«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 ...»
85 'Tragic Superfluity in Coriolanus', ELH 50 (1983), 485-507, 500. Holstun's reading of the play centres on the superfluity of Coriolanus as a tragic, king-analogue and of the conventions of tragedy themselves in a play more closely akin to aristocratic satire. Although his arguments are compelling, his suggestions that Coriolanus suffers no transformation from banishment and moreover that the invasion cannot be taken seriously, that it is "a distinctly nontragic and external threat' (501) seem perverse. The irrelevance of Aristotelian catharis here (497) need not deprive these scenes of their significance for the protagonist.
When Coriolanus enters Antium his mood is one of triumph and of fear:
The paradox that governs these final scenes is that Coriolanus both eschews and demands recognition. He apostrophises the city because he wants it to know his victory over it. At the same time, he dare not reveal himself. He is at this moment disguised. And yet, whilst disguise protects him, it also reinforces the self-loss which banishment implies. To appear as Coriolanus in Rome, after banishment, is punishable by death. Similarly, the exile in Corioles must hide his identity in case of revenge. Yet the effect of banishment upon the self is akin to death and requires that the victim struggle for recognition. Weighing up the options in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine reasons that banishment is no reprieve from death: 'To die is to be banished from myself,/ And Sylvia is my self (3.1.171-2). Having been rejected by the place that had shaped his whole identity, Coriolanus needs recognition, to know that he exists beyond Rome.
The man who might offer this is Aufidius. From the beginning of the play, Coriolanus has identified with this man who apparently shares his valour, his fury, his honour. As such, Aufidius is uniquely placed to recognise Coriolanus as he deserves and to wipe away the taint of Rome's mis-recognition. In Plutarch's account, Coriolanus enters the house of Aufidius and is observed by his servants but not addressed for 'they durst not bid him rise'. Plutarch explains that although 'as he thought no man could ever have knowen him for the person he was' due to his disguise yet 'there appeared a certaine maiestie in his countenance, and in his silence' that the servants were wary of (247). In contrast, Shakespeare's dramatisation of this scene undercuts Coriolanus' identity and comes near to making him look ridiculous. Firstly, Aufldius' servingmen do not recognise anything extraordinary about their guest. They try to turn him away because he is poorly dressed, arguing with ironic insight that this is no place for him (4.5.31). Coriolanus' assertion that he is a gentleman and other riddling answers suggest to the servingmen that he must be a clown or a halfwit: 'What an ass it is!' (43-4).
This comic scene serves to lighten the tone and to build suspense before the encounter of the two great enemies. Nevertheless, the fact that such a mythic hero should not be perceptible
degradation since he was exiled.
In Plutarch, when Aufldius fails to recognise Coriolanus without his disguise, the hero names himself. Shakespeare's Coriolanus unmuffles and waits. Embarrassingly, the Volscian who has sworn to kill him even if he came upon him in his brother's house (1.11.24-7), has no idea who this stranger is. Considering that Aufldius goes on to describe the dreams he has had of his enemy (4.5.123-7). it is astonishing that he does not know that man's face. Yet Coriolanus refuses to give his name. What Shakespeare dramatises here is the fear that now haunts Coriolanus, that without Rome he is nothing. Presumably on the battlefield.
86 Miola suggests that Coriolanus' arrival in Actium Teenacts' Ulysses' return to Ithaca. Both men are in disguise, both meet insolent resistance to their ingress. Nevertheless, this comparison does not serve to alleviate the shame of Coriolanus' non-recognition by the servants or by Aufldius here. Ulysses has been a master of such deceptions so that disguise is in itself an expression of his identity. It can be no less than a betrayal of Coriolanus' sense of self. See Shakespeare's Rome, 193.
Coriolanus would be recognisable by his armour and his Roman colours. Without these marks of Rome and perhaps without a sword, even the man who fantasises about him does not know him. Moreover, it is not just a question of superficial disguise. His external transformation expresses the inner change of the man who has been stripped of his role as
Rome's warrior and the defender of 'Romanitas':
Aufidius eventually greets him with that admiration and passion that Coriolanus needs to inspire. Yet the final commentary of the servants undercuts Coriolanus' self-discovery once
more. They pretend now to have recognised him from the beginning:
The joke is partly at their expense and may remind us of the Roman plebeians who habitually cast down the hero they had worshipped not long before and vice versa. What is most apparent however, is the ordinariness, the nothingness even, that they unwittingly perceive in Coriolanus. They falter in their descriptions of him, not merely because they lack descriptive terms but because there is nothing there to know. Cominius describes his meeting
with the new Volscian hero:
Coriolanus is perceived by the Romans now as increasingly dehumanised. He becomes a kind of elemental force. Revenge, Wrath, Pride. He has lost the identity of a man. Hence it is no surprise when the Romans' appeal to Coriolanus fails. He has apparently obliterated the memory of any origins from his mind. He seems no longer to distinguish one Roman from another.
When his mother, wife and child enter he determines to retain the detachment of the Senecan
Coriolanus has effectively denied his intimacy with Cominius and Menenius (5.1.8, 5.4.16-7) on the assumption that he has been utterly transformed. Indeed, he implies a physical metamorphosis. When Virgilia refers to their relationship as husband and wife, Coriolanus withholds recognition on the basis that 'These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome' (5.3.38). Yet Virgilia barely utters two lines before her husband recognises he will not be able to sustain his part: 'Like a dull actor now/1 have forgot my part, and I am out/ Even to a full disgrace' (40-2). The human nature Cicero also spoke of overcomes him. He cannot dismiss the bonds between mother, wife and child, for crucially he is not the author of himself but a man of flesh: 'I melt, and am not made / Of stronger earth than others' (28-9). 87 It is when his mother threatens to disown him that Coriolanus finally concedes. Volumnia has apparently failed in her mission and she prepares to leave with the jibe,
In his mother Coriolanus knew his first home, was created from a legend and taught his philosophy. She describes herself as his land, his first kingdom being her womb, which she identifies with the soil of Rome upon which he will tread in the invasion (123-6). She rediscovers for him the site of his origins. Having lost Rome he clings to her recognition.
