No longer mourn for me when I am dead Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell Give warning to the world that I am fled From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell: Nay, if you read this line, remember not The hand that writ it; for I love you so That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot If thinking on me then should make you woe. O, if, I say, you look upon this verse When I perhaps compounded am with clay, Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. But let your love even with my life decay, Lest the wise world should look into your moan And mock you with me after I am gone.
My thoughts on this video:
Traditionally, men were always the actors and transvestites playing and understanding the masculine and feminine roles, females were excluded from participating in theatre and solo court-dances; ballet as well started as a dance exclusively for men, though the fundament can hardly be compared to what it is now, ballet is a very Spartan like, at least in certain schools, disciplinary living for both men and women.
Now, this woman misunderstands the emotions used in this Sonnet; though he wrote it with possible grieve, having in mind his own death and how people might react to it, specifically his beloved (or how he cannot be with him) - it is not something to recite with an overly saddened face, cry-gag vocal vibrations and deep breaths as if it is too hard to utter the words due to pain.
No, the man has control over his emotions, his voice should be more deep than as it is normally with a slower phase as well; either spoken as if he would be on his own to himself or else with more dedication to his beloved, in mind. Not these uncontrolled emotions, indicating that, in this case, she, is about to cry about his loss for his beloved, for his beloved is lost in non-existence, that he may not be there anymore to think about and perceive his loved one. If you imagine him speak to his loved one, you would have to feel a distance that he himself creates away from his beloved, to die already before his actual death; but never with tears or an feeling to cry - the Moderns do not understand how to use emotions, in which circumstances, let alone how to control them. You can move people through controlled (mimicked) emotions, but if you let yourself be moved by emotions, or do not understand how to control them, then you are nothing more than an irrational being who tries to utter words in for example anger, but suffocates in his/her own disconnect from objective perception, within his own world, trying to make others understand his/her reasons, but will only laugh or mock or avoid the embarrassment.
Gender : Posts : 968 Join date : 2013-01-04 Location : MA
I have been recommended to watch the 1944 Henry V, starring Laurence Olivier.
Henry V. Act III, Scene 1
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: 1095 But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; 1100 Let pry through the portage of the head Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it As fearfully as doth a galled rock O'erhang and jutty his confounded base, Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean. 1105 Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit To his full height. On, on, you noblest English. Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof! Fathers that, like so many Alexanders, 1110 Have in these parts from morn till even fought And sheathed their swords for lack of argument: Dishonour not your mothers; now attest That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you. Be copy now to men of grosser blood, 1115 And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman, Whose limbs were made in England, show us here The mettle of your pasture; let us swear That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not; For there is none of you so mean and base, 1120 That hath not noble lustre in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' 1125
and Act IV, scene III
What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin: If we are mark'd to die, we are enow 2255 To do our country loss; and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; 2260 It yearns me not if men my garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires: But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England: 2265 God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more, methinks, would share from me For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, 2270 Let him depart; his passport shall be made And crowns for convoy put into his purse: We would not die in that man's company That fears his fellowship to die with us. This day is called the feast of Crispian: 2275 He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, 2280 And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:' Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.' Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember with advantages 2285 What feats he did that day: then shall our names. Familiar in his mouth as household words Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester, Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd. 2290 This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 2295 For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, 2300 And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Gender : Posts : 2479 Join date : 2013-10-26 Age : 26 Location : Land of Dance and Song
As I was going through such video's with Natural sounds, I had an urge to listen to the winds of winter and thus I came at this video eventually; right at the start a part of one of Shakespeare's poems was presented in it and I immediately realized how much this grasps the essence of the meaning of the winter winds to us who can appreciate.
Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind As man’s ingratitude; Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen, Although thy breath be rude. Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly: Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly: Then, heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky, That dost not bite so nigh As benefits forgot: Though thou the waters warp, Thy sting is not so sharp As friend remembered not. Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly...
Lyssa Har Har Harr
Gender : Posts : 9031 Join date : 2012-03-01 Location : The Cockpit
When Shakespeare came to London He met no shouting throngs; He carried in his knapsack A scroll of quiet songs.
No proud heraldic trumpet Acclaimed him on his way; Their court and camp have perished; The songs live on for ay.
Nobody saw or heard them, But, all around him there, Spirits of light and music Went treading the April air.
He passed like any pedlar, Yet he had wealth untold. The galleons of th' armada Could not contain his gold.
The kings rode on to darkness. In England's conquering hour, Unseen arrived her splendour; Unknown, her conquering power.
Lord Alfred Douglas wrote:
Most tuneful singer, lover tenderest, Most sad, most piteous, and most musical, Thine is the shrine more pilgrim—worn than all The shrines of singers; high above the rest Thy trumpet sounds most loud, most manifest. Yet better were it if a lonely call Of woodland birds, a song, a madrigal, Were all the jetsam of thy sea’s unrest.
For now thy praises have become too loud On vulgar lips, and every yelping cur Yaps thee a paean ; the whiles little men, Not tall enough to worship in a crowd, Spit their small wits at thee. Ah! better then The broken shrine, the lonely worshipper.
Gender : Posts : 2479 Join date : 2013-10-26 Age : 26 Location : Land of Dance and Song
''This individual is a fine example of why Europe is so enfeebled, disorganized, and in the process of being demographically destroyed. These ruinous, homosexual degenerate cretins, shells of human beings with no redeeming qualities, all need to be euthanized.''
If he could really 'get inside the mind' he could really understand and not condemn. If he really can be moved as he says with ''the part playing itself'', becoming a new person, he would not be obsessed over Wagner's mind and understand him and would do some historic searching; in fact, if he will play 'Wagner, ''the monster'' genius anti-Semite', he should not condemn him by current standards and actually will agree with him during the role and after the role especially. Nothing as ''becoming anew'' but discovering 'what was already there to understand.'
Lyssa Har Har Harr
Gender : Posts : 9031 Join date : 2012-03-01 Location : The Cockpit
"The spectre of cuckoldry is invoked in many of Shakespeare's plays, yet few actually contain unfaithful wives. This suggests that the author attributed sexual mistrust to masculine insecurity rather than to feminine infidelity. The "cuckoldry anxiety" inculcated by Renaissance cultural practices produced men who were quarrelsome, self-obsessed, and reliant on approbation from lovers and peers - traits similar to symptoms of what self psychologist Heinz Kohut calls the "narcissistic personality disorder": a hypersensitivity to slights, a solipsistic view of the environment, and a heavy reliance on others to function as selfobjects ("objects" [i.e., people] who are experienced as part of the subject's self). If an afflicted individual perceives his lover to be unfaithfuI and his peers to be unsympathetic, then the loss of these sustainhg selfobjects precipitates an extreme responses akin to what Kohut calls "narcissistic rage" -- an anger prompted by injured pride and fuelled by the hope of revenge.
"The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!" [Love's Labour Lost, 5.2.890-94]
The prevalence of allusions to cuckoldry in William Shakespeare's plays suggests that the author and his audience were keenly interested in - perhaps even obsessed with - sexual infidelity. Cuckoldry anxiety"pervades the drama of the Engiish Renaissance" (Maus, "Horns" 56l) , but Shakespeare dramatized this problem more often, and probed its root causes more seriously, than did many of his peers.
Defined as "[a] derisive name for the husband of an "Unfaithful wife", a "cuckold" is betrayed by a loved one and mocked by his peers.
Underlying his discomfiture is an innate fear of separation fiom an evolving network of "security and nurturance providers" (Stevens and Gardner 2). The fact that the epigraph above is taken from a comedy that, notoriously, does end in mariage suggests that unmarried men also fear the cuckoo's "word of fear" - a word that imperils as many fledgling love relationships as marriages in Shakespeare's plays.
The perception that a man has been cuckolded radically undermines his reputation and his relationships. The resulting changes to his interpersonal networks can threaten or even destroy his sense of self. Shakespeare shifts the emphasis to the faults of men - whether sexual aggressors or victims. His dramatic explorations seem both corrective (to discourage cuckolding) and reparative (to reassure men that suspicions about female infïdelity are unfounded). In a chapter-length survey of sexual behaviour in Renaissance drama, Alfred Harbage determines that Shakespeare advocates a higher "standard of sexual moraiity" than do most of his contemporaries.
Joel Fineman argues that the urge to cuckold others stems fiom the maturational process by which masculine identity is formed. During the pre-Oedipai stage, a male infant conceives of self as being merged with his mother (Klein's concem)-an identity that he must abandon as he assimilates rules expressed, and examples set, by his father (Lacan's concem). Before long, the child is in relentless competition with peers in an attempt to consolidate his emerging, masculine self(Girard's concern). Attaining masculine selfhood thus entails a process of anxious differentiations (infant fkom mother, child fiorn siblings, youth fiom rivals) and conformities (child to father, adolescent to peers, adult to social noms).
Because the originary relation with the mother must be suppressed, "male sexual differentiation" arises out of a learned "contempt for matemal femininity" (Fineman 102). Misogynous attitudes expressed in plays represent "a recapitulation in dramatic terms of the psychological transformations fiom which masculine gender derives" (102). A jealous husband abusing his wife is, deep down, a little boy asserting that he is not like his mother. By acculturating children to recognize hierarchy, and prohibitions against incest and fatricide, society ensures that the most interchangeable of people, siblings (such as the twins in The Comedy of Errors), do not disrupt the patriarchal order with undifferentiated, undisciplined behaviour.
There is a slight wrinkle, however. A "double standard" that tolerated male extramarital sex but insisted on fernale chastity presented a way for husbands to assert their independence from their wives (Thomas, "Double" 446-67). Thus conflicting codes - patriarchal marriage (creating order) and the double standard (creating disorder) - simultaneously enforced and undermined differences between men. Englishmen were officially admonished to monitor their wives' chastity, yet unofficially allowed to substitute themselves for other wives' husbands.
In the introduction to his study of Adultery and the Novel, Tony Tanner argues that Shakespeare's depictions of imaginary cuckolds must be read as part of a long literary tradition depicting sexual transgressions committed by guests in other men's homes. The archetypal pattern begins with Paris's abduction of Helen from Menelaus, and continues through Tristan's siege of the castle housing Mark's bride Iseult and through the destruction of the Round Table through Launcelot's love for Arthur's wife Guinevere. The pattern culminates in Shakespeare's three great jealousy plays - OhelIo, Cynbeline and The Winter's-Tale - which in tum set the stage for the psychological novels of the eighteenth-century and beyond (Tanner 24-52). Tanner's discussion uses anthropological research to assess the shattering effect of adultery on marriage contracts and hospitality codes, "customs that ensure the stability and continuity of society".
Cuckoldry is considered inevitable because of three social phenomena: misogyny, the double standard, and patriarchal marriage in which "a husband's honor depend[s] on his wife's chastityl' (121).
Male honour depends on female chastity, but men are acculturated to display virility through sexual conquests; male honour destabiiizes itself, as men victimize one another and then blame their wives: "[c]uckoldry, like rape, is thus an affair between men, rather than between men and women or husbands and wives" (150). To Kahn, bonds between men are more powerful than those between men and women, even married couples. She calls cuckoldry a "masculine fantasy of feminine betrayal" (120), suggesting that men unconsciously wish to be cuckolded.' Women become mere tokens of exchange, property without intrinsic value aside from their ability to transfer more important property (land) to their husband's legitimate children. Though jealously guarded, wives are not loved by their husbands - a view supported by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's influential anatomy of "male homosocial desire" in Restoration comedy (49-66).
Kahn also argues (citing Gohlke, "'Wooed'" 150-70) that sexual betrayal renders a cuckold "psychologically like a castrated man, and thus womanish"; it cuts to the core of his gender identity: "To be betrayed by a woman thus threatens a man's very masculinity - his identity as a man" (Man's 132). While I agree that the perception of betrayal alters a man's identity and undermines his confidence, it does not cause such a radical gender switch.
Time and again, Shakespeare questions the facile causal equations, "marriage = cuckoldry" and "cuckoldry= emasculation," by depicting faithful wives of mistakenly suspicious husbands and pre-marital love-relationships jeopardized by cuckoldry anxiety. I do not dispute the fact that wives were viewed as property or that they were feared as independent agents. But I will argue that wives were needed, guarded, exploited, as a kind of emotional property as well; hence, wifely unresponsiveness was interpreted as sexual betrayal, and responded to with panic, anger and violence. This may seem a far cry from the romantic love most commonly associated with jealousy. Indeed, to many Shakespearean husbands, conjugal love consists entirely of wifely attentiveness to their every need (obedience) and exclusivity of affection (chaste constancy). Cuckoldry elicits jealousy because of the real or apparent withdrawal of such wifely ministrations.
Marilyn L. Williamson's study of The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies presents an unsympathetic account of male insecurities. To Wiamson, comic suitors are adolescent males who seek empowerment and social prestige through marriage to mature and powerful women (25-27). In marrying, the women relinquish their power over these "somewhat childish or errant males" but they regain the upper hand through their ability to cuckold their husbands (27) - a crime for which, in the conventions of jokes, stage-cornedies and jestbooks, women are rather praised for their clevemess than blamed for their promiscuity (41-53; cf. Harbage, Shakespeare 190). Thus according to Williamson's mechanical "topsyturvy" model of power relations (45) in courtship men seek "advancement," women anticipate "subordination" (36), and marriage entails a constant struggie in which a husband's patriarchal bombast is countered by a wife's threats of cuckoldry. The best that couples can hope for is an uneasy truce; failing that, men can retreat to the "kinship" of cuckolds.
Shakespeare "connect[s] sexual jealousy with a flaw in masculine self-knowledge or with its loss" (570). Concomitant to this loss is a depletion of self-esteem for which a jealous male compensates by acquiring what Maus calls an "antithetical associate" (571) - and then, encouraged by this associate, punishing "the beloved by visiting upon her his own palliful self-fragmentation. Novy deduces that "the intensity of masculine anxiety about cuckoldry comes from the infant's anxiety about losing the mother, who is his whole world" ("Shakespeare" 107). Novy also cites C. L. Barber's and Richard P. Wheeler's suggestion that Shakespeare experienced such a painful separation at age two-and-a-half when his brother Gilbert was born; to a lesser extent at age ten when his brother Richard was born; and finally at sixteen when his brother Edmund was born (Barber and Wheeler 43-47; Novy, "Shakespeare" 107).
By then, Shakespeare was old enough to examine the irrational feelings of jealousy linked to underlying "fears of abandonment" that recur at the birth of siblings. From these experiences in his childhood and youth, Shakespeare acquired a fascination with plots depicting adult sexual rivalry which is at base "brothers competing for a mother's affection" (Novy, "Shakespeare" 107).
Novy's argument is crucial to my own understanding of cuckolds, anxiety. If her article has a limitation, it is that in it she does not describe the effects Shakespeare's father's sudden decline in the comrnunity may have had on William when he was twelve, even though this loss of a role-model was a "second, much more striking" event than having to share his mother (Barber and Wheeler 47; cf. Schoenbaum 38-44). I will argue that imaginary cuckolds follow a similar pattern: they feel abandoned by a cherished fernale figure, and as a result become dependent on a male figure for guidance - a male figure who (because of cornpetitive rivairy) will likewise let them down. In many cases, the establishment of male-male relationships is less attributable to homosocial bonding than to a reactivation of earlier forms of dependency behaviour.'
In her article, "Male Bonding and the Myth of Womenrs Deception in Shakespeare's Plays," Shirley Nelson Garner argues Shakespeare's afflicted men "need the women who love them to betray them" because of their "pent-up misogyny and fear of women" (136-138). However accurately Garner describes the progress of these men's anxiety, her proposed etiology seems polemical: "Their bonds with women mut be frail indeed if all of these men distrust women so quickly, seem so determinecl to believe that they have been betrayed, and react with such extreme harshness" (139). By this logic, the patient who succumbs quickly to an illness must have wanted to get sick. Contrary to Garner's suggestion that there is "greater security in bonds with men" (149), the male population is plagued by actual deception whereas the fernale population's proclivity to such behaviour is largely imaginary. Men do not furnish one another with a welcoming "community," but rather a competitive environment. They disrupt heterosexual bonds but offer no safe alternative. Shakespeare's imaginary cuckolds are misogynous, misguided and mean, but they do not wish to be so.
Shakespeare's dramatic corpus, where, by dramatizing scenarios in which increasingly flimsy evidence and oblique innuendo convince husbands of wifely infidelity, the author seems to be conducting a kind of sociological experiment on stage. By administering ever-decreasing doses of suspicion to subjects, he demonstrates that, because of endemic poor emotional health, very little is required to destroy a marriage. Even less can animate a play.
Maus argues that playgoers experience feelings similar to those of cuckolded males because of "structural analogies" by which both groups desire to see that which is forbidden: the jealous husband his wife's infidelity, the playgoer sexuality on stage (574). Because playgoers and cuckolds cannot infiuence the scenes being enacted before them, they feel helpless, marpinalized, even voyeurïstic. At the same the, however, both groups are empowered by the "ocular proof' they attain: "The jealous male's distance from what he sees casts him as both traurnatized, impotent child and as omniscient father-judge" (571). As with jokes, stage depictions of cuckoldry enable spectators to master their anxieties at a safe distance.
