Coriolanus

Content Group

Overview
Coriolanus, John Philip Kemble as Coriolanus, 1798

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's most relentlessly political plays, with a hero's personality which seems almost as schematic as Timon's in its pursuit of absolute militaristic values. The play fits reasonably well into the rigid mould of neoclassical tragedy in tone and focus, so it was not ignored in the eighteenth century though heavily adapted, and this approach led to celebrated productions by John Philip Kemble, with his sister Sarah Siddons as Volumnia, beginning in 1789. An alternative modern approach was pursued by psychoanalytic criticism, obsessed by an Oedipal fixation on dominant mothers such as Volumnia. Neither of these approaches greatly endears the play to current audiences; indeed Freudians reduce it to mere case history. In Peter Hall's production at Stratford in 1959, Olivier managed to inject sardonic humor into the contemptuous comments of Coriolanus, but this wry note left his highly emotional treason and final self- sacrifice out of tune for such a skeptical mind. Modern political extremism and cynical manipulation have made the play's focus on exploitive politics more relevant, as with Brecht's interest. However, if the play is examined objectively one finds that Coriolanus usually fails to carry through his obtuse views, submitting (for example) to the rigors of election only to be falsely accused of treason and exiled. At the climax of the play he resolves his dilemma of divided loyalties by meeting the requirements of both adversaries, knowing full well that by making peace he may expose himself to fatal hostility from aggressors on either side. To indicate this extraordinary achievement as mere mother-fixation destroys any tragic interest in the play for audiences. Modern productions often attempt a more sympathetic approach, for example, by stressing a youthful idealism in the hero. This approach permitted the deft modernization of Coriolanus as a Bonaparte figure in a revolutionary age, in the brilliantly successful RSC production directed by David Thacker in 1994. The script's brutality and absolutism plausibly fitted that revolutionary age, gaining modern relevance as well as colorful costumes and sets.

Images
Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1994
Coriolanus, National Theatre, 1971
Coriolanus, Shakespeare and Company, 2000
Coriolanus: Ellen Terry (1847-1928) as Volumnia
Coriolanus, Shakespeare and Company, 2000
Slideshows
Commentary
Bibliography

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Berry, Ralph. "Casting the Crowd: Coriolanus in Performance." Studies in the Theatre 4 (1988): 111-24.

Brantley, Ben."This Star of England, in Person." [London productions of R2,H5, Cor.] Arts & Leisure, 1,5. New York Times, 2/2/14.

Daniell, David. "Coriolanus" in Europe. London: Athlone Press, 1980.

Desai, Anjana. "Coriolanus from Shakespeare to Osborne." In Shakespeare in India, edited by S. Nagarajan and S. Viswanathan, 53-78. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Gaudet, Paul. "Gesture in Coriolanus: Textual Cues for Actor and Audience." Upstart Crow 8 (1988): 77-92.

George, David. A Comparison of Six Adaptations of Shakespeare's "Coriolanus": How Changing Politics Influence the Interpretation of a Text. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

George, David. "Restoring Shakespeare's Coriolanus: Kean Versus Macready." Theatre Notebook 44, no. 3 (1990): 101-18.

Gutman, Les. "Coriolanus." Review of Coriolanus, Almeida Theatre Company, Brooklyn, with Ralph Feinnes, 2000. CurtainUp, September 11, 2000.

Kamenish, Paula. "Brecht's Coriolan: The Tragedy of Rome." Communications from the International Brecht Society 20 (Oct. 1991): 53-69.

Melnikoff, Kirk. "Coriolanus." Review of Coriolanus, presented by the the Georgia Shakespeare Festival at the Conant Performing Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia, July 9-August 8, 2004. Shakespeare Bulletin 23, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 174-6.

Michael, Nancy C. "The Affinities of Adaptation: The Artistic Relationship between Brecht's Coriolan and Shakespeare's Coriolanus." The Brecht Yearbook/Das Brecht Jahrbuch 13 (1984): 145-54.

Olsen, Thomas G. "Apolitical Shakespeare: or, the Restoration Coriolanus." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 38, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 411-25.

Richmond, H. M. "Coriolanus." In Shakespeare's Political Plays, 218-36. New York: Random House, 1977. Reprinted in Shakespearean Criticism, vol. 52, edited by Kathy Darrow. Detroit: Gale Research, 2000.

Ripley, John. Coriolanus on Stage in England and America, 1609-1994. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 1998.

da Rocha, Roberto F. "Hero or Villain: A Brazilian Coriolanus During the Period of Military Dictatorship." In Latin American Shakespeares, edited by Bernice Kliman and Rick J. Santos, 37-53. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005.

Sanders, Eve R. "The Body of the Actor in Coriolanus." Shakespeare Quarterly 57, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 387-412.

Shewey, Don. Coriolanus reviews

Coriolanus at Talkin' Broadway.

Waters, D. Douglas. "Mimesis and Catharsis in Shakespeare's Coriolanus." Upstart Crow 19 (1999): 142-51.

Wickham, Glynne. "Coriolanus: Shakespeare's Tragedy in Rehearsal and Performance." In Later Shakespeare, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, 167-81. London: Edward Arnold, 1966.

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond