses banishment
against their cities and to capture, spoil and even ravish them. However, Alcibiades' threatened revenge against the city is self-aggrandising in a political sense, that is, it proves to Athens how much it needs him. In contrast, Coriolanus does not threaten Rome to improve his position there. He will not parade the city's subjection like a squeaking Cleopatra but
motivation for invading the city. He says of Coriolanus:
it appeared that he was entred into this cruell warre (when he would harken to no peace) of an intent utterly to destroy and spoile his countrie, and not as though he ment to recover it, or to retume thither againe. (258) Coriolanus' identity as a microcosm for Romanitas depends upon his alienation from that city. To destroy Rome is to wrest the name 'Romanus' from it. As Sicinius prophesied he will 'depopulate the city and/ Be every man himself. By showing mercy to Rome, Coriolanus has 81 The editors of the Oxford Complete Works assert that a considerable part of the play, including 3.6, was written by Thomas Middleton. See The Textual Companion, 501, and the forthcoming Middleton and Shakespeare: The Case for Middleton's Hand in Timon of Athens by R. V. Holdsworth.
82 See also Catiline in which Cicero condemns the conspirators for lacking any cause but their own ambition (3.2.101-2).
83 Where Alcibiades only threatens destruction, Coriolanus' progress from Antium to Rome is marked by the ravaging of Rome's colonies. When Cominius accuses the plebeians of destroying themselves, he speaks not only~of the invasion to come but of the Roman territory which has already suffered thus (4.6.85-7).
for the first time betrayed himself. 84 His decision not to destroy the city is to some extent a recognition of the legitimacy of Rome. It remains anathema to Coriolanus' ideal but he inadvertently endows it with some merit. Furthermore, his claims to self-sufficiency are not realised. Exile has been an opportunity for Coriolanus to stand alone but as he tries to fulfil his ambition for self-authorship, the self-loss that exile entails is equally apparent.
James Holstun describes Coriolanus' banishment as 'unique in Shakespeare for its dramatic effects upon both the person banished and the society banishing him'. For Coriolanus, exile brings neither the Edenic green world it brings in the comedies and romances nor the elemental landscapes of tragic exile. More important, it does not bring their perspectival wisdom to Coriolanus; as he leaves Rome, he quite accurately predicts that Rome, will hear 'never of me aught/ But what is like me formerly' (IV.I.52-3). 85 Certainly, exile does not prompt Coriolanus to the madness and the epiphany of Lear.
However, the moment of banishment is itself a devastating expression of the irrelevance of Coriolanus and his philosophy to Rome. His assertion of continuous and invulnerable selfhood is a response to the very loss of self experienced through exile. Exile is both an opportunity to realise his ambitions and a fall from grace.
84 Various critics have condemned Coriolanus' volte-face as a betrayal of his own principles; for example Givan considers that 'in attacking Rome he is violating his own constancy and oath-keeping', The Premature Epitaph and the Butterfly', 144. Critics who have argued for Coriolanus' self-consistency here include Eugene M. Waith in The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare and Dry den (London: Chatto and Windus, 1962), 131, and Charles and Michelle Martindale in Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity: An Introductory Essay (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 179-81, who see Coriolanus' treachery as part of an 'unwavering adherence to his political opinions and heroic pride' but resulting in 'the ultimate volte-face\ 180.