Initiaily, an infant experiences a primitive sort of "merger" ("the experience of being totaily one") with the primary caregiver who holds, cuddles, feeds, and changes the baby. This "blissful" state of oneness lays the "bedrock" of the developing self (Wolf, "Selfobject" 73). After a few months, however, the infant gradually realizes that he or she is a separate entity and abandons this primitive merger in favour of four selfobject relations that persist through life: mirroring selfobjects, idealized selfobjects, alter-ego selfobjects, and adversarial selfobjects (72-73).
The first is the "mirroring selfobject". A developing child craves affirmative responses, such as verbal praise, smiling, cuddling or "other forms of matemal participation . . . [that] confirm the child's self-esteem" (Kohut, Analpis 116). The primary caregiver mirrors the child when he or she smiles, talks and takes his or her first steps, thus encouraging him or her to take more risks, to develop, to grow. Mirroring is not confined to literally reflective responses nor does it cease to be important after childhood: mirroring entails a lifelong form of emotional support which in adults can range from a compliment to a pat on the back, from a promotion at work to a favourable review in a scholarly journal.
Mirroring is a prevalent concem in Elizabethan love poetry, such as in Spenser's sonnet,
"Fayre eyes, the myrrour of my mazed hart":
For when ye mildly looke with louely hew,
then is my soule with life and loue inspired
but when ye lowre, or looke on me askew,
then doe I die, as one with lightning fyred. (Amoretti 7.5-8 )
Because a child's feelings of narcissistic omnipotence are undemined by the discovery of how much bigger, stronger and smarter everyone else seems to be, he or she compensates by merging with a powerful "idealized selfobject" (Kohut, Analysis 3 7-56).
Howard A. Bacal descnbes the idealized selfobject relation as "the experience of feeling linked to the admired other: the self, in effect, waking proudiy in the shadow of his admired object" ("Heinz" 232). In cultures with rigidly delineated gender roles (such as Renaissance England), for a male child it is usually the father, for a female child the mother, who become this role model "gazed at in awe, admired, looked up to, and like which one wants to become" (Kohut, "Forrns" 436).
Thus self psychology envisions development to be primarily a process of imitation and reward, and only secondarily one of anxious differentiation and punishment.
Kohut introduced the term "narcissistic personality disturbance" to describe the condition that results when one fails to intemalize selfobjects into a cohesive "nuclear self' ("Thoughts" 626 note). If such a disturbance represents "long-term functioning since early adulthood," it is termed a "disorder" (American 335). Because of a heightened dependence on others to regulate self functions, an individual with a ternporary disturbance or a chronic disorder is hypersensitive to "narcissistic injuries' - personal setbacks, insults or unempathic responses - and suffers from massive insecurity, low self-esteem and wild fluctuations between shame and rage (Analysis 8-20; "Thoughts" 637-38).
Much of this behaviour is compensatory, to avoid "fragmentation" or the breakup of the self (Kohut, Restoratioq 137-38 ). To forestall disintegration, a narcissistically imbalanced peson attempts to coerce selfobject responses or to destroy those who are persistently unresponsive.
This form of rage is "narcissistic" because the individual displays a "total lack of empathy toward the offender" who is not perceived as an autonomous individual with whom one is at odds "but as a flaw in a narcissistically perceived reality . . . a recalcitrant part of an expanded self over which the narcissistically vulnerable person had expected to exercise full control" (Kohut, "Thoughts" 644-45, emphasis in original). Rage is often disproportionate to the slight incurred because narcissistic injuries expose the "psychological 'bedrock"' of the self (Kohut, Restoration 1 16-1 7). Of course, rage occurs in balanced individuals as well, but there it is not as volatile, irrational or inexhaustible as when it arises out of "the matrix of narcissistic imbalance" (Kohut, "Thoughts" 6 16):
The irrationality of the vengeful attitude becomes even more fightening in view of the fact that - in narcissistic personalities as in the paranoiac - the reasoning capacity, while totally under the domination and in the service of the overriding emotion, is often not only intact but even sharpened. (640)
Elaborate revenges, lengthy grudges, egotistical attempts at self-repair whatever the cost to others, such are the dangers inherent in this form of aggression that "enslaves the ego and allows it to function only as its tool and rationalizer" (646). Instances of violent jealousy depicted in Shakespeare's plays resemble bouts of this disturbance brought on by transitional events.The perilous transition from youth to adulthood initiates wide-ranging changes in social status and interpersonal relationships. Many of Shakespeare's young males fall in love during this phase and are mocked by their peers - especially with threats of impending cuckoldry. Such a lover attempts to avoid humiliation by employing a "preventive attack": "the active (often anticipatory) inflicting on others of those narcissistic injuries which he is most afraid of suffering himself" (Kohut, "Thoughts" 638-39). Shakespeare's men induce cuckoldry anxiety in others to avoid incurring such scom themselves.
Shakespeare's husbands and lovers fiequently display symptoms of chronic dependence on selfobjects and are especially insecure about the sacrifice of male friendship in favour of marriage (e.g., Claudio, Benedick), their newlywed status and the faithfulness of their brides (e.g., Othello, Cymbeline), or their ability to maintain their wife's constancy during changes to a long-term reIationship (e.g., Ford, Leontes). Rarely, however, are the men truly cuckolded: with the exception of Cressida and Helen (in Troilus and Cressida) and possibly also the French court ladies (in Love's Labour's Lost), Shakespeare's accused women are faithful to their partners.
An imaginary cuckold's horn-madness is actually a narcissistic rage, induced by a solipsistic misinterpretation of events. He cannot withstand the perception that she loves another or the anticipated jeering of his peers' unempathic responses that represent failures to comply with his "grandiose self [which] expects absolute control over a narcissistically experienced archaic environment" (Kohut, "Thoughts" 656). Feeling deprived of his partner's mirroring, his self fragments - resulting in a crisis of identity and narcissistic rage. A self psychological examination of Shakespearean cuckoldry awiety reveals a dramatic universe of selfishness and interpersonal exploitation.
Rather than mitigate the antisocial and abusive behaviour of charactea such as Claudio, Ford or Posthumus, I suggest that their abuse of women stems from psychic weakness and imbalances. The jealous rage that many dismiss as just another aspect of patriarchal misogyny is actuially motivated by unconscious attachments to female selfobjects. As Mead pointed out, jealousy "is not a barorneter by which depth of love can be read, it merely records the degree of the lover's insecurity" (40-41). The perpetuation of cuckold-lore stems not fiom a misogynous hatred of women, but fiom man's dependency and need for stability in relationships. The irrational behaviour that arises when selfobject bonds appear to rupture actually takes men further away from the spouses and peers they so desperately need to maintain a cohesive identity." [Imaginary Cuckoldry in Shakespeare's Plays]
"I propose to use Jaques's set-speech on the Seven Ages of Man (A42 2.7.139-66) to outline transitional stages through which a Renaissance male would typicaily pass from cradle to grave.'
Douglas Bruster argues that early fabliau versions of cuckoldry, in which a hard-working rural labourer is cuckolded by a "picaresque opportunist," were adapted to an urban setting, in which a prosperous merchant is cuckolded by a lord or gentleman (195-2 15, 199). In the country, "methodical labor" was viewed as "effeminate" (204), as suggested by the yoke that symbolizes husbands' animal-like "drudgery" (201). Like sterile horned oxen, country husbands could not satisfy their wives. This prejudice was easily translated into an urban analogue because handling money was also considered to cause impotence (204-05). Thus was bom the urban legend of insatiable citizen wives, bored with lacklustre sex with their money-grubbing husbands. As citizens laboured to provide for their families, wives laboured to bear aristocratic bastard children; though as Linda Woodbridge points out, a popular narrative motif does not prove a widespread social practice: "it is unlikely that young aristocrats cuckolded prosperous merchants with such regularity in real life" (Women 174).
Nonetheless, to Bruster cuckoldry evinces the real-life transition from Medieval rural barter economy to Renaissance urban monetary exchange; cuckoldry becomes a metaphor for "nascent capitalism" ("Horn" 210).
Wealthy parents saw little of their children, making "the relation to the wet-nurse . . . the closest affinity in the child's life" (Stone, Family 106). Stone cites Juliet's affectionate bond with her nurse (and emotional distance fiom her mother) in Romeo and Juliet as evidence of this affinity (Family 100, 106). Indeed, Mary Abbott describes wealthy mothers as "jewelled apparitions wafting through their children's lives" (63). Because half his plays contain references to wet-nurses, and because his protagonists generally corne fiom the upper middle classes or higher, 1 will assume this to be the infant feeding practice commonly envisioned by shakespeare.'
Samuel X. Radbill describes, in rather fanciful terms, the perceived benefîts of a good wet-nurse:
She customarily assumed complete charge over the infant's care, even when it was sick. She quieted the baby with her crooning lullabies, knew charms, magic, and the physics of simples to heal its ailments . .. . (240)
This inventory suggests that the wet-nurse also functioned in the modem sense of "nurse" as a person who cares for the sick. One of the earliest recorded instances of this usage is Adriana's offer in The Comedy of Errors, "I will attend rny husband, be his nurse / Diet his sickness, for it is my office" (5.1.98-99; OED sb. 1.3), a passage underlining Shakespeare's artistic associations of primary caregivers with women who foster the emotional health and physical well-being of adult male characters.
Close bonds would frequently form between a nurse and her charge, and some adults fondly remembered their nurses-rewarding them with gifts or provisions in their wills (Fildes, Breasts 159-63). Nurses were an infant's first love, a toddler's first playmate, and often a child's fist teacher.
Thus in Richard II, when Mowbray and Bolingbroke are unexpectedly banished by the King, they express apprehensions about leaving England using images of nurses. Mowbray dreads learning a foreign tongue, "I am too old to fawn upon a nurse / Too far in years to be a pupil now"; and Bolingbroke is nostalgie, "England's ground, farewell; sweet soil, adieu J My mother and my nurse that bears me yet!" (1 -3.170-7 1, 306-07).
Rather than speculate about whether specific Shakespearean characters experienced matemal or extemal primary care, I merely wish to empnasize that powerful bonds formed between infants and female caregivers, that these bonds were often mptured, and that these early experiences contributed to the dramatic depiction, and audience reception, of represented adult behaviour.
Pollock cites an account of one infant who died within a fortnight of birth, after failing to nurse from three different wet-nurses Kasting 63). Such changes could adversely affect a child's long-term emotional health as well:
Psychological problems must have been associated with a close emotional and physical attachment to a wet nurse, initiated and sustained by breast feeding, which was broken, sometimes for ever, when the chiid was weaned and returned home. (Fildes, Breasts 202, note omitted)
Especially damaging could be the confusion created by the child's nurturance in two (or more) locations, by two (or more) sets of parental figures (Paster 221). Recipients of such care literally might not know who their parents were. For instance, in Cymbeline Belarius remembers how, after he and the royal wet-nurse kidnapped the King's young sons, "they took [her] for their mother" (3.3.104).
In their monograph on men's "dread of abandonment," Gwendolyn Stevens and Sheldon Gardner acknowledge the fact that separation "fiom security and nurturance providers is inevitable and necessary for the establishment of a mature personality" (2).
However, painful separations experienced during transitional periods exacerbate adjustment problems in men for three reasons: 1) they are pushed away fiom female caregivers before they are biologically ready; 2) they are encouraged to flourish outside the home; 3) they are discouraged from expressing emotional needs (Stevens and Gardner 3 1-44).
In modem men, the dread of abandonment is most often re-activated by divorce: "being 'abandoned' is far more debilitating psychologically than being the initiator of marital disruption" (123). In the absence of legal divorce, the Renaissance equivalent of this debiiitating event was the disruption caused by (perceived) wifely infidelity, aIthough angry reactions do not reveal a deepseated hatred of women. Instead, just as infants resent dependence on their mother or nurse but also fear separation, men who are unable to express their love for women react with anger to imputations of cuckoldry. Such behaviour should not be interpreted as a secret wish for the split.
Henry Smith's 1591 sermon, A Preparative to Mariage, confirms that wet-nursing and cuckoldry were linked in Renaissance thought. Smith exhorts mothers to nurse their own:
"The fountaines of the earth are made to giue water, & the breasts of women are made to giue suck Euery beast, and euery foule, is bred of the same that did beare it, onely women loue to be mothers, but not nurces . . . committing [children] foorth like a Cuckowe to bee hatched in the Sparowes nest (99- 100)".
Thus wet-nursing is unnatural, a form of matemal infidelity akin to the cuckoo's abandonment of its young. Infants fostered out were thought to suck "euill fiom the [nurse's] dugge" (H. Smith 100).
In fact, abrupt weaning methods by natural mothers also set a precedent for males as womanly "treachery" (Paster 222-23). To Dinnerstein, the most disturbing traces of modem female-dominated chiid-care include "the infant's impenous, monolithic rage at matemal infidelity . . . [and] sharp impulses of self assertion" (43) - behaviour typical of Shakespeare's imaginary cuckolds, angry at their partners' perceived infidelity.
"To die is to be banish'd from myself,
And Silvia is myself banish'd from her
Is self from self. A deadly banishment...
She is my essence, and I leave to obey
If I be not by her fair innocence
Foster'd, illumin'd, cherish'd, kept alive."
Valentine's fusion with Silvia recalls D. W. Winnicott's description of a primary caregiver as "lending her own self to her infant'', and Kohut and Wolf argue that adult "mirror-hungry personalities rely on external providers of psychological sustenance: they "thirst for selfobjects whose confirming and admiring responses will nourish their famished self" (378, italics in original). Shakespeare's Duke of Milan seems to mock this sort of hankering in Valentine when he observes that "love is like a child / That longs for every thing that he can come by" (3.1.124-25).
Valentine's panic at the prospect of losing Silvia (and hence losing belf) stems fiom his psychological merger with her; as she is his empathic mirror, he does not perceive her to be entirely separate fiom him.' He acknowledges his dependence on her in this evocative passage:
"O thou that dost inhabit in my breast,
Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,
Lest growing ruinous, the building fall,
And leave no memory of what it was.
Repair me, with thy presence, Silvia . . . ."
Jaques's second age describes "the whining school-boy with his sachel / And shining morning face, creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school" (Am 2.7.145-47). Those who could afford tuition sent their male children on to board at grammar and preparatory schools until around age 10-12, and from there to universities.' A second possibility-popular with upper class families or middle class families with social aspirations--was the sending out of children to serve in neighbouring households. A third arrangement saw lower middle class children entenng into apprenticeship. All these options involved living away from home for a minimum of one year, frequently much longer. As Wrightson points out, "service, like apprenticeship, was part of the child's preparation for an independent existence in the adult world".
Military service could also be an important rite of passage for youths, and a critical one for Shakespearean characters such as Bertram (in Amor C laudio (in Ado) (Friedman 23 1-49). To Jaques, the typical soldier is
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. (AYL 2.7.150-53)
Upon his return home, however, he had to transfer his adaptiveness to military codes to conformity to civilian social attitudes, especially toward women. His soldierly sensitivity to slights and inexperience in love combined with his adoption of hyper-masculine codes of behaviour (in war-the, courage; in peace-time, suspicion of women) to create a potentially lethal combination of physical prowess and emotional mistrust. It is at precisely this precarious stage of life that many Shakespearean males marry. Shuffled around to a sene of character-building environments with heavy disciplinarian codes, he has learned to merge readily with seemingly omnipotent role-models. His conformity buttresses his self, builds his confidence, and protects him from punishment. The net result is a man who is starved for affection, yet who anticipates separation from providers of emotional nurturance based on a lifetime of unhappy precedents. The very masculine codes of thought and behaviour which previously ensured his survival and emotional well-being suddenly jeopardize his mariage. Confronted with the prospect of being cuckolded, he merges with any seemingly powerful figure who can help repair the situation. However, when this advising figure abuses this trust, the results range fiom comic misunderstandings to tragic murders. The remaining two stages of Jaques's speech describe old age and physicai decline:
the "lean and slippered pantaloon," and then "second childishness" as he approaches death (An 2.7.157-66). As Sinclair points out, "the clear-cut figure of the cuckold carries a spectrum of fears about ageing, loss of potency, loss of status" (25). Abandonment is a terrifying prospect during this period of heightened physical dependence on others. Men such as Iago, Othello, and Falstaff are disturbed by the impending sexual and social obsolescence associated with old age, and try to counteract this through misguided, self-destructive behaviour.
Leontes does not love Hermione so much as he wants to be loved by her. Her apparent flirtation with Polixenes and her preoccupation with her children suggest to the king that he has been "usurped" from her affection. This is the "aiienation" that psychologist Peter van Sommers descnbes as being a "dominant component" of sexual jealousy; "a feeling of being left-out, excluded and isolated" (46).'
