In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and reflecting upon...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Rome. Capital of the Roman Empire on the banks of Italy’s Tiber River. It is a walled city built on seven hills, one of which is the Capitoline or Capitol Hill. The senate house, where the tribunes meet and new consuls are sworn in is on Capitol Hill. Here, too, is Rock Tarpeian, a precipitous rock from which traitors are flung to their deaths—a fate suggested for Coriolanus. The market place, or Forum, is a meeting place for citizens where Coriolanus solicits the voices of the people in his attempt to become consul.
*Corioli. Walled city in the territory held by the Volsci, who are enemies of Rome. The Roman army is camped in trenches before Corioli’s walls as the play begins. The gates in the wall, where Coriolanus enters alone to fight Tullus Aufidius, face the encampment. The real battle of Corioli took place in 493 b.c.e., but no traces of the town remain, and its exact location is unknown.
*Antium. Volsci town on the Italian coast south of Rome where the Volsci general Tullus Aufidius flees after the battle of Corioli. Coriolanus goes to his house there after his exile from Rome.
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Politics and Society
One of the most prominent qualities of Coriolanus, and one scholars have commonly regarded as atypical of Shakespearean tragedy, is its emphasis on politics. In die dramatist's presentation of plebeians and patricians clashing in open debate over questions of audiority and. power, critics have identified an uncharacteristic preoccupation widi public rather than private crises, with the social ramer dian die personal aspects of tragedy. The play's uniqueness in this respect has led many commentators to view it as a rare exposition of Shakespeare's own political views.
Various scenes in the drama reflect a preoccupation with social conflict, notably several involving Shakespeare's depiction of die Roman citizenry arising as an unruly mob; a portrayal that a few critics have asserted is characteristic of the dramatist's tendency to devalue the multitude of common men. More specifically, some critics have viewed the work as a declaration of Shakespeare's belief in the superiority of aristocratic over democratic rule. Furthermore, Menenius's metaphor of the "body politic" has sparked a great deal of interest among commentators. Early in die play, as rioting plebeians demanding food occupy the streets of Rome, Menenius steps forward to tell his fable of the belly, which presents an aristocratic perspective on the way society should be ordered. Critics see another dimension of the play's political dialogue in...
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Coriolanus has been called Shakespeare's most political play. It depicts a society in the midst of rapid change, struggling to adjust to a new form of government. Until recently, Rome was ruled by a king, and the people had no independent voice. Now, in the early years of the republic, they participate in the election of consuls, and they have tribunes to represent their interests and defend them against abuses of power. Similar situations exist around the world in the late twentieth century. Many nations are presently coping with drastic changes in their governments and dealing with the threat of political instability. After the collapse Communism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, states that were formerly under authoritarian rule began to move toward democracy. In this decade as well, South Africa experienced a dramatic change in the structure of its government; recently, for the first time in its history, the country held an election in which all its citizens were encouraged to vote. In Asia, the pressures of Westernization are affecting political life as well as national economies. In countries without a tradition of self-government, ordinary citizens and their leaders face an almost overwhelming challenge. Those who formerly held political power are reluctant to let go of it. Those who never had it before must learn the responsibilities as well as the benefits of power.
These kinds of adjustments are made more difficult when a society is deeply...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
*If available, books are linked to Amazon.com
Bradley, Andrew Cecil. Shakespearean Tragedy. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1903/1964.
Campell, Lily B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1973.
Coote, Stephen. William Shakespeare, Coriolanus. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Evans, Bertrand. Shakespeare's Tragic Practice. Oxford: Clarendon Press,1979.
Kirsch, Arthur. The Passions of Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press, of Virginia, 1990.
James, Max H. "Our House Is Hell": Shakespeare's Troubled Families. New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.
King, Bruce. Coriolanus. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities International Press, 1989.
McElroy, Bernard. Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Barton, Anne. “Julius Caesar and Coriolanus: Shakespeare’s Roman War of Words.” In Shakespeare’s Craft: Eight Lectures, edited by Philip H. Highfill, Jr. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. Barton points out that in a world dependent on verbal rhetorical persuasion, Coriolanus’ distrust of language alienates and isolates him, as does his personal use of language without regard to audience response.
Crowley, Richard C. “Coriolanus and the Epic Genre.” In Shakespeare’s Late Plays: Essays in Honor of Charles Crow, edited by Richard Tobias and Paul Zolbrod. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974. Argues that Coriolanus merges tragedy and epic and has at its heart the conflict between mercy and honor.
McAlindon, T. “Coriolanus: An Essentialist Tragedy.” Review of English Studies 44 (November, 1993): 502-520. Rather than as a metaphor for England’s problems, McAlindon regards Coriolanus as a political tragedy of class conflict and manipulation of power in a realistic, historically specific society .
McKenzie, Stanley D. “ ‘Unshout the Noise That Banish’d Marcius’: Structural Paradox and Dissembling in Coriolanus.” Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews 18 (1986):...
(The entire section is 290 words.)