Janet Adelman has written with great perspicuity of our responses to Coriolanus' volte face:
We want him to acknowledge dependence, to become one of us; but at the same time we do not want to see him give in, because to do so is to force us to give up our own fantasy of omnipotence and independence. Hence at the final
confrontation we are divided against ourselves, and no solution is tolerable:
neither the burning of Rome nor the capitulation and death of our claims to independence. Nor is the vision of human dependency that the play allows any compensation for the brutal failure of our desire to be self-sustaining. 88 87 See '"Anger's My Meat'" wherein Adelman suggests that the invasion against Rome is an expression of Coriolanus' subconscious desire to conquer and destroy his mother, 141-3.
88 Ibid., 144-5.
Banishment is an opportunity to realise this ambition. It is a fantasy of selfhood. By threatening to destroy his origins, Coriolanus takes his Stoic and Roman self-sufficiency to its extremes. If he is the city then that city no longer exists except through him. When Coriolanus relinquishes his plan to destroy Rome and thus literally to supplant it, he signals his dependence upon society, upon his mother and his mother Rome. Yet he refuses to return to the still debased form of his ideal. Only in a foreign city can Coriolanus continue to perform his Roman part. But this paradox proves to be a fatal one.
When Coriolanus returns to the Volscians, he is impelled once more to try to rescue that identity jeopardised by his banishment, now threatened by his capitulation to Rome. He tries to assert himself as the representative of all honour, constancy and pietas. However, Aufidius will not recognise him. He does not share his principles and has planned the downfall of the hero for his own political ends, just as he raised him up in order to vanquish Rome.
Moreover, Coriolanus' Roman deeds equate to treason in Corioles. Martius' final outrageous
testimony to his individualism, that he took the city alone, is tantamount to suicide:
Yet whilst he seems to reject life in favour of the kingdom within, where he is a constant Roman, this declaration is born of the longing to be recognised by the external world. Only if the Volscians write their historical records accurately, will Coriolanus become part of the myth from which he is derived and for which he has acted. He has never managed to reconcile his philosophy of individualism with his desire for recognition.
Of all the characters in the Shakespearean canon who endure exile, Prospero is in a unique position to transform his state. The shapes of his imagination can be embodied through magic. Where his forebears have felt vulnerable in their alienation. Prospero has the power to impose himself and his desires dramatically upon a hostile world. Moreover, exile has facilitated his transformation into the magician with the result that he is far mightier than he could ever have dreamed of being in Milan. 1 Yet behind Prospero's narrative of providential exile is a profound anxiety for what he has become. In Milan he chose to withdraw from his subjects in pursuit of the Neoplatonic magic that would allow him to transcend humanity.
Hence, Prospero is implicated in his own banishment. But whilst this seems to be the fulfilment of his ambitions, it is also the source of a deep ambivalence about what it means to be set apart from human society. Exile implies alienation from humanity, the rejection of one pernicious to men. Central to an understanding of Prospero's exile is the fact that, from the first, his magic is not primarily channelled into any humanist or imperialist dream. The magician directs his power to the eradication of the stigma of exile, towards his readmission into the civilised world, and to his reinstatement as Duke of Milan.
Prospero's identity as magician is introduced as bathos. Miranda asks whether the storm is her father's work with concern but without surprise: 'If by your art. my dearest father, you have/ Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them' (1.2.1-2). But Miranda does not question the reality of the shipwreck. Indeed, she weeps for it, until Prospero reassures her that no one 1 Harry Berger Jnr writes, 'of all Shakespeare's human characters he is the only one to have become a god of power, to have attained to Hamlet's kingdom of infinite space in the nutshell of his microsphere, to have entered and passed through pure romance, to have achieved the dearest wish of hermetic sage or mage', -Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest', Sh. St. 5 (1969), 253-83, 269.
has been hurt. One of the fascinating things about this scene is the coexistence of banality and wonder in the interpretation of Prospero's art. On the one hand, his power may be mere trickery and Miranda has wept for a tragedy that never took place. Yet the fact that Miranda (and those on the ship) could be so deceived also renders Prospero's power more wonderful.
Miranda's complacent tone may heighten an audience's curiosity about the magician and a world in which he is commonplace. Nevertheless, the magician insists on his present
There appears to be a sharp disjunction between the attitudes of Prospero and Miranda to the magician and those of an audience. For us and for the more superstitious seventeenth-century audience, the possession of magic may inspire, not only wonder, but curiosity, respect, even fear. For the 'islanders', however, it is civilisation, the political world, 'humanity', that beat in their minds and cause Miranda to exclaim at a 'brave new world'. In the speech quoted above, Prospero defines himself by his power to control others (to be the master) and perhaps by the possession of territory. He presents his experience on the island as limiting his authority to that of a father and his territory to the possession of a cave. The enslavement of Ariel and Caliban and Prospero's magical and colonialist possession of the island are all forgotten. Even without the benefit of hindsight, an audience must ask itself why a man who can command the elements should have such low self-esteem! As the scene progresses it becomes clear that Prospero denigrates his present state to elegise what he has lost. The revelation of magical power is subjected to the far more important revelation of political