Several other factors exacerbate Leontes's insecurity. He is radically unsettled by the sudden departure of a friend who, at one time, allowed a relationship of "undifferentiated oneness" similar to that of an infant/mother bond (Kahn, Man's 2 16- 17). Also, the imminent birth of a second child arouses in Leontes "the curious fieaks of feeling to which husbands are sometimes subject in the latter stages of pregnancy" (W. Sanders). Finally, environmental changes that the imminent birth will bring about for Mamillius seem to arouse childlike anxieties in Leontes. His jealousy is an angry response to the prospect of, once again, losing the "unreliable matemal abject"- this time, his wife (Adelman, Suffocating 223; cf. Erickson, "Patriarchal" 8 19).
As Burton observes, narcissistic behaviour has both internal and extemal causes. Internally, it stems "from an overweening conceit we have of our good parts, own worth . . . for which, Narcissus-like, we admire, flatter, and applaud ourselves, and think all the world esteerns so of us" (1 :293 [184.108.40.206], note omined). Dependent on extemal sources for self-esteem regulation, Leontes's tyrannical entitlement and an overinflated pride cannot conceal the fact that he is, in Burton's formulation, "passive":
the main engine which batters us is from others . . . that with imrnoderate praise and bombast epithets, glozing titles, false elogiums, so bedaub and applaud, gild over many a silly and undeserving man, that they clap him quite out of his wits. (1 :297-98 [220.127.116.11])
In a passage reminiscent of two key scenes of The Winter's Tale, Burton illustrates the heightened vigilance of jealous husbands, an attention to detail that can distort their perception of reality:
"his eye is never off hers . . . observing on whom she looks, who looks at her, what she saith, doth, at dinner, at supper, sitting, walking, at home, abroad, he is the same, still inquiring, maundering, gazing, listening, affrighted with every small object; why did she smile, why did she pity him, commend him? why did she drink twice to such a man? why did she offer to kiss, to dance? etc. [sic]; a whore, a whore, an errant whore." (3.281 [3.3.2])
Like Hermione and the Shepherd's wife, Burton's hostess toasts her guests. Like Leontes but unlike the Shepherd, Burton's husband becomes jealous and vigilant in his surveillance of his wife, transformhg a scene of hospitality into one of sexual depravity. Burton and Shakespeare alike do not merely condemn such behaviour, they anatomize it as symptomatic of a larger psychological disorder. Burton recognizes the afflicted husband's tendency to find out the worst in every situation: "If a dear friend or near kinsman come as a guest to his house, to visit him, he wiil never let him be out of his own sight and Company, lest peradventure, etc. [sic]" (3:28 1-82 [3.3.2]). It is Burton's euphemistic "etc." that obsesses Shakespeare's narcissistic husbands who fill in the empty space with their own suspicions.
Thus The Winter's Tale demonstrates that cuckoldry anxiety is really just the "tip" of a kind of psychological "iceberg." Early in the play, Camillo admonishes Leontes, "good my lord, be cur'd / Of this diseas'd opinion, and betimes, / For 'tis most dangerous" (1.2.296- 98 ). Cuckoldry anxiety is not so easily wished away impeccably chaste women notwithstanding. Leontes's fear that, like a cuckoo, a guest has infiltrated his nest and left "the issue of Pohenes" (2.3 -93) is realized in the supplanting of Mamillius by Florizel, future king of Sicily. However, the fact that both families survive the tumoil caused by imputations of cuckoldry recalls a second, now largely forgotten, connotation of the cuckoo as a symbol of longevity: "If its call is long, a long life is indicated" and vice versa (McLerran and McKee 35). In both kingdoms, the cuckoo has been calling for sixteen years; now that it has finally stopped, perhaps these dynasties will endure after all." [Imaginary Cuckoldry in Shakespeare's Plays]
"In a 1978 collaboration, Heinz Kohut and Ernest S. Wolf argue that whereas orthodox psychoanalysts seek to uncover "grossly traumatic events" experienced during childhood, self psychologists should consider such events to be "no more than clues that point to the truly pathogenic factors, the unwholesome atmosphere to which the child was exposed during the years when his self was established" (369). Because the construction of a self is an ongoing process, adults are also shaped by the "the chronic ambience created by the deep-rooted attitudes of the selfobjects" (Kohut and Wolf 369) - in particular during reshufflings of the self caused by, among other things, "moves from one culture to another; from private life into the army" (Kohut, "Thoughts" 623). OthelIo is a play suffused with such transitions, and its settings in Venice and Cyprus present "unwholesome atmospheres" of instability for the reshuffling of Iago's, Cassio's and Othello's selves. There is an instability of military rank that sees soldiers promoted and demoted in the blink of an eye. There is an instability of occupation and locale that sees warriors spend a hiatus in Venetian society, then be thrust into the breach by a Turkish naval attack, only to end up guarding a dull military outpost. Above all, there is an interpersonal instability that sees men negotiate love-relationships in a misogynous culture that values the false camaraderie of soldiers over marriage. Life changes and culture shock are the stuff of Othello, prompting Michael Neill to call it "a tragedy of displacement" ("Changing" 115).
Jane Adamson observes:
Othello's most violent and brutal declarations of his power to hurt come at precisely those moments when he feels most helpless, impotent in the face of his own wounded feelings. His lack of 'government' over himself is compensated for by an increase in his bullying . . . . (Othello 203)
Despite his rugged exterior, Othello is perhaps Shakespeare's most delicate hero: "How many of the other tragic heroes weep as copiously as the Moor?" (Honigmann 20-21). Nowhere is Kohut's definition of narcissistic rage as a spectrum of responses ranging from "fleeting annoyances . . . [to] the furor of the catatonie (Act 4), to cold-blooded murder (Act 5).
Therefore, despite the judicial vocabulary of the play's final scene, Desdemona dies because she has offended her husband, not because she has committed a legal offence: "she must die, else she'll betray more men" (5.2.6). Othello thinks she has betrayed (i.e., deceived) him, and that as the "cunning whore of Venice" she will betray (i.e., seduce) other men (OED v. 1-4). He would rather destroy her than share her, a possessiveness that belies his earlier empty declaration that he "had been happy if the general camp, / Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body / So [he] had nothing known" (3.3.348-50). Othello's unwillingness to share is at the root of sexual jealousy, which Pierre de La Primaudaye defined as "a feare which a man hath, that that thing is comrnunicated to another, which hee would not haue common but prîuate to himselfe" (207). Such a feeling also prompts Iago's anger that Emilia should share her "common thing" (i.e., her vagina) with other men (3.3.3 06; Partridge 1 99). Beneath Othello's public senrice and Iago's service to the Moor are revenges prompted by injured masculine pride.
Othello adapts to constantiy shifting social situations by discarding old selfobjects in favour of newer and seemingly more reliable providers of psychological sustenance. Lodovico's surprise at Othello's transformation underscores the extent to which he has concealed his dependency fkom others: "1s this the noble Moor whom our full senate/ Call all in all sufficient? This the naturel Whom passion could not shake?" (4.1.264-66). Lodovico sounds as if he's parroting slogans, Like "Tamburlaine the Great" the "Scourge of God" (Jump xii-xix). As I have argued, Othello may never have been "all in all suffîcient," and passion does shake him to the floor twice in the play (at 4.1.35-59 and 5.2-195-98). Even his suicide is a narcissistic bolstering device couched in the language of public service. Massively humiliated by Emilia's exposure of his errors (in trusting Iago, in mistrustkg Desdemona), Othello is made to feel like a "murderous coxcomb" (5.2.23 1). To salvage some dignity, Otheilo resorts to narratives that emphasize his past victories. He describes his magical "sword of Spain" with which he "made [his] way through more impediments / Than twenty times" those facing him now (5.2.251,261-62). "O vain boast" he stops in mid-story; he can neither prove his tale to others nor prove his word against others (5.2.262). Or can he? His final act is to describe how in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbanned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th' throat the circumcised dog
And smote him - thus! he stabs himself.
Othello's "thus!" is terribly significant: it proves the sharpness of his sword, the courage and resolve of its bearer. Symbolically, Othello is finally defeating the Turkish foe denied him by the storm. Desdemona is present (though dead) to witness and reward his performance of one last suprerne act of sacrifice, "killing [himselfJ, to die upon a kiss" (5.2.357). In his final moments, Othello shows less contrition for Desdernona's murder than regret for his lost reputation (Jefney and Grant 197) and for failing to prove his heroism to her in life. Significantly, he kills himself in public after Lodovico informs him that "the nature of your fault [shall] be known / To the Venetian state" (5.2.334-35). The fault that will be recounted is not that Otheilo thought himself a cuckold, but that he failed to govem the island, his household, and himself. Admiaistratively, domestically, and personally, Othello is a failure. Even his final military victory over the "Turk" is a fiasco to be related back in Venice as a "heavy act " not a heroic one (5.2.369).
Othello lays bare a central contradiction that I have argued throughout: that men can be jealous of women whom they love as objects, exploit as selfobjects, and objectify as inanimate possessions. Desdemona is simultaneously Othello's esteemed love object, his exploited selfobject, and his most prized possession (his "pearl" [5.2.345]). Thomas Wright alluded to relationships in which people - whom he referred to as "things" - are exploited in the service of another's self: "Those things we love as profitable we love not absolutely, but rather in them ourselves, for whose use they serve; and therefore when commodity faileth, love quaileth" (237)." [Imaginary Cuckoldry in Shakespeare's Plays]
"Quick associations of breast-feeding and cuckoldry [rhymes] that can be traced to the Renaissance survive in a more unexpurgated form. In one barnyard love-triangle, a farmer refuses to "pound" his neighbod pigs even though they are eating out of his garden: "I dare not on my life / For though I love not Roger the Cook / I dearly love his wife" (Opie and Opie 350). Another early rhyme, "The cuckoo is a lazy bird," inculcates this enduring symbol of cuckoldry:
"She never hatches her own young,
And that we all know,
But leaves it for some other bird
While she cries 'Cuckoo'." (Opie and Opie 139)
The second line's "we all how" suggests that children, right from an early age, were let in on society's favourite joke. One more rhyme, from a 1632 broadside ballad, resembles the jingling Song of Mistress Quickly and the children in The Merry Wives of Windsor:
"A man that hath a sluttish wife,
is in a beastly taking,
And he that hath a cleanly wife
is of another making . . . ." (Opie and Opie, Plate 22)
These Surviving rhymes suggest that an English education in sexual paranoia began well before petty school.
Come out of your hole,
Or else I'll beat you
As black as coal.
Put out your homs,
1'll give you bread
And barley corns." (Opie and Opie 390)
In an early version of this rhyme, the second line reads "Peer out" instead of "Come out," a significant alteration in that it underlies the humour of Mrs. Page's description of Ford's horn-madness:
"[he] buffets himself on the forehead, crying 'Peer out, peer out!"' (Opie and Opie 391 note). Indeed, Roaslind's joke about the husband sharing the snail's destiny, "horns" (AYL 4.1.57) and Berowne's pun on "the tender homs of cockled snails" confirm that the cuckold and the snail were fixtures of the Renaissance imagination, right from the nursery. If anything, the cuckold's apparent absence in extant rhymes is due to scholarly editing that has rendered earlier, earthier versions anodyne.
Cuckoldry anxiety involves fears of betrayal, abandonment and social scom all condensed into conventional symbols that serve as shorthand for the affliction but should not be mistaken for the affliction itself. For example, much critical effort has been expended exploring the contradictory associations of the cuckold's horns: do these signify virility (a stud bull), emasculated domesticity (a castrated or tethered bull), or humankind degraded by bestial anger (a raging bull)? The answer varies from situation to situation, but one constant remains: people in the Renaissance, married and unmarried, young and old, dreaded nothing so much as having horns placed on their heads. In an era where individuals were so careful about their reputations and the legitimacy of their offspring, to be called "cuckold" conjured nightmarish scenarios of ostracism, not only from the local community, but from mankind itself "Terms! Names! Amaimon sounds well; Lucifer, well; Barbason, well: yet they are devils' additions, the names of fiends. But cuckold? Wittol? Cuckold! The devil himself hath not such a name" (MWW 2.2.285-89).
Ford's panic underscores the critical misconception that when a man's wife is unfaithful, he is welcomed into a community of cuckolds - a kind of support group (real or imagined) that consoles new members and proffers Iago-esque "sevenstep solutions" ("fïrst, ascertain her guiit . . . then, kill your wife"). Time and again, Shakespeare reveals that there is no such community, recommends that violence is not a solution, and excoriates the paranoia that his culture inculcated using everything from the simplest children's rhymes to the most sophisticated adult poetry. The fact that Shakespeare's plays are "so fram'd to the life, that they serue for the most common Commentaries, of all the actions of Renaissance liues" (Epistle to &., cited in Palmer 95) is confirmed by the writings of many contemporaries who echoed his insights. For example, Spenser's "Hymne in Honovr of Love" (1596) also succinctly documented
"The doubts, the daungers, the delayes, the woes,
The fayned friends, the vnassured foes,
With thousands more then any tongue can tell,
[That] make a louers life a wretches hell." (lines 262-65)
Endemic instability in relationships made the average Renaissance male particularly susceptible to the "monster Gelosie" (267). The male was reluctant to establish permanent, monogamous relationships because he had been taught to trust no-one. And when he did fall in love,
"He nathemore can so contented rest,
But forceth further on, and striueth still
T'approch more neare, till in her inmost brest,
He may embosomd bee, and loued best;
And yet not best, but to be lou'd alone:
For loue can not endure a Paragone."
The "brest" here is less an erotic figure than a symbol of security, a safe haven in a dangerous world. His cuckoldry anxiety stemmed, not fiom deep-seated misogyny, but from his desperation to stave off what his culture told him was lurking all around: a green-eyed monster, a homed beast. His greatest "feare" was not union with a woman but "loosing his felicitie" (270) and looking foolish to his peers as a result.
Another misconception is that the outlandish behaviour of the imaginary cuckold represents a reversion to chronologically childish, psychologically primitive, or naturally bestial behaviour. To describe the behaviour of Falstaffas narcissistic is not to drag this sixty-year-old back to a foundational developmental period experienced before most people can walk or talk. Narcissism is not a childish phase to be outgrown (or to which afflicted characters return), but rather a relational spectrum: the more narcissistic a character is, the less he experiences others as independent centres of volition; the less narcissistic a character is, the more he accords others independence, love and respect. However, one never outgrows the need for selfobject relationships, and a heightened dependency on this form of psychological sustenance is re-activated each time a person undergoes a life change. Though the cuckoo who sings on every tree "mocks married men," Shakespearean characters of all ages heed its "word of fear." [Imaginary Cuckoldry in Shakespeare's Plays]
"To brag unto them "Thus I did, and thus!" Show them the unaching scars which I should hide, As if I had received them for the hire Of their breath only!
...What must I say? "Look, sir, my wounds. I got them in my country's service."
...No, it was never my desire yet to trouble the poor with begging." [Shakespeare, Coriolanus]
"Brut. I heard him swear, Were he to stand for consul, never would he Appear i’ the market-place nor on him put The napless vesture of humility; Nor showing, as the manner is, his wounds To the people, beg their stinking breaths." [Sh., Coriolanus, 2.1.231-36]
"The custome of ROME was at that time, that suche as dyd sue for any office, should for certen dayes before be in the market place, only with a poore gowne on their backes, and without any coate vnderneath, to praye the cittizens to remember them at the daye of election: which was thus deuised, either to moue the people the more, by requesting them in suche meane apparell, or els bicause they might shewe them their woundes they had gotten in the warres in the seruice of the common wealth, as manifest markes & testimonie of their valliantnes. (244)
Now Martius following this custome, shewed many woundes and cuttes apon his bodie, which he had receyued in seuenteene yeres seruice at the warres, and in many sundrie battells, being euer the formest man that dyd set out feete to fight. So that there was not a man emong the people, but was ashamed of him selfe, to refuse so valliant a man: and one of them sayed to another, we must needes chuse him Consul, there is no remedie. (244)
Yet this was not the matter that made Marius to be most hated, but they were his stowte prowde wordes, full of contempt of others, that did chiefely offende the noble men in the city. For he proclaimed it euery where abroade as it were, that his Consullshippe was a spoyle he had gotten of the effeminate riche noble men through his valliantnes, and that the wounds which he had vpon his body for seruice of the common wealth, and not the monuments of the dead, nor the images and statues of others, were those that recommended him to the people, nor weare his strength." (455) [The Life of Caius Marius, in The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes Compared Together]
"In Plutarch’s Lives, the proud general Coriolanus, seeking public office, dons a gown of humility in the marketplace, sues the Roman citizens for their favor, and shows them the wounds and scars he received in 17 years of wartime service. The citizens are aware of his contempt for them, but his wounds compel them to elect him consul nonetheless. In Roman literature and in Shakespearean drama alike, wounds are mouths, and they all say the same thing: “This man is a valiant and honorable soldier.” Wounds are signs of virtue, signs that invert the usual significance of stigma: wounds signify virtue while other physical marks like deformity, disability, and disease are signs of vice. In fact, on the early English stage, wounds signify the highest virtue: in the Corpus Christi cycles, the resurrected Christ displays his divinity by showing his stigmata to a doubting Thomas. In Shakespeare’s play, however, Coriolanus refuses to fulfill the figure of Christ, refuses to show his wounds to the Roman people, refuses to perform this histrionic custom. His wounds exist, yet neither the Romans on the stage nor we in the audience ever actually see the wounds: they hide underneath his gown, and thus their significance reverts back to viciousness. Even as they signify his Roman valor and Christian virtue, they come in their hiddenness to signify the error of pride, the error that gets Coriolanus banished from Rome and inaugurates the tragic action of the play. Coriolanus declares himself to be an exception, not an exception like Freud’s Richard III, whose deformed birth was so unfair that he felt justified excusing himself from the compulsions of legality and morality, but an exception in the sense that the German political theorist Carl Scmidtt spoke of the sovereign as the one with the power and authority to declare when the rules would not apply. In Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus’s pride is not counterbalanced by his wounds, as happens in Plutarch’s Lives; instead, his pride is expressed specifically in his refusal to show his wounds. Plutarch’s Coriolanus is proud because he is a masculine warrior while the Romans are effeminate citizens. This Coriolanus has no problem showing his wounds because those wounds show him to be an accomplished warrior. But Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is proud because he refuses to perform for the Roman people. This Coriolanus cannot show his wounds because he cannot engage in something that is staged by actors for audiences. In the end, what the example of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus draws attention to is (1) the dramatic and (2) the circumstantial nature of stigma. First, the showing of the wounds is a show for the audience in the theater as much as it is for the citizens in the drama. Second, stigma takes its meaning from the context in which it originates and operates, and no stigma has an absolute value, whether it is the positively valued war wounds of Coriolanus, or the negatively valued deformity of someone like Richard III."
"Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Timon of Athens evince, respectively, contempt for political staging, ostentation and demagogy, as well as hatred for the superficiality of prodigal private entertainment.
Coriolanus exposes the political rite of passage imposed by Roman tradition—wearing the gown of humility and exhibiting his spectacular scars in order to get the people’s voices—as a hypocritical performance, a mere demagogical masquerade. This close association between political power—or abuse of power—and ostentatious, duplicitous show—that is, what is nowadays known as “theatrocracy”—is also at stake in Edouard Lekston’s pictorial interpretation of King Richard III.
Pascale Drouet focuses on Coriolanus’ reluctance to put on a demagogic, political show in the market-place and, more significantly, on his refusal to display his wounds—a “spectacle” much expected by the plebeians—to gain the citizens’ voices. Drouet argues that the Roman hero’s resistance to bodily exhibition is due to his deep distrust of the other’s gaze, his idea that counterfeiting cannot be dissociated from imposture, and the ambivalent semiotics fostered, in the Renaissance context, by “sturdy beggars” exhibiting fake sores."
"The problematic role of the human body as the “measure” of all the things in a controversial period when that body was continuously questioned and dissected by the emerging science of medi- cine in particular. The trope of the human body has a pivotal importance in Shakespeare’s Rome, a city which is:
sometimes metaphor, sometimes myth, sometimes both, sometimes neither. De- spite its metamorphoses, Rome maintains a distinct identity. Constructed of fo- rums, walls, and Capital, opposed to outlying battlefields, wild, primitive land- scapes, and enemy cities, Rome is a palpable though ever-changing presence. The city serves not only as a settling for action, but also as central protagonist.
Shakespeare’s Rome is an earthly and heavenly setting at the same time where the body can be problematized with respect to both its humanistic vision and its rationalist “anatomy”. Rome is symbolically and ideologically significant because it provides «a conden- sation of urbs and orbs, city and world, […]» within which to reconsider the human body.
In Claudia Corti’s The Iconic Body: “Coriolanus” and Renaissance Corporeal- ity, she focuses on the new role of corporeality and the way it seemed to affect all the xvi century cultural world. In the theatrical dimension the “obsession over corporeality” led also to a revaluation of the iconic aspect of bodies on stage, and influenced, as Corti claims, the writing of such plays as Coriolanus where the hero’s «materially, carnally overpowering form» (p. 66) has a meaningful dramatic role.
In Maurizio Calbi’s States of Exception: Auto-Immunity and The Body-Politic in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, the author pays particular attention to the question of boundaries in Coriolanus and its intimate con- nection with the uncanny logic of Derrida’s “auto-immunity”, a meta- phor that is both physiological and political. Referring also to Agamben’s philosophical concepts of “state of exception” and “homo sacer”, Calbi offers a very interesting analysis of the reason why the protagonist is “ejected” or banished (or self-banished) from Rome’s “body politic”. Taking its cue from the central moment of the play when the Roman hero reacts to the banishment by banishing, Calbi’s essay comes to the conclusion that «[...] the bounded body of the citizen infects itself (i. e., auto-immunises itself) with the violence it supposedly protects it- self against». Within Rome’s (auto-) «immunity system», Coriolanus is a «war machine» being also, «in Volumnia’s too censuring words, ‘too absolute’» (3.2.49), in the sense of “ab-solutus”, “un-bound”, that is not bound to «any specific community and outside the circle of exchanges which is called Rome» (pp. 80-1).
Volumnia’s body and words are given a particular attention in An- tonella Piazza’s Volumnia, the Roman Patroness, where the author adopts a privileged gender perspective on the Volumnia’s “human” body. Piazza explains that, according to Galenic medical theories, the body of post-menopausal, old women “with beard”, just like Volumnia’s, became more similar to a man’s body, thus more likely to gain the authority to “replace” male patriarchal rule mak- ers. This makes her the only «Roman statesman, a Jacobean Machiavellian governor» (p. 122). Volumnia, the “Roman Patroness”, has, in the end, the patriarchal power of a mother as well as of a father, so she can rule both the private and public realms."
"A universe where the chaos was a key element on the very first steps of the new republican model reflected on the metaphors of the body and its initial chaos11: Menenius Agrippa [...] made to the people, on the behalf of the Senate: knit up his oration in the end, with a notable tale. That on a time all the members of a man’s body did rebel against the belly, complaining of it, that it only remained in the midst of the body, without doing anything, neither did bear any labour to the maintenance of the rest: whereas all other parts and members did labour painfully, and were very carefully to satisfy the appetites and desires of the body. And so the belly sad: It is true, I first receive all meats that nourish man’s body; but afterwards I sent it again to the nourishment of other parts of the same. Even so O you, my maisters, and citizens of Rome: the reason is alike between the Senate and you.
"There was a time when all the body’s members Rebell’d against the belly; thus accus’d it: That only like a gulf it did remain I’ th’ midst a’ th’ body, idle and unactive, Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing Like labour with the rest, where the’ other instruments Did see, and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel And, mutually participate, did minister Unto the appetite and affection common Of the whole body. The belly answere’d [...] “True is it, my incorporate friends”, quoth he “That I receive the general food at first Which you do live upon: and fit is is, Because I am the store-house and the shop Of the whole body. But I send it through the rivers of your blood, Even to the court, the heart, to th’ seat o th’ brain And through the cracks and offices of man, The strongest nerves and small inferior veins From me receive that natural competency Whereby they live."
In Plutarch, the reason that kicks the initial riot is precisely the potential economic crisis ahead, whereas in Shakespeare the issue wasn’t only against the aristocracy but the distribution of food and grain (What’s their seeking?/ For corn at their own rates, whereof they say?/ The city is well stor’d. I, i).
Now, what’s interesting on this parallel between the historical and the theatrical figure is the way Coriolanus is presented to the audience: in the Lives, the soldier is described as the most excellent, intelligent and noblest of his roman pairs in terms of battle achievements, with a sharp military and intellectual capacity (“Men marvelling much at his constancy, that he was never overcome with pleasure, nor money, and how he would endure easily all manner of pains and travails”. Now in those days, valiantness was honoured in Rome above all other vertues: which they call virtus, by the name of vertue it self. So that virtus in Latin, was as much as valiantness”), yet choleric, impatient and harsh on his manners due the lack of a strong father figure and the consequential education given by his mother.
“Insomuch as the Romans having many wars and battells in those days, Coriolanus was at them all: and there was not a battell fought, from whence he returned not with some reward of honour. But touching Marcius, the only thing that made him to love honour, was the joy he saw his mother take of him”.
The last line, however, is extremely relevant. In Coriolanus’ Lives, Plutarch merely mentioned the soldier’s mother, yet Shakespeare took her from there and created a complete individual character, essential to the play due her role on the development of the events, and the ultimate responsible of the rise and fall of the tragic hero."
"There is no hint in the play of so autonomous a plebeian move as secession, or of a threat of patrician starvation without plebeian labor. Apparently unaware of Coriolanus, Lincoln concludes his section on Menenius: "this discourse was still being employed as late as 1594, when the lieutenant general of the Cahors court, in condemning the Croquant rebels, posed as a rhetorical question: What would happen if the members of the body should rebel against the stomach and refuse to feed it?" (1989: 148). What makes this interesting for readers of Coriolanus is the play's interpretation of the plebs as hungry and complaining, but dependent upon patrician "generosity," and endangered both by its absence and by seditious tribunes. The question of source-reception, the "genealogy" through which the "Apologue" reached Shakespeare—whether directly from Livy, or perhaps via Machiavelli's version in the Discourses, which supported the principle of vox populi (Zeeveld 1962: 323-4)—interpellates its appropriation for the play. The idea of a plebeian power to secede, absent from the play, reconfigures the play's initial conflict and raises questions about the scapegoating of Coriolanus to both plebeian and patrician interests."
"The language of Coriolanus is rife with references to parts of the human body, and more than a third of the speeches referring to the body politic belong to Coriolanus. The entry of Coriolanus here only exacerbates tensions. Civil war is averted not by Menenius’ attempt to reconcile the parts of Rome with his reference to the body politic (as in Plutarch), but in spite of it. Conceding to the demands of the citizens to be formally incorporated into the body politic, the Senate allows the creation of a new insti- tution and organ in the Roman Republic, the Tribunate, an office of strictly popular representation—the “mouth” of the people (III.i.35–38, see I.i.204–223). This innovation does nothing to unify the body politic of Rome; it only serves to entrench the tumultuous conflicts between the parts of the city more deeply in rival political institutions. The problem of course is that the Roman Republic is a body politic without a king; that is, it lacks a single authoritative “head” to govern it. Even Menenius’ fable leaves Rome with no head. The action of the play centers on the unwillingness of Coriolanus to play the “part” in the city with which (much to the chagrin of the Tribunes) the citizens wish to honor him; the people have no choice, it seems, but to drive their erstwhile hero from Rome. While they know well that they owe him gratitude for the wounds he has acquired in their defense, they cannot stomach his proud virtue. But when they do seek to honor him with the Con- sulate, Coriolanus refuses to play the one “part” in the Republic they have to offer (II.ii.143–147; see II.iii.117–131; cf. I.ix.36–40 and III.ii.101–125). As long as he resides inside the walls of Rome, his presence foments dissension and—lacking consensus (homonoia)—the “parts” of the re- publican body politic remain at war (see III.i.60–259). Coriolanus must be exiled to save Rome from its disorder. When, god-like, he returns at the head of a foreign army to sack Rome in vengeance, only his mother Volumnia can stave off the destruction of the Republic. In her speech denouncing his actions and disowning him as her son, Coriolanus’ mother performs “the duty to which a mother’s part belongs” in defending Rome as her own, even more than her flesh and body (V.iii.33–42, 94–168). Coriolanus relents. Even the greatest part of Rome must acknowledge that there is a greater whole that incorporates and binds it—that political community which not only defines us as citizens but also makes us distinctively human, and thus not beasts or gods."
Shouts, Slogans, and the Ritual of Consent in Coriolanus
"Complicating the notion that the vocal acclamation by which voters signaled their support for Parliamentary candidates was “merely” ceremonial, Shakespeare’s play imagines the power of theatrical noise in relation to the loud civic performances that was the early modern election ritual. Focusing on the scene in which Martius solicits – and is ultimately “whooped out of Rome” by – the Roman citizens (whom he refers to synecdochically as “voices”), Coriolanus stages the election ritual not so much as a contest over who will represent the people politically, but as a more fundamental dispute over what counts as language in the first place. By reading the play against first-hand accounts that draw attention to the relationship between election shouts and other forms of inarticulate noise (including war-cries and the “hue and cry”), Shakespeare locates the realm of the political in the contested space between speaking and making noise."
"Coriolanus` observations that the `disposition` of the mob is mutable. The volatile nature of the capricious crowd is expressed in the imagery of fire when Menenius says `kindle their dry stubble and their blaze shall darken him forever` in Coriolanus.
In his disgust at the falsity and petty political people of Rome, Coriolanus relinquishes his own identity, as it is defined within this context. There is a peerless Spartan honesty in this, contrasting with characters such as Julius Caesar. He refuses to hear his wounds praised to the crowd by Menenius, unable to sit and `hear my nothings monstered`. In becoming a `kind of nothing`, Coriolanus engages with this reality, free of all political titles and falsity. Later in the play, before his death, Aufidius reinforces this underlying reality: `dost thou think I`ll grace thee with that stolen name?`
The dangers of ambition, the fear of tyranny, the falsity of nominal power and debunked myths of invincibility all counterbalance the disgust and fear of the crowd in Shakespeare`s Roman plays. It appears that we are presented with an impossible choice between the iron grip of ambitious tyrants or the political chaos of riotous crowds. However, these forces stem from the same problem in these plays - that of falsity. The real tragedy of these plays is that integrity cannot survive in the political world of Shakespeare. Whether it is displayed in the Spartan simplicity of Coriolanus, the dutiful democratic idealism of Brutus or even the elevated valour of Caesar, it never survives for long. Coriolanus has no place either in this world. His blunt and brutal honesty is displayed in what Menenius calls his `noble carelessness`. As he tells his mother: `I`d rather play the man I am'.
Coriolanus, Brutus and Antony all strive in their own way towards a sense of `integrity` or `wholeness`. In contrast with the dissembling and crowd manipulation of Sicinius and Brutus in Coriolanus, they reach towards a kind of honesty.
L.C Knights` convincing and nuanced argument that Coriolanus demonstrates that `disruption in the state - the body politic - is related to individual disharmony by something more palpable than an Elizabethan trick of metaphor, that the public crisis is rooted in the personal and habitual` . Shakespeare is neither attacking republicanism nor royalism (though he masterfully exposes the flaws of both) but he is primarily showing the detrimental effects of a culture which breeds internal division - principally through the violent separation from women. The internal division is a principal cause of political turmoil in these plays. Coriolanus represents an extreme version of this Roman hyper-masculinity, turning away from his wife and mother to a point of being prepared to kill them. Caesar and Coriolanus suffer the effects of trying to live `as if a man were author of himself and knew no kin`. Just as Coriolanus wishes to deny his debt towards his mother, rioters wish to deny their interdependence in a fit of self-assertion. Therein lies the key to the capricious crowd in Shakespeare. However, the integrity of those characters who honestly struggle with this conflict in themselves are prized over those who exploit its manifestations in the crowd."
""Though in this city he Hath widowed and unchilded many a one, Which to this hour bewail the injury, Yet he shall have a noble memory. Assist. (5.6.149–153)
Perhaps our own complicity in the promulgation of historical fictions is called into question by the simple “Assist.” Aufidius’s would be a touching eulogy if it were not for the chilling fact that he has just murdered the man he now extols. Aufidius promises that the fragments of Coriolanus’s life will be made into a coherent whole, just as Menenius had promised the starving plebeians that their grotesque bodies were important, if subservient, to the state. With Aufidius’s parting story, or promise of one, we are left to wonder if there is not something deeply disturbing about his assumption and combination of the roles of executioner and literary executor."
"In the second act of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, the title character is urged by his mother to feign regard for the plebeians long enough to secure their votes and pass for consul. Although Coriolanus finds the artifice unseemly (“It is a part / That I shall blush in acting” [2.2.141–42]), he eventually accepts his mother’s direction, donning the requisite costume and reciting the requisite dialogue. His performance, however, does not fool anyone. Even the plebeians perceive that Coriolanus has not satisfied the most basic condition of performance: he has not subordinated himself to the part he is supposed to be playing. Consequently, Coriolanus is called upon to reprise the role—this time more credibly, more convincingly.
In his eyes, it is too much to ask. As his mother urges him to “perform a part / Thou hast not done before” and as Cominius cajoles “Come, come, we’ll prompt you,” Coriolanus protests in scandalized disbelief:
“Would you have me / False to my nature? Rather say I play / The man I am” (3.2.109–10, 106, 13–15).
For Coriolanus, it is one thing to go through the motions, but it is quite another to infuse those motions with meaning. He can bring himself to do the former but not the latter, inasmuch as it might prove transformative. “I will not do’t,” he declares,
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth, And by my body’s action teach my mind A most inherent baseness. (3.2.120–23)
Coriolanus’s concern—that dissimulation might draw on depravity—is an antitheatrical commonplace in Shakespeare’s day. Indeed, much of what Coriolanus says and stands for resonates with the antitheatrical ideologies of the play’s early modern moment.
what causes him to reject play-acting in his own person is the sexualized fear that it will unman him (i.e., turn him into a squeaking virgin or crying boy). In this manner, the play presents Coriolanus’s antitheatricalism as resting upon a gynophobic foundation—which can be said to anticipate yet another thread in modern-day criticism.
Making an all-out appeal to her son’s heightened sense of class interest, Volumnia presses him to playact for the sake of political empowerment. She assures him that such a course is analogous to the practice of wartime “policy,” but Coriolanus is unconvinced (3.2.43). He sees dissimulation as emasculating, and it is for this reason that he sarcastically readies himself for the proffered role by renouncing his masculine disposition and imagining himself transformed into a harlot or virgin:
Away, my disposition; and possess me Some harlot’s spirit! My throat of war be turned, Which choired with my drum, into a pipe Small as an eunuch or the virgin voice That babies lull asleep! (3.2.111–15)
Insofar as he negatively associates play-acting with effeminacy, Coriolanus echoes the antitheatrical authors of early modernity. But in his acerbity, Coriolanus takes things too far and ends up outstripping the moral con- siderations that are supposed to be driving the antitheatrical machine. Coriolanus, it will be seen, heaps scorn on both the harlot and the virgin, as if the two were equally ignoble. His failure to distinguish between the sexually corrupt woman and the sexually pure woman confounds moral categories in such a way as to reveal that his primary concern is with sex/ gender, not ethics/morality. His indiscriminate denigration of these two disparate female types reveals that “manliness, not morality, is the issue” (Stockholder 230). Just as his tirade against the tribunes reduces antithe- atricalism to an elemental classism (see 3.1.93–115), this rant reduces it to an elemental sexism. It is clear that Coriolanus recognizes the power of self-performance, but he refuses to exploit it out of fear of effeminacy.
The only thing Coriolanus can think about is the harlot’s spirit, the eunuch’s pipe, and the virgin’s voice. What fixes him in his antiperformative attitude is masculine anxiety, pure and simple.
Over the course of the play, the gynophobia that undergirds Coriolanus’s quest for authentic self-expression is shown to be unstable, and this instability causes the gender identity that is premised upon it to pitch and sway. We see some of this shakiness in Coriolanus’s metaphorical conflation of the virgin and the whore, but this is not the only curious confluence of that speech. When Coriolanus imagines himself an actor, he talks not only about virgins and whores but also about eunuchs, knaves, schoolboys, and beggars:
The smiles of knaves Tent in my cheeks, and schoolboys’ tears take up The glasses of my sight! A beggar’s tongue Make motion through my lips, and my armed knees, Who bowed but in my stirrup, bend like his That hath received an alms! (3.2.111–20)
Cutting across boundaries of age, sex, and station, Coriolanus jumbles together a wide range of types in his antitheatrical zeal. The grouping is oddly disparate, but it does much to define Coriolanus’s personal commitments, since the thing that connects all these figures is a lack of manliness, as Coriolanus conceives of it. Physically weak and sexually impotent, they lack the strength and virility he takes to be the hallmarks of manhood. Subordinate to patriarchal overseers such as fathers, husbands, schoolmasters, and magistrates, they lack the authority and mastery that are supposed to set men apart. Intemperate and untrustworthy, they lack the self-discipline and sincerity that Coriolanus sees as exclusive to men.
To be sure, Coriolanus cannot brook being called “boy.” This much is apparent at the end, when Aufidius omits Coriolanus’s honorific titles, refers to him as a “boy of tears,” accuses him of treason, and calls for his present death. Amid all this, what really bothers Coriolanus is the “boy.” He keeps coming back to it, incredulous and angry: AUFIDIUS. Name not the god [of war], thou boy of tears. CORIOLANUS. Ha? AUFIDIUS.No more. CORIOLANUS. Measureless liar, thou hast made my heart Too great for what contains it. ‘Boy’? O slave!— Pardon me, lords, ’tis the first time that ever I was forced to scold. Your judgments, my grave lords, Must give this cur the lie (5.6.103–08)
Ten lines later, Coriolanus is still fuming at the perceived insult. Even as he is swarmed by his enemies, he continues to bark about being called “boy,” as if the epithet has cut him more deeply than any blade can do:
Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads, Stain all your edges on me. ‘Boy’! False hound, If you have writ your annals true, ’tis there That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles. Alone I did it. ‘Boy’! (5.6.112–17)
As Laura Levine has observed, England’s antitheatrical writers fret over the boy actor as if he were the embodiment of all that is alarming about performance and personality. Lucy Munro ties the tragedy—both materially and thematically—to several plays presented by boy companies on the same Blackfriars stage just prior to Coriolanus. According to Munro, Shakespeare’s tragedy is overwritten by these children’s productions, which incongruously impose heroic manly identities onto the bodies of young boy actors and thereby suggest the uncertain foundations of early modern masculinity. To demonstrate how Shakespeare cultivates these boyish connections, she points out that the play’s first reference to Co- riolanus presents him as a child striving to please his mother (1.1.30–34) and that this same mother celebrates her son’s valor in her first on-stage appearance by referring to his childhood campaigns and the courage he displayed as a prepubescent child (1.3.5–15). Similarly, Eve Sanders finds it significant that Cominius’s speech before the Senate, which comprises “the first elaborate full-scale praise we hear of the hero on the battle- field” does not present Coriolanus as a fully grown man but rather as an adolescent boy (396). And Robin Headlam Wells usefully observes that these recurrent invitations to imagine Coriolanus as a youth are unique to Shakespeare. Though Plutarch mentions that Coriolanus first went to war as “a strippling,” he says next to nothing about the hero’s childhood (Plutarch 315). Shakespeare, on the other hand, invents a whole set of anecdotes and reminiscences about Coriolanus’s boyish adventures and youthful attributes (Wells 405–6). The point of all this seems clear: to draw attention to the life-stage that antedates adult manhood. Assuredly, R. B. Parker is correct when he claims that the term “boy” is “both the psychological and political heart of Coriolanus”.
Awaiting a size and strength that are still far off, young Martius is an image of present incapacity. Though the boy looks to the time when he will be a man, that vision—along with the virility it entails—belongs to the future. However, if the young boy who looks upon himself sees a future man, what does the present man see, when he looks upon the little boy? As is pervasively the case in poems and plays from the period, Coriolanus suggests that the man who looks upon his son sees himself. Boys are images, reflections, or copies of their fathers. As Volumnia says when presenting young Martius to Coriolanus outside Rome, “This is a poor epitome of yours, / Which by th’ interpretation of full time / May show like all yourself ” (5.3.67–69).6 Although Volumnia’s words defer complete correspondence between father and son into the future, young Martius already resembles his father to such a degree that he moves through the play more as a reiteration than a real character. His actions, attitudes, and aspects are all said to express—not his own character—but his father’s.
Thus it is that when young Martius angrily “mammocks” a gilded but- terfly, he is not said to have performed his own anger but is instead said to have expressed “One on’s father’s moods” (1.3.61–62). Re-enacting Coriolanus’s moods and propensities, young Martius reprises his father’s role in the rising generation. In so doing, the son is supposed to confer upon him father a measure of immortality, and Virgilia refers to this function when she reminds Coriolanus that she has “brought you forth this boy to keep your name / Living to time” (5.3.127–28). Nevertheless, Coriolanus does not appear to feel immortal or even empowered when he contemplates his “epitome.” Quite the contrary, young Martius seems to summon his father back to a state of immaturity, putting him in mind of his erstwhile impotence.
As Joo Young Dittmann remarks, warfare operates as “an insti- tutionalised site of maturation in which boys are constructed as men by learning to fulfil mandates of masculinity” (659). Thus it is that Volumnia tells of sending her tender son to the cruel wars and receiving not a boy but a man in return. Reflecting on his triumphant homecoming, Volumnia gushes, “I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man” (1.3.13–15). Cominius’s story is comparable. He remembers a sixteen-year-old boy who “drove / The bristled lips before him,” notwithstanding his own “Amazonian chin.” “In that day’s feats,” Cominius recalls, “When he might act the woman in the scene, / He proved best man i’th’ field” (2.2.87–88, 91–93). In his relation, Cominius gives us a feminized boy turning away from his “pupil age” to emerge “Man-entered” (2.2.94–95). In her relation, Volumnia gives us a comely youth casting aside his softness to pass over from “man- child” to “man.” For both, masculinity comes about as Coriolanus leaves womanliness behind by enacting the soldier’s role.
Even as characters insist upon talking about manliness as if it were an inherent quality or native essence, the action implies that it is a fabrication, manufactured militarily. Of course, nobody experiences this tension as acutely as Coriolanus. Though he desperately wants his manhood to be essential and inalienable, the play pervasively hints that it is an accretion or overlay, arousing the insecurities that are expressed in his antiperformativity.
The play does this, in part, by presenting the boy as a blank. Smooth- chinned and smooth-skinned, the boy still in its mother’s care is a mere placeholder for the future man. His space is a negative space, demarcated by what is not yet present (no beard, no reputation, no understanding, no ability). Accordingly, the cruel wars that make him a man do so by way of inscription. As the various accounts of Coriolanus’s entry into manhood make clear, he becomes a man by being charactered in combat. When Coriolanus returns from the wars “man-entered,” it is because his once- blank body now bears on and about it perceptible marks of masculinity: oaken garlands, noble titles, fresh wounds, unfeeling scars. Ostensibly, these superficial inscriptions are only tokens, externally representing a reality within, but the determinative value they acquire over the course of the play indicate that they are more than just symbols of manhood. They might be the thing itself.
This is the knowledge Coriolanus tries to disown in his antagonism to- ward the plebeians. In all of his dealings, Coriolanus endeavors to distance himself as much as possible from those he disdains as so many parts and “fragments” (1.1.212). As one officer remarks, Coriolanus seeks the peo- ple’s hate “with greater devotion than they can render it him, and leaves nothing undone that may fully discover him their opposite” (2.2.17–19). His hatred would seem to be heated by the fear that he, like the citizenry, is merely a sum of parts. By aggressively reducing the commoners to a single part—such as their mouths, their bellies, their voices, the breath, or their stink—and then inveighing against this fragmentariness as if it were a lower class condition to which he is immune, Coriolanus attempts to misrecognize that his own identity is also a pastiche. As Janet Adelman advises, Coriolanus uses the crowd to bolster his identity by “accus[ing] them of being exactly what he wishes not to be” (135). Nevertheless, the strategy is not altogether successful. Although Coriolanus aspires to be all-of-one-piece, the play suggests that his manhood does not surpass an unstable assemblage of parts. On diverse occasions and in diverse places, his masculinity is shown to reside in his sword, his beard, his titles, his wounds, his weapons, his scars.
Coriolanus’s wounds are a case in point. When Volumnia and Men- enius make an inventory of Coriolanus’s scars in 2.1, telling where and when each was received, they effectively assemble a man before our eyes, piecing him together bit by bit. And while these myriad wounds mark out Coriolanus as a man, they do so not by substantially altering the body of the boy but merely by covering it over. The manliness that ensues is only skin deep, the result of superficial “additions” and external impositions.” It is, in other words, primarily prosthetic—with the war wound serving as the prosthesis nonpareil.
These prostheses, however, are insufficient in themselves: they must be performed. The commoners refer to this condition when they describe Coriolanus’s wounds as mouths that can be made to speak, if they are offered up to an audience in self-dramatization and display. “[I]f he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds,” one citizen explains, “we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them” (2.3.5–7). In Plutarch’s account, Coriolanus straightforwardly complies with this requirement, “shew[ing] many woundes and cuttes apon his bodie, which he had receyved in seventeene yeres service at the warres” (332). However, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is unhistorically coy. He tells the plebeians, “I have wounds to show you which shall be yours in private,” but he refuses to give a public performance (2.3.70–71). The situation is strange, since Coriolanus says this while standing “naked” in the street, wearing nothing but the gown of humility (2.2.134). In his denuded state, Coriolanus’s wounds would seem to be available to all, especially since he bears twenty- seven of them about his body, including several “large cicatrices” on his neck, arms, and legs (2.1.132–42). Nevertheless, Coriolanus’s antitheatri- cal obstinacy effectively obscures them. As one commoner complains at the conclusion of the scene, “No, no; no man saw ’em” (2.3.154). Even though everyone strains to see them, and even though they would seem to be in plain sight, right there on the surface of the skin, Coriolanus’s refusal to theatricalize his wounds renders them invisible, as if they never existed.
In the marketplace, Coriolanus’s refusal to perform the prescribed role prevents the plebeians from participating in the construction of his heroic identity and, as such, can come across as an act of masculine self-determination. However, the antidramatic stance that is supposed to preserve the integrity of Coriolanus’s manhood ends up producing other results. In exile and elsewhere, Coriolanus’s unwillingness or inability to theatricalize his manhood puts him at the mercy of those with a flair for the dramatic, like Aufidius or Volumnia or Brutus and Sicinius. Attuned to the possibilities and subtleties of self-performance, these individuals invariably upstage him, as the tribunes do in the banishment scene, as Volumnia does in the parley outside Rome, and as Aufidius does at the close of the play. Indeed, the final scene has Aufidius stealing the spotlight from Coriolanus for once and for all by stripping him of the parts and roles that comprise his manhood. By calling his enemy “Caius Martius,” “traitor,” and “boy,” Aufidius goes beneath or places under erasure the hard-won inscriptions of “Coriolanus,” “hero,” and “man” that have over-written these earlier terms. Performing in such a way as to peel away the accumulated layers of his rival’s manhood, Aufidius reduces Coriolanus to his base layer: the incapable, uncomprehending boy.
So while Coriolanus is on one side of the stage, endeavoring to “stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin” (5.3.35–37), Volumnia is on the other, assert- ing their indissoluble bond. “There’s no man in the world / More bound to’s mother,” she says (5.3.159–60). Even as she is staking her claim on her son, however, Volumnia is holding her grandson by the hand, using the boy to both establish and assert the maternal attachment of which she speaks. And Coriolanus appears to get the message. Referring to his mother as “the honoured mould, / Wherein this trunk was framed,” Coriolanus notes that she holds “in her hand / The grandchild to her blood” (5.3.22–24). Her dominance is distressing, and Coriolanus tries to liberate his young son/surrogate from this stifling union by suggesting that Martius will someday prove “unvulnerable” and will “stick i’th’ wars / Like a great sea-mark standing every flaw” (5.3.73–74). Yet this imag- ined future is too far off to do any good. The boy’s present plight clearly corroborates Volumnia’s claim: that Coriolanus was once a simple child himself, led by the hand of his plenipotent mother. Confronted with his son’s subjection, Coriolanus cannot sustain his posture of self-sufficiency. Moving over to his mother, he places his hand in hers and stands silently at her side—just like young Martius. The mighty man has once more become a boy.
Young Martius appears to cause his father to “recoil”: recoiling back in time, to remember when he was only an incapable boy, and recoiling in surprise, to realize that the incapable boy is still there, beneath all the masculine titles and tokens.
By making this masculine crisis the most immediate context for Coriolanus’s words and deeds, the tragedy ties his antitheatrical outlook to a gynophobic worldview wherein men are highly esteemed but highly susceptible, always at risk of regressing to an original state of effeminacy and impotence. Interestingly enough, this sexist sensibility is partially legitimized by the drama’s portrayal of gender, identity, and performance. As staged in this play, masculinity is so fragile and play-acting so powerful that even a warrior as peerless as Caius Martius Coriolanus can be unmanned by a bit of theater. But if the stageplay endorses the idea that theatricality can effeminate men, it does much to discredit the more basic belief that authentic manhood is un- or antitheatrical. In spite of his best efforts, Coriolanus cannot escape the world of performance. Shakespeare’s hero must play the man he is, whether he wants to or not. Over and against his antitheatrical premise that play-acting and masculinity are antithetical, Coriolanus indicates that its hero’s manliness is itself a theatrical effect.
Yet even as the drama confirms that theater can make men effeminate, it blunts the force of this accusation by insinuating that the “unmanly” is not without virtue. It does this most intriguingly in the final act, when Coriolanus encounters an unmarried woman and responds rather unex- pectedly to her. Coriolanus, it will be remembered, disparages the virgin in 3.2 as a thing of weakness and little worth: he refuses to dissemble lest he become like her. But when Coriolanus actually encounters a virgin in 5.3, he pauses and regales her with praise. When we reflect on this reversal or reappraisal, we can see how the tragedy twists antitheatrical ideology about on its antifeminist axis. Though Coriolanus’s commit- ments once caused him to consider the virgin his opposite, he ends up relating to her as if she were a kindred spirit, another adherent to his antidramatic ideals of authenticity and integrity. Cutting against and through his gynophobic expectations, the otherwise-gratuitous figure of the virgin excites Coriolanus’s admiration and stirs something in his soul. As such, she stands in contrast to the boy.
Valeria, a woman so unrelated to Coriolanus that his mother is unsure he even knows who she is. As it turns out, Coriolanus not only recognizes Valeria but goes on to greet her in a most uncharacteristic manner:
VOLUMNIA. Do you know this lady?
CORIOLANUS. The noble sister of Publicola, The moon of Rome, chaste as the icicle That’s candied by the frost from purest snow And hangs on Dian’s temple—dear Valeria! (5.3.63–67)
It is unusual for Coriolanus to speak so lyrically or so approvingly, and his effusiveness is doubly arresting in that it affords the virgin a very dif- ferent value than she bore in the outburst against dissimulation in 3.2. To puzzle through the reasons for this reversal, it is useful to ponder the significance of the virgin, contrasting her meaning with that of the boy.
Both the classical past and the early modern present are of interest here, as each constitutes an important context for the character of Valeria. With regard to ancient Rome, Valeria’s portrayal would seem to glance (among other things) at the Vestal virgins: women whose sexual purity set them apart, endowing them with special status and affording them exceptional agency. Upon becoming a Vestal virgin, a maid would undergo a ceremony officially severing her kinship relations, allowing her to inhabit the autonomous position that Coriolanus only affects. Once installed in her office, the Vestal was granted privileges unavailable to other women, such as the services of a lictor, the ability to give evidence in court, and the power to bequeath property in her own person. These privileges were directly connected to her virginity, as the Vestal’s sexual abstinence was seen as ensuring the integrity of the entire society. This Roman veneration of virginity acquired new life in England when Elizabeth I took the throne. As has been well- documented, Elizabeth’s savvy and sustained deployment of classical and Christian discourses of virginity afforded her uncommon prestige, autonomy, and power.
As a number of scholars have shown, virginity’s meaning in the early modern period extended well beyond the office and body of the queen, coming to signify radical independence and self-sufficiency in a number of different contexts. Such are the contexts and connections that Shakespeare puts into play when he has Coriolanus pause to praise Valeria, implicitly pitting her integrity and autonomy against the disturbing dependency of the boy by her side."
"There are endless instances of crimes against art with as broad a stroke as theft, damage and intellectual property infringements. Rarer discussions surround works of art that have been used to inspire crime. Dr Hannibal Lecter is one such individual who uses art to inform murder.
It was the medical illustration known as [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] that was Hannibal Lecter’s undoing. Wound Man appeared in late medieval anatomy texts as a chart or encyclopaedic diagram of all the injuries a body may sustain. He then evolved into printed form until the seventeenth century before arriving centuries later in popular fiction. He likewise appears in facsimile versions in the University Library collections. He is a sort of ubiquitous figure experiencing all the blights of humanity. He exhibits such a prescriptive pattern of wounds and ailments as to be recognisable to detective Graham when he sees them replicated on Dr Lecter’s former patient and victim.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] Wound Man from Hans von Gersdorff Feldbuch der Wundarzney
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (Venice, 1495)
Depictions of Wound Man do differ through texts and centuries, and medieval versions for example, show bite wounds from a dog, snake and insects whereas the Renaissance Wound Man exhibits injuries more reflective of the results of war. He has been pierced by arrows, slashed by blades and bludgeoned with clubs. A woodcut version for the battle surgeon which appears in Hans von Gersdorff’s Feldbuch der Wundarzney (Field book of surgery) in 1517 incorporates a new technological advance as his bones are smashed by cannon balls; the use of the cannon in warfare developed in sixteenth century Europe. A Wound Man of the 21st century may well exhibit smartphone related injuries.
Wound Man may himself have been based on the traditional portrayals of St Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who is customarily depicted in art fatally wounded by arrows. The Baillieu Library Print Collection contains images of the legend by Albrecht Dürer seen by the engraving St Sebastian at the Column (c.1501). [Cynthia Marshall, Wound-man: Coriolanus, gender, and the theatrical construction of interiority]
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian at the Column, (c.1501)
Hannibal Lecter’s knowledge of art and culture is extensive and it is one of the chief motivations of his character. His murders are executed with a distinct sinister emphasis on taste and artistry."
"In Shakespeare's works, the assaults on the body and the marks they leave in the flesh constitute a complex form of language. The shape of the wound, its seriousness, its position on the body, the situation in which it was inflicted, the terms and metaphors used to describe it: all these elements contribute to its semantic load. The key, or the code, to this language is to be found in the culture which Shakespeare shared with his first audiences. Among other elements, this shared culture includes religious and secular imagery, medical practices and artistic conventions."
"Coriolanus is defined by his ability to bleed for his country, but he refuses to share a view of his vulnerable body in exchange for a political vote. Because Coriolanus is incapable of making the connection between wounds and words: between the somatic and the metaphysical, he cannot relate to the citizens of Rome at a humane level either. Because Coriolanus honours his own truth, and nothing but his own truth, his own words lead to his downfall, making him a truly tragic hero.
The play repeatedly links the act of speaking to woundedness, and refers to exchanging wounds for voices, or for words: “Your voices! For your voices I have fought; / Watched for your voices; for your voices bear / Of wounds two dozen odd” (2.3 136-137). Since the exchange of one word or concept for something else implies metaphoric content, this leads one to expect, and even to search for, another meaning than physical woundedness, where in fact there might be none… because Coriolanus himself does not attach any metaphoric meaning to his own woundedness...
By rejecting praise, Coriolanus not only personifies his wounds, but also directly links his wounds to the act of speaking. When Coriolanus states, “I have some wounds upon me and they smart to hear themselves remembered” (1.9.32-33), it is as if his wounds cringe when they are talked about, and so become persons who are ashamed to hear the little they have done praised as something tremendous. The word ‘wound’ in this short phrase is not a metaphor, but it is involved in two other words that are: ‘smart’ and ‘hear’. ‘Smart’ is an indirect metaphor that compares the emotional pain of being talked about with the physical pain of receiving a wound. The resulting personification turns Coriolanus’ wounds into separate entities that almost seem to exist apart from Coriolanus; placed as they are, on the periphery of his skin. His wounds become active agencies that can hear, remember, and even feel pain. This first occurrence of the word ‘wound’ in the play immediately makes clear that to have others talk and give meaning to wounds is far worse to Coriolanus than actual physical pain.
When Coriolanus speaks so disdainfully of his wounds, his comrades warn him of the dangers of false pride. In fact, Coriolanus’ achievements are far from little; he has just conquered a whole town singlehandedly. Nevertheless, his comrades say, it is just as well that his wounds smart when they are remembered in praise, “should they not, / well might they fester ‘gainst ingratitude / and tent themselves with death” (1.9.34-36). Coriolanus’ comrades tell him that it is crucial to acknowledge his own wounds, and it is paramount that he acknowledges the validity of the praise he receives for them. Not only is this necessary in order for wounds to heal, but it is vital in order to prevent death. The acknowledgment of woundedness is compared to ‘tenting’, that is: probing wounds with “a roll, usually of soft absorbent material, often medicated, . . . formerly much used to search and cleanse a wound, or to keep open or distend a wound, sore, or natural orifice”(OED). The verb ‘to tent’ derives from the even older meaning for the noun: that of a probe. In Coriolanus’ refusal to tent his wounds, we recognize his objection to probe his wounds for other meanings than the merely physical. Coriolanus’ brothers in arms are speaking metaphorically, of course, but Coriolanus, refuses to attach metaphoric meaning to his own woundedness. Since he is incapable of seeing his wounds as belonging to a non-physical domain, he, therefore, fails to heed the warning of his friends “not to become the grave of [his own] deserving” (1.9.24).
In fact, to probe his wounds for meanings other than those he himself attaches to his woundedness would mean a change of identity for Coriolanus. To perceive of wounds as points of entry of an enemy’s sword, as signs of disfigurement or as breaches to the territory of his skin, would mean that Coriolanus has to perceive himself as someone who can be entered, disfigured or even breached. Coriolanus is incapable of doing this; wounds would literally become breaches in his identity of invincible warrior if he could.
When Coriolanus talks lightly, and even derogatively, of his wounds and his pain, by calling them “scratches with briars, / Scars to move laughter only” (3.3.68-69), he seems to agree with Seneca’s adage that “it is our Stoic fashion to speak of all those things, which provoke cries and groans, as unimportant and beneath notice” (XIII). Yet, Coriolanus lacks an important characteristic to be truly considered the stoic for whom, “ultimately, pain is only a bodily matter, and therefore distracts from the mental constancy to which the Stoic aspires [and for whom] physical sensations . . . ultimately possess no reality since genuine experience takes place in an exclusively mental realm” (van Dijkhuizen 221). Coriolanus seems to personify rather the opposite; when at war, he operates in an almost exclusively physical realm, and he seems singularly lacking in the element of rational thought. Coriolanus is no stoic, and he knows it. It is why he tells his mother, “tell me not / wherein I seem unnatural; desire not / t’allay my rages and revenges with/ Your colder reasons” (5.3.96-99).
Actually, Coriolanus shows far more affinity to a warrior who requires rage as an element of his war make up. Kristine Steenbergh in ‘Green Wounds: Pain, Anger and Revenge in early modern Culture’, refers to a “martial kind of anger [that] is not represented as a painful experience, but as a force that leads the warrior to ignore his pain to reach the higher goal of glory” (185). She cites a passage from Sydney’s Arcadia as example: They bleeding so abundantly, that everybody that saw them fainted for them; and yet they fainted not in themselves: their smart being more sensible to other’s eyes than to their own feeling” (Qtd in Steenbergh 185).
They perceive wounds as marks of valour that, almost like war medals22, define Coriolanus as a warrior, and a strong hero. For Corolanus, the true meaning of his scars lies in their representation of valour. They are literal marks inscribed in his flesh that identify him as warrior. They are not suited as materials to barter with the citizens in an exchange in the market place, “as if I had received them for the hire / Of their breath only” (2.2.147- 150). To have to show his wounds thus would change Coriolanus into a salesman; his wounds would become “marketing symbols”. “The charge Coriolanus makes here is that showing the scars would be an act of falsification” (399)."
"Janet Adelman finds Volumnia's attitude towards feeding "mostdisturbing" (1992: 148 ) in these lines of Coriolanus: "The breaste of Hecuba, / When she did suckle Héctor, looked not loveüer / Than Hector's forehead when it spit forth blood / At Grecian sword contemning" (I.iii.35-38), because "he is transformed immediately from infantile feeding mouth to bleeding wound" (1992: 148 ). The critic proceeds to explain that, as the child's mouth acts as the solé link between breast and wound, "to feed is to be wounded; the mouth becomes the wound, the breast the sword" (1992: 149). She interprete that metaphor as a psychological íact: our being fed symboüses our dependence on the world, and, therefore, the fact that we are vulnerable. But she still goes a step ñirther in her interpretation:
... as Volumnia's image suggests the vulnerability inherent in feeding, it also suggests a way to fend off that vulnerability. In her image, feeding, incorporating, is transformed into spitting out, an aggressive expelling [...]. The wound spitting blood thus becomes not a sign of vulnerability but an instrumentof attack. (1992: 149)
Volumnia's attitude towards food is going to influence and bias her son's behaviour, to the extent that "in the transformation from oral neediness to phallic aggression, anger becomes bis meat as well as his mother's" (1992: 150)5. And, accordingly, she is furious when she finds out that,filledwith rage against those who had betrayed him, he has joined the enemy to attack Rome. If we interpret 'fighting' as a substitute for 'feeding', "and the unsatisfied ravenous attack of the infant on the breast provides the motive forcé for warfare", we can "understand the ease with which Coriolanus turas his rage toward his own feeding mother, Rome" (1992: 150), since the city deprives him of the only nourishment she can grant him: the victory in the elections, and therefore, the powerful position of cónsul.
The cannibalistic mother who denies food and yet feeds on the victories of her sweet son stands at the darkest center of the play, where Coriolanus's oral vulnerability is fully defined. Here, talion law reigns: the feeding infant himself will be devoured; the loving mother becomes the devourer. (1992: 158)
...who shares characteristics both with and 'new mother' (the 'love' model) of the Renaissance —due to her superior moral nature, natural virtues, and decisive role in the bringing up of her son—, and with the staunch Román matron (the 'justice' model), who would sacrifice everything for her loyalty to Rome, even at the risk of breaking her own heart."
"“He did it to please his mother”: Self and Historical Abnegation in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus Shakespeare’s Coriolanus suggests that in order for history to perform its work, heroic or exemplary individuals must be absorbed into a narrative that is greater than themselves, into the story of the people on whose behalf they act. Caius Martius, however, rejects the role that history would make for him. He wants neither his name nor his wounds to be common property, to be symbolically transferred from his body to the body of the state. Rejecting the metaphor of the body politic trumpeted by Menenius, he chooses to restrict the legibility of his person to the private domain dominated by his mother, thereby rejecting the public body of the historical person publicly dubbed “Coriolanus.” What Martius is stubborn to acknowledge is that the “deeds” for which he is celebrated have no meaning outside the Roman public that sanctions them, delineates their normative value, and rewards them with the name that fixes his achievement within time, place, and language. To give them a public significance, he fears, is also to make their significance contestable. Thinking them mute facts that speak to no one, Martius resists their reduction to language. Preferring to be the authored product of his mother’s private inscription rather than the ideological token of public memory, he is loathe to make any part of himself available to the public’s divergent opinions. The tragic irony of Martius’s situation is that the history he wants unwritten is itself the subject of a history play written long since his historical fate had been determined. The historical material he violently refuses to become thus violently makes material out of him. What Shakespeare ultimately depicts in Coriolanus is history’s subjection of private lives to public mediation and the impossibility of escaping either the multitude or their multitudes of historical interpretations.
Shakespeare may have associated Coriolanus’s destructive self-enclosure, which excludes food and community as the loci of mingled life, more specifically with the agro-economic tragedy then called enclosure. Menenius’s belly-fable implies, and the rest of the play uneasily explores, a continuity between communities of bread and communities of blood. The protagonist refuses to be implicated in “the appetite and affection common / Of the whole body,” and the word “common” appears more often here than in any of Shakespeare’s other works. It is the unnamed antagonist of the plot, and a cause of all the debates.
In “Who does the wolf love?” Stanley Cavell suggests that Shakespeare may have written Coriolanus, in part, in competition with Sidney’s Defence of Poesy, purposefully retelling the story of Menenius’s use of the Fable of Belly in a way that destabilizes some of Sidney’s claims about poetry (and drama). Cavell also suggests the idea of seeing Coriolanus as Shakespeare’s own “defense of poetry (more particularly of plays)” and, more broadly, of writing. However, seeing Coriolanus as an attempt to argue for the role and value of language within a civil state offers distinct challenges. The role of orators as civilizers and language as the key civilizing element, nearly commonplace notions in the early modern period, are questioned sharply as socially-shaping language becomes deflated and blurred with flattery, sophism, and markers of class difference. Volumnia’s instruction to Coriolanus to “perform a part” before the plebeians speaks to the central issues of drama within this work, but is also complicated by Coriolanus’s repeated rejection of many aspects of language as he engages in asymmetric language use while seeking for honor in deeds rather than words, trying to separate himself from society even as he looks to others, like Aufidius, as models in defining himself."
"With the news of the war, comes the possibility of getting rid of people now redefined as precisely the mouldy corn, the ‘musty chaff’ which, at the other end of the play, Cominius will report Coriolanus describing the population of Rome as being (v.i.26), as if the equivalence of people and corn were a recurrent motif in his discourse. We can hear a tension in Caius Martius’ phrase between ‘means’ and ‘superfluity’, the former not only a sign of resource and possibility but also of ‘the mean’, the desired parameters of adequacies against which the superfluity functions: eliminate the superfluous (people, corn) and what remains is within the mean, defines itself as mean, not now mean as meagre but as appropriately sufficient, the size of population that, on the one hand, Rome can profitably feed and that on the other it can control. If ‘musty’ is the sign of the uselessness of the corn/people, for mouldy corn is precisely the substandard produce that one would rather eliminate, dispose of, waste for its excess to use, its wasteful uselessness, ideally by selling (venting in that sense current for Shakespeare) and leave to others to decide how or whether to consume, then ‘musty’ is also a space of the citizen desire that Caius Martius rejects: these people are the ones who voice what they must have, they are must-y in that sense, not a sense the OED identifies as current in early modern speech but which we can reasonably choose to find hovering behind the word. The superfluous to the organization of the state are those who voice a will, speak what they must have (here, food) and who refuse their silence (in a play whose action will depend on a silent act, Shakespeare’s only stage-direction for silence, ‘He holds her by the hand silent’).
I also want to note another oddity in the framing of the name, for if Burke, Cavell and Goldberg are right to be fascinated by the anality of Coriolanus’s ending, I am surprised that they never explore the heart of his name in the ‘Cor’ that opens it, a name framed by heart and sphincter, a name which, in its opening at its core, astonishingly appears to share this foregrounding of its heart in Shakespeare’s works uniquely with, of all people, Cordelia – and of course Lear is close in time to Coriolanus.
As Goldberg recognizes, in Menenius’ fable of the belly, what is left after the patricians’ supposedly generous distribution of everything that is good and nourishing and useful is ‘bran’, the waste that is the unusable excess in the economies of the production of corn: ‘the belly’, he writes, ‘assumes the position of the anus, receiving what is normally expelled; a closed economy is imagined in which waste is consumed’.6 In this vision of a hyper-efficient system there is no waste to be disposed of, no excess to the consumption, no outside to which the waste is turned for a different kind of recycling that has so fascinated Shakespeare in for example the progress of Alexander in Hamlet. There is no need here for the services of waste management, of sewerage, of the ways in which the modern state deals with its forms of socially wasteful excess, the moment at which goods become only and irrevocably garbage, land-fill rather than city-fill; indeed, the sense of the belly as ‘the sink o’th’body’ might now, in a presentist methodology, lead us to ‘sink estates’, those urban sites of the disposal of socially useless individuals, a semi-expulsion.
The problem of pre-fractional mathematics, when, you will recall, what cannot be neatly divided becomes remainder – as a two-part structure in five acts creates the maths problem that two goes into five with the answer two, remainder one – is then exactly the point. This is the play of remainders, of the excess that has to be trimmed, of what is left over when divisions are made, of the social difficulties of superfluity and inequitable division, of the class and wealth basis structured into Roman society that leaves most people as the remainder, that ‘musty chaff’ that Coriolanus sees the population of Rome being.
But this is also and crucially a play that is fascinated by what remains, by the consequence of excess as waste, of what cannot be expelled, evacuated, vomited from the body politic and removed as superfluity. Quite unexpectedly, I find that Coriolanus turns out to share with Cymbeline by far the highest frequency of occurrence of the word ‘remain’ and its cognates, fourteen in Coriolanus and fifteen in Cymbeline, with no other play reaching double figures. The word suggests two senses in Coriolanus, a stasis and a sequence, senses that parallel the tension in the concept of excess. Coriolanus has come, for me, to be the great play of the closure of the city and the body, of the limits of containment and the meaning of the body/city’s procedures with waste, its paralleling evacuations and expulsions. No wonder it was a play that so fascinated Brecht. No wonder its taut politics have been so potent here in France, perhaps even more often than in England. In the exiguous processes of its action, the dramatics of excess are perfectly revealed."
"Every time the Citizens raise their voices, Shakespeare reveals how they have copied their outcries from others and it is this he presents as the true danger to Rome. Although it would be unfair to blame Coriolanus’ banishment completely on the Citizens, they carry a large part of the responsibility for the state in which Rome finds itself. In a modern world where people are becoming more and more vocal thanks to social media, it is interesting to see how many parallels can be drawn between them and Shakespeare’s Citizens."
"Is Coriolanus too stubborn, childish, stupid? Or is he too honest, noble, even ‘too noble for the world’ (III.1.257)? Does Coriolanus fail to negotiate with the people in a respectful manner to win their rightful votes; or is he too honest to ingratiate himself by false flattery with those who do not know their place? Characters in the play, however divided in their political allegiances, agree on one thing. Whether they regard him as noble, stupid or arrogant, all find him, as his mother Volumnia puts it, ‘too absolute’ (III.2.40). It is, indeed, in terms of this absolutism, this obstinacy and determination that both claims for his nobility and stupidity are put forward – and both assessments of Coriolanus come with imagery that positions him as obstinate beyond the limits of the human.
In this context, Jacques Derrida’s treatment of bêtise as stubborn stupidity in The Beast and the Sovereign opens up ways to explore how the theme of obstinacy in Coriolanus is relevant to human politics and a politics of the human. Where Coriolanus’ obstinacy is presented as virtuous, it is first of all as the determination of a soldier. ‘I am constant’, he declares when commander-in-chief Cominius asks him to honour his promise to join him at war (I.1.223).
When Coriolanus is assumed dead after fighting an army on his own, his general Titus Lartius has the following to say about him:
"O noble fellow! Who sensibly outdares his senseless sword And, when it bows, stand’st up. Thou art lost, Martius. A Carbuncle entire, as big as thou art, Were not so rich a jewel. Thou wast a soldier Even to Cato’s wish, not fierce and terrible Only in strokes, but with thy grim looks and The thunder-like percussion of thy sounds Thou mad’st thine enemies shake, as if the world Were feverous and did tremble." (I.4.56–65)
Thus, Coriolanus: a sentient being more resilient than the dead metal of his sword; more valuable than, somewhat grotesquely, a red-glowing, man-sized precious stone; with effects on earth and sky normally reserved for the gods. Later on in the play, Menenius imagines Coriolanus to ‘move like an engine’, ‘pierce a corslet with his eye’ and ‘talk like a knell’ (V.4.15–17). Throughout, Coriolanus seems to know no fear, hunger, tiredness or greed (cf. esp. Cominius’ formal speech of praise [II.2.76–116, and 118–23]).
God and thing meet in the living machine. It is no far stretch of the imagination from Lartius’ description to classic sci-fi cyborgs: Jonathan Sawday sees ‘the fantasy, or the nightmare of the cyborg’ foreshadowed in Coriolanus as machine that turns against its mak- ers, prominently his mother Volumnia, who raised him for war (Sawday, 2007, p. 163). There is much in the development of the tragedy that invites this link; but Coriolanus can be read as cyborg even before he becomes a threat to Rome, in images of what Lee Bliss in her commentary calls ‘a dehumanised, godlike yet strangely mechanical warrior’ (II.1.131–2, n.). Coriolanus is larger-than-life, yet embodied mechanicity. Many a stage production has put great emphasis on Coriolanus’ martial gear, but what makes Coriolanus an out-of-this-world war machine that strikes ‘Corioles like a planet’ (II.2.108 ) is no technical add-on. Instead, it is the mechanical tenacity of his actions. Coriolanus decides the outcome of whole wars, not so much as a leader, but in his own unstoppable and precisely repeated movements of destruction, ‘a thing of blood, whose every motion / Was timed with dying cries’ (2.2.108 and 103–4). That an encounter with Coriolanus on the battlefield means certain death is an assertion repeated with persistent regularity, as earlier in the same act, ‘Death, that dark spirit, in ’s nervy arm doth lie / Which, being advanced, declines, and then men die’ (II.1.133–4). The final four heavy stresses of this line, R. B. Parker suggests, lend inevitability (Shakespeare, 1994), they also help to make this grim reaper appear as ridiculous as chilling. The thing of blood, the absurd disembodied arm of death, in their invariable timing, make of Coriolanus not a thinking fighter but an automaton.
Noble, valued, superhuman; but also, a dead thing, a machine, and consequently, a thing put to work by others for something other than himself. ‘Framed’ a warrior by Volumnia (V.2.62–3), ‘bred in the wars’ by the Roman military system (III.1.325), more than once he appears programmed, beyond human fallibility but also beyond the capacity for decision making. In the repetitive action of his work he is not unlike the plebeians he so despises and dismisses as ‘the mechanics of Rome’ towards the end of the play (V.3.83). Volumnia makes this clear when, in spite of her class snobbery elsewhere, she shifts emphasis in her grim reaper reference towards employment and dependency. Coriolanus’ existence is justified by his task with the same urgent necessity as that of an agricultural labourer, a hired hand:
His bloody brow With his mailed hand then wiping, forth he goes, Like to a harvestman that’s tasked to mow Or all or loose his hire. (I.3.29–32)
Coriolanus’ tenacity as a warrior machine is marked as extraordinary, even as superhuman mechanicity; meanwhile, ordinary bodies and machines increasingly go together in early modern England.
Significantly, about forty years after Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, bodies and machines are thought in terms of each other in a different sort of cyborg:4 Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. When Hobbes asks: ‘For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer?’ he links bodies to machines as ‘artificial animals’ in order to set up an analogy between the divine and human artificers. Then, the text moves on swiftly to declare the greatest achievement of human art – where it imitates God’s greatest work, man himself:
"For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH or STATE (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul as giving life and motion to the whole body." (Hobbes, 1997, p. 9)
Hobbes goes on to list, among other functions, penal law as the nerves of the state via ‘reward and punishment’ and the founding ‘pacts and covenants’ as the God-like, yet human, force at the origin which assembles the state body (p. 9). In his treatment of this passage in The Beast and the Sovereign, Jacques Derrida writes of Hobbes’s state as a ‘robot’, ‘like a gigantic prosthesis designed to amplify, by objectifying it outside natural man ... the power of the living, the living man that it protects, that it serves, but like a dead machine, or even a machine of death’ (Derrida, 2009, p. 28 ). A sort of virtual cyborg state then, which doubles and expands the figure of ‘natural’ man by the artificial addition of laws and institutions that protect human life, if ultimately only by the threat of death that they exert both inside and outside the state body; but also a cyborg body made up by the mass of people held together in their rigidly regulated interactions. There is much here of the traditional image of the state as body politic, as an extension of the king’s two bodies, but with the crucial difference that in Hobbes’s version of a quasi-secular state monster, ‘the matter thereof, and the artificer; both ... is man’ (Hobbes, 1997, p. 10).
Hobbes’s Leviathan asserts mechanical functions for human body and human community, and thus admits a certain continuity of humans and other animals with mechanical objects. Yet, the state machine also marks the limit of the human, the break with the rest of god’s creation: made of men by men, it is manifestation and proof of men’s reason, for it is based on their ability to make ‘pacts and covenants’ (p. 9), the laws and contracts that form the state skeleton; an ability, as Hobbes indicates later on in the Leviathan, which excludes animals as much as it excludes God (cf. chapter 16, ‘Of the first and second Naturall Laws, and of Contracts’ [p. 77]; cf. also Derrida’s discussion [Derrida, 2009, pp. 54–5]). Thus the man-made, prosthetic state machine becomes what proves the human human.5 In this sense, Hobbes’s Leviathan is in line with Bernard Stiegler’s assertion in Technics and Time that ‘prosthesis is not a mere extension of the human body; it is the constitution of this body qua “human”’ (Stiegler, 1998, pp. 152–3). In Hobbes, this emphasis on the artificial as what is politically and discursively human is deployed to stabilize: thinking of the state as a machine in the image of man helps Hobbes to assert political man as self-made, and thus as removed from direct divine intervention. By preserving the old figure of the body politic,6 Hobbes also lends his Leviathan a certain organic immutability. As Derrida notes, Hobbes’s Leviathan is ‘vitalist, organicist, finalist and mechanicist’; it both claims for political man the independence of being ‘producer and product of his own art’ and at the same time proclaims the shape of the state that it lays out as unquestionably natural (Derrida, 2009, pp. 28, 27).
The figure of the body holds this machine together; it allows Hobbes’s Leviathan, like it has allowed writing for the political status quo for centuries before him, to demand of the ‘members’ of the body politic that they perform their designated function, and accept sovereign power and the state as a whole as indivisible.7 For if civil war, according to Hobbes, is the death of the body politic by division (Hobbes, 1997, p. 9), then the only way to keep it alive, and to preserve peace, is to preserve the powers that be. But, as Derrida points out:
"[I]f sovereignty, as artificial animal, as prosthetic monstrosity, as Leviathan, is an artifact, if it is not natural, it is deconstructible, it is historical; and as historical, subject to infinite transformation, it is at once precarious, mortal, and perfectible." (Derrida, 2009, p. 27)
In other words, the cyborg state can never be as sure of its shape as Hobbes makes out; political representation, once it divests itself even partially of divine infallibility, will find it increasingly difficult to claim a unified and static form. If what makes this cyborg is a self-proclaimed artificiality of human life, it cannot help inviting mutation; if man makes himself human, then the human is never fixed – which is precisely what would make it monstrous.
What, then, about cyborg Coriolanus and the body politic? The Roman state in the play shares much of Hobbes’s Leviathan’s anthro- pomorphic physiognomy; it is also contractual, not god-given, with its functions under debate from the very start. one distinctive difference is that, unlike Hobbes’s Leviathan, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Roman state draws attention to its continued malleability. But whatever shape the state, Coriolanus himself – Rome’s prime war horse, the steed to which, Lartius declares, the rest of the army is mere decorative cover (I.9.13) – fails to take his specified place as a member of the body politic once off the battlefield. Practically invincible enemy, obedient tool of Rome at war and poten- tial holder of high office and power, he is unable to integrate into the politics of the state body at peace. This is the Coriolanus of Act III who, returning the successful war hero, he fails to ask the people of Rome for their votes in a sufficiently humble fashion, and refuses the customary ritual of displaying his war wounds. He is unwilling to accept that there should be any interdependency between him and the populus, given that he fashioned his victory against the enemy, as is stressed throughout the play, ‘alone’. He is even less willing to feign humility where he sees no cause for it. Arthur Riss, in the historical context of controversial land enclosures, reads Coriolanus’ refusal to parade his wounds as a (nascent capitalist) privatization and individualization of a body that ‘the dominant ideology demands be available for public use’ (Riss, 1992, p. 55). Readings of this kind make Coriolanus the prototype for a modern character, and for modern man, in a liberal humanist sense: self-aware and self-determined.
As fickle as he is stubborn, where Coriolanus does agree, for the time being, to play the customary part, he perceives the violation against his personhood in the strongest possible terms: ‘I will not do’t, / Lest I surcrease to honour mine own truth / And by my body’s action teach my mind / A most inherent baseness’ (III.2.121–4). His stubbornness here would not be that of the unthinking and relentless war machine but that of a rational mind that sees its integrity threatened by the mechanical action of an alien protocol forced upon his body. Coriolanus, accordingly, steps outside the body politic and its laws to be, and to protect, his own self: not an absolute, divine force of war, but absolutely self-determined, if only for the moment, and thus the little god that passes as liberal humanist man in the making.
Strangely, of all the characters in the play the representatives of the people get closest to supporting this image of Coriolanus. To them, it is precisely his excessive demand for self-determination that makes him ‘a very dog to the communality’ and a ‘viper’ who, given the chance, would ‘depopulate the city and / be every man himself’ (I.1.21, and III.1.265–7). According to Sicinius’ portrayal, Coriolanus’ narcissist misjudgement of his own position would threaten to destroy, even consume, the body politic altogether. If the tribunes picture Coriolanus as less than human, the logic of their rejection depends on his claim to be more than human: in this Rome, humanity means to function as part of the political whole.
Menenius sees his obstinacy not as pride but as unstoppable honesty: His nature is too noble for the world. He would not flatter Neptune for his trident Or Jove for’s power of thunder. His heart’s his mouth. What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent, And, being angry, does forget that ever He heard the name of death. (III.1.257–62)
This is double-edged praise, and in line with earlier descriptions of Coriolanus’ robotic service at war: noble and honest with an otherworldly relentlessness, Coriolanus appears to have little choice. He must speak his mind regardless of all other considerations, here including his own safety as well as that of his family and friends. Being too noble for the world makes him, yet again, god and thing at the same time: it places him beyond the ability to reason, to calculate, to make decisions. Not only is he ‘ill-schooled / in bolted language’ (III.1.340); the rage-crazed Coriolanus of the marketplace seems lost to the bolts of culture, to the technology of communication. There has been much comment on the logical and grammatical incoherence of Coriolanus’ angry speeches;8 elsewhere, Coriolanus is not only unable to speak properly, but also stubbornly refuses to be the object of discourse, to ‘hear his nothings monstered’ (II.2.71).
In Menenius’ image of Coriolanus above, he does not refuse, he lacks articulation altogether. While Menenius credits what he describes as a missing distance between heart and mouth, between self and self-expression as noble in a way that would not seem out of place in eighteenth-century romanticism, his ‘too noble’ also hints at the catastrophic implications for Coriolanus’ place in the body politic. Lacking articulation means lacking human art: the assumed rational ability to distinguish between interior thought and exterior display, the participation in language as construct and, perhaps most importantly here, the jointed art of politics. Which, at least in Hobbes’s Leviathan, as the making of and abiding by contracts and laws, is the artificial extension of the human body that not only makes and secures the state but also proves reason and thus makes the human in the first place.
That Coriolanus should be too stubborn to remember his own mortality is particularly significant here as, according to Hobbes, the political community is based on the shared fear of death (cf. Leviathan, ch. 27 ‘Of Crimes, Excuses and Extenuations’ [Hobbes, 1997, pp. 146–55]).
Coriolanus seems to have no human time-keeping, no understanding of death as a limiting factor, no being-towards-death in Martin Heidegger’s sense as that which defines human existence. He just, stubbornly, lives. And thus he would also be absolutely, obstinately closed off against the human community, having neither Hobbesian fear to drive him into becoming an obedient part of the body politic, nor memory as the prerequisite to participation in law and language as the prosthetics of the state: Coriolanus as god, or thing, or both – but not as a human subject.
He cannot be a political leader because he cannot be political. He cannot be part of the body politic because he resists its mechanics, and is thus, according to Sicinius, ‘a disease that must be cut away’ or else cause the death of all (III.1.300). He ends up outside the city walls, in a sense that is perhaps not too far away from the famous passage close to the beginning of Aristotle’s Politics:
"Hence it is evident that the state [polis] is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘tribeless, lawless, hearthless one’, whom Homer denounces – the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to an unprotected piece in a game of draughts." (Aristotle, 1926, p. 28 )
Thus it would not be the people of Rome, as ‘the beast with many heads’ that ‘butts’ Coriolanus away but his own lacking humanity (IV.1.1–2). Bertolt Brecht suggests that ‘[Coriolanus’] switch from being the most Roman of the Romans to becoming their deadliest enemy is due precisely to the fact that he stays the same’ (Brecht, 1992, p. 264).
Carol Sicherman suggests that Coriolanus’ silences mark a belief in, and a failure of, communication without words, as in his meeting with Aufidius, where he expects, and fails, to be identified ‘instantly, without words, rather as if two angels – enjoying intuitive rather than discursive knowledge – were encountering’ (Sicherman, 1972, p. 192). More recently, Clark Lunberry sees Coriolanus try to express a sovereign self outside Rome’s dirty politics by the pure language of his sword and sees him fail as neither the wounds on his body nor those he leaves on others’ speak for themselves, but are subject to discourse – and thus subject to politics (Lunberry, 2002, p. 236).
There is no absolute escape from the city – not even by wiping it out. As Volumnia points out to her son, burning down Rome will only give him a bad name in future chronicles of the city – not a new one forged by himself, as Cominius imagines earlier on (V.3.141–8 ). There is no getting away from being named by others, and thus no getting away from engagement with their laws. And therefore, there is no getting out of being human, if that means to be zoon politikon – not even by death; when Coriolanus is murdered by the conspirators, his body yet signifies in Volscian politics. Coriolanus’ stubbornness can neither make him ‘author of himself’ nor unthinking and unaffected force. Instead, he is torn between the various different and contradictory demands of the city as much as he is constituted by them in the first place.
the uncanny and persistent manifestations of the more and less than human in Coriolanus, the strange images of a cyborg god-thing as embodied stubbornness, lend some life yet to a figuring of the political in the tragedy. One possible headline for this is tribune Brutus’ view of Coriolanus as ‘past all thinking / Self-loving’ (IV.6.34). Here, Coriolanus’ excessiveness makes for a very un-Cartesian self-manifestation; his placing of himself above his station, his, as tribune Sicinius puts it in the following line, ‘affecting one sole throne / Without assistance’, is marked as a narcissism beyond all thought. Coriolanus puts himself first but without thinking – ‘bolder’ than the devil, as his rival Aufidius has it, ‘though not so subtle’ (I.10.17–18 ).
I propose that there is a useful link to be made between this kind of purely stubborn, unthinking self-love and the kind of stubbornness that Derrida traces in a variety of contexts in The Beast and the Sovereign under the French term bêtise. Derrida links bêtise to ‘stubborn obstinacy, the conatus of a perseverance in being’. Before any pre-existent concept, without identifiable determining cause, bêtise is ‘headstrong stubbornness in being’, that which wants ‘to continue to be, to be what that is, self-identically, without thinking of anything else’ and that manifests itself insofar as it ‘posits, posits itself and reposits itself in stubborn obstinacy, in pigheadedness [entêtement] without concept’ (Derrida, 2009, p. 192).
Coriolanus, even as he fails to ‘play the man [he is]’, displays the mechanics of staging self-unity as stubborn positing. This means that if all self-loving is past thinking, all thinking is yet based on self-loving.
Just as there is no thought, there is no law, and no politics, without its own violent self-justification. James Kuzner’s reading of Coriolanus picks up on the ways in which the play shows the exile as judged by a law that does not do him justice, how the tribunes manipulate state structures and people in order to create, in Giorgio Agamben’s terms, ‘a state of exception’ that makes Coriolanus ‘bare life’ and thus places him beyond eligibility for a formal trial, literally as much as juridically outside the city walls and the body politic (Kuzner, 2007, pp. 185–6). This is no doubt the manoeuvre played out, at least on one level of the action. The tribunes’ interpretation of the state, as it insists on taking Coriolanus literally and uses the letter of the law against him without remit or mercy, shows stubborn bêtise to match that of Coriolanus. But this, I suggest, does not mean that the play points towards a straightforward way out of the ‘state of exception’, and the state of Rome, in Coriolanus himself. Instead, it exposes that there is no claim of place that is not based in protective and violent boundaries, and thus in the inevitably bellicose prosthetics of stubborn life. Posited as rational or not, bêtise, stupid stubbornness, ‘is always ... on the side of the victor’ (Derrida, 2009, p. 183) – whether the victor is a renegade one-man war machine, a thick city wall, a well-defended idea of the state body, family institutions, some successful conspirators, or a concept of the human, the political, of reason or law.
This does not mean that Coriolanus comes down to a tableau of the ‘war of all against all’ that in Hobbes marks the absence of civil society and thus humanity (Hobbes, 1998, pp. 49–50). Or purely that, as in La Fontaine’s fable, ‘the reason of the strongest is always best’ (1997, p. 10; translation modified). Coriolanus’ tragedy can be read as his failure to be pure force. While his character is figured as noble, divine, invincible, unified, he is also mechanical thing – and therefore jointed, connected, dependent, provisional. He, and all ‘sovereign’ selves, share the problem Derrida identifies in state sovereignty in Hobbes’s Leviathan: ‘it is posited as immortal and indivisible precisely because it is mortal and divisible, contract or convention being destined to ensure for it what it does not have naturally’ (Derrida, 2009, p. 42). Because there is no guaranteed, natural unity for self or state, bêtise is at work in its putting-into-place, in figuring and staging; thus the hardening up, the increasingly armour-plated stubbornness of any (self-)institution involuntarily shows the continued vulnerability and openness that necessitates its closing-off in the first place. Where there is no force, and thus no life, without law, and yet no law is immortal, everything depends on the prostheses of unity – and they are always subject to change.
Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, I suggest, draws attention to this. While the official body politic in the play much resembles Hobbes’s Leviathan in its mechanicist yet organicist shape, its less official reconfigurations leave it quite distorted. If there is no pure force in Coriolanus, there certainly is none in the state. When Menenius confronts the rioting people, his fable of the belly is to remind the citizens of their place in the body politic, but he does not even manage to get them to agree on its shape.
He goes on to label Second Citizen a rascal and the people rats. As Riss points out, one reason for the failure of Menenius’ tale is that he does not see that the people’s literal, starving bellies stand in the way of his figurative use of the belly: ‘They are too hungry to think abstractly’ (Riss, 1992, p. 62). Here real stomachs, for the time being, assert sovereignty over rhetorical ones – and the people get their representatives and their grain.
If state sovereignty has to posit itself successfully as indivisible in order to be forceful, nothing will appear less so than when fictions of the state begin to divide and multiply and consensus disintegrates. Where the play is about the political and, via Aristotle, about the political as a definition of the human, the human is left fairly ill defined; this political human seems closer to the pamphlet depictions of multi-headed state monsters that would circulate in 1640s civil war England than to Hobbes’s orderly Leviathan (cf., for example, ‘The Kingdomes Monster’ ). Beyond the body politic, animate bodies are on the move in Coriolanus. Who is a dog of war, an ungrateful viper, a bear, a wolf or a lamb to whom is never finally determined, as multiplying animal figures swarm through the play, machine-like in their stubborn repetition: fable creatures, but never fixed in the place of an identifiable moral. The provisional quality of allegiances, popularity, power; of ideas and ideals of political community; of who is family, friend or enemy show Coriolanus the cyborg not as a unified self but as part of multiple, unstable and unchangeable relations of force; even as he and various other agents try to assert themselves as definite and distinct.
Cyborgs in the play, whether the political cyborg Coriolanus or the cyborg body politic, show life to be prosthetic; to always depend on protective gear, on armour and on fictions which are not only liable to fail but also difficult to fix in place. This way, Coriolanus does not provide a way out of the city; instead, the play refuses to settle with the illusion that its shape is ever fixed or beyond question. I do not believe, as Kuzner proposes, that ‘in seeking to exist outside Rome’s fictions ... Coriolanus ... stands for other, more habitable forms of unprotected existence’, that by embracing his ‘bare life’ he escapes citizenship and its ‘boundedness’ (Kuzner, 2007, pp. 175, 192). Rather, I suggest that the play shows existence, within and beyond professions of ‘the human’, as necessarily communal and political, always bounded by multiple and often contradictory relations of force.
This is not to say that resistance is futile, only that there is no getting out of relationality, no escaping power relations. Politics, Coriolanus also suggests, are determined by boundaries which, like all boundaries, require violence. There are no politics without treading on someone, somebody, something. ‘Tread not upon him!’ (V.6.136), a Volscian lord exclaims as Aufidius stands on Coriolanus’ body after he has been murdered in full view of the City’s representatives. The assembled proceed ‘to make the best of it’ (V.6.148 ) and turn the bloody scene into a state funeral for political spin. In the final scene, the mechanics of treading on Coriolanus’ body, in their untidy brutality, turn into eloquent representation of the powers that be, into rationalizing the force of law. Coriolanus demands a confrontation with political violence otherwise covered up. It shows interrelated cyborg mechanisms as fictions that are as real and bodily as they are posited and provisional, and thus it shows them open to challenge. It blocks the conceptual purity of ‘the human’ and ‘the political’ as much as the ‘inhuman’ and the ‘apolitical’. This does not mean that it effaces differences. Instead, it posits an invitation to counter the rigor mortis of all kinds of absolute city walls with differently stubborn responses – however provisional." [Mareile Pfannebecker, Cyborg Coriolanus, in Stefan Herbrechter, Posthumanist Shakespeares]
"The invisible body is a mirror of containers. Perfected, a chain of commands speaks." [Barrett Watten, Conduit]
"Coriolanus fails properly to fulfill the assignment given him and instead betrays his contempt for those he must solicit. Now he stands accused of inadequately pleading his position, of mocking the people, and is instructed to try again to seek their approval. His supporters, Cominius and Menenius, and his mother, Volumnia, exhort him to "frame his spirit" and "perform a part ... [he] hast not done before."They entreat him to swallow his pride, if only for a bracketed moment, return to the marketplace, and ask again, "mildly . . mildly ... mildly,"for the voices he requires. At this tense and fevered point of the play, and in the midst of the strained negotiation and deliberation, the consul Cominius quietly urges Coriolanus on by simply saying, "Come, come, we'll prompt you" (3.2.107).
The presence of the prompter and the prompted voice is implicitly rendered throughout much of Shakespeare's late tragedy Coriolanus. Attributions of the voice, distributions of the voice, and the beginnings and endings of the voice are repeatedly refined, re-found, and refocused. Who is speaking? Who is speaking for whom? And how is speaking spoken? Cominius's "Come, come, we'll prompt you"is a line that resonates throughout the play, a line that eclipses, crookedly eclipses, all voices at the moment of their utterance. Who is prompted, and who prompts whom? And who, in the final account, prompts the prompter?
Caius Martius Coriolanus - the hero-character, the proud, victorious, and mul- tiply wounded warrior-is a man who, on the face of it, resists and repels all promptings, obstinately insisting on speaking alwaysand only for himself. It seems there is nothing more abhorrent and violating to Coriolanus's sovereign dignity than the idea that someone might tell him how to speak, when to speak, and what to speak. "Wouldyou have me"'Coriolanus says to his mother in this same scene, "falseto my nature? Rather say I play the man I am"(3.2.14-17). And with Coriolanus, there is little doubt that he knows whohe is, or thinks he does. However, the question that arises from the precise wording of this appeal-"say I play the man I am"-is whether Coriolanus really believes that he plays the man he is, rather than is the man he is.
Coriolanus's mother appeals to him a final time, declaring in apparent frustration, "Youare too absolute" (3.2.39). She pro- poses again the beneficial intervention of the prompter, this time pragmatically pleading with her son to "speakto th'people; not byyour own instruction,/Nor by th'matter which your heart prompts you, / But with such words that are but roted in / Your tongue, though but bastards and syllables / Of no allowance to your bosom's truth"(3.2.52-57). In her less absolute manner, she apprehends the pragmatic power and contextual necessity of "dissembl[ing] with my nature" (3.2.62), understanding that words that are "roted in"need not be words that are permanently possessed, nor need they compromise those truer promptings of the otherwise inviolable heart.
He cannot play the penitent role, and in the final account he will not be prompted, will not allow the words to be "roted"into his mouth. The obstinate, virtuous, and constant Coriolanus ("Let it be virtuous to be obstinate" [5.3.26], he says later in the play) chooses death or banishment over any gainful, cynical violations of his ever-certain sovereignty. Regardless of the consequences, he will not forsake his "own truth" by simply speaking the simple words given him. It will be his own voice, or none at all.
Resisting, rejecting, repelling the promptings of the prompter: what is at stake (and what is exposed) in the stubborn persistence of these constant convictions? If the voice of the prompter is denied, whose voice is it that finally remains? Unrehearsed, whose words are heard?
In his two early essays on Antonin Artaud, Jacques Derrida writes about Artaud'svirulent reaction to and banishment of the prompter from his proposed theater. Artaud, as Derrida describes him, bitterly imagined the prompter as an intervening voice set on the margins of the stage to whisper into the ears of the meekly receptive performer, "receiving his delivery as if he were taking orders, submitting like a beast to the pleasure of docility".
In his depiction of Artaud, Derrida presents a person that in many ways strikingly resembles Coriolanus. Like Coriolanus, Artaud could not abide any notion of a prompter, imagining this base and shadowy figure of the theater to be an ￼invisibly stationed thief of the voice who simultaneously plunders words while whispering them. Derrida writes that for Artaud this stealthy figure of the prompter was "the force of a void, the cyclonic breath .. . who draws his breath in, and thereby robs me of that which he first allowed to approach me and which I believed I could say in my own name" - an image that suggests the reversed action of a kind of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation that in fact functions as a form of mouth-to-mouth suffocation. For Artaud, the prompter is thus an agent of denial and death. Likewise, for Coriolanus, the idea of having the proper, prompted words whispered into his ear or breathed into his mouth (even, and especially, at the moment of maximum peril) entailed the gravest of violations.
"Artaud,'Derrida notes, "attempted to forbid that his speech be spirited away [souffle] from his body... [and] knew that all speech fallen from the body, offering itself to understanding or reception, offering itself as a spectacle, immediately becomes stolen speech. Becomes a signification which I do not possess because it is a signification". Coriolanus's own resistance to being prompted would seem to be derived in part from related convictions concerning "stolen speech" and speech as repeated and repeatable "spectacle"- speech and spectacle in which Coriolanus vehemently resists participating: "I'd rather"; Coriolanus says before the Senate, "have my wounds to heal again/Than hear say how I got them... To hear my nothings monster'd" (2.2.68-69).
For Coriolanus, the rehearsal and representation of events, robbed and robbing, contaminates con- sciousness and demeans his dignity, taking with one hand what is given with the other, disabling at the moment of enabling. However, Coriolanus's resistance both to the repetition involved in prompting and to the indignity of public spectacle evoke as well Derrida's inescapable and enclosing paradox of signification, which must always and already be understood as signification, with the ensuing dispossession of speech implied in this prefiguring formula.
Stolen speech, whispered words, the repeated spectacle ... these contaminations of consciousness by the exposed constructs of consciousness inevitably create for Coriolanus the intolerable conflict of trying to think outside of thought, of trying to speak outside of what is spoken. This troubling portrayal of troubled speech and thought would seem to suggest that somehow consciousness is contamination, that there is nothing outside of the contamination that can be pointed to as pure and possessed of simple origin, presented as unrepresented, as unprompted. For it is this very contaminating construct of thought that has made it possible for thought itself to be diagnosed as contaminated.
"I am in relation to myself," Derrida writes of Artaud, "within the ether of speech which is always spirited away [souffle] from me, and which steals from me the very thing that it puts me in relation to. Consciousness of speech, that is to say, consciousness in general, is not knowing who speaks at the moment when, and in the place where, I proffer speech. This consciousness is thus also an unconsciousness ('In my unconsciousness it is others whom I hear,' 1946 [Artaud]), in opposition to which another consciousness will necessarily have to be reconstituted; and this time, consciousness will be cruelly present to itself and will hear itself speak".
For Coriolanus, such consciousness of thought, such unconsciousness of thought, such "consciousness ... cruelly present to itself, "cannot be nobly sustained or endured. He demands of himself and of others a sovereign and unwavering possession of language - a sovereign and unwavering possession of self - that in its tightly, austerely projected dimension leaves little room for unconscious mystery or maneuver. As a result, Coriolanus, unburdened by the unconscious, steadfastly resists playing the part that he is already very much in the process of playing, refuses the representation that he is already representing. And it is this obstinate and occluded insistence upon the certainty of his own self, his own unprompted, unrepeated authenticity, that constitutes a significant aspect of this tragedy's tragedy.For, as Derrida writes,"What is tragic is not the impossibility but the necessity of repetition" - and, we might add, the necessity of the prompter.
For Coriolanus there is no representation (or there certainly shouldn't or needn't be). He is not playing the part of the noble warrior, the loyal son, the dignified patrician; he simply, inviolably is noble, is loyal, is dignified, these terms remaining for him stable and uncorrupted emblems in his uncorrupted mind? Therefore, any whispered promptings, either from outside or in, would be a violation of his autonomous boundary, a violation of self and soul. When he finds himself in the compromising dilemma of having to speak the words given him, of having to acquiesce to the promptings of the prompter, Coriolanus chooses instead to stop entirely, destroy entirely the "movement of representation,' rather than participate in the spectacle's dissembling, repetitive necessities. "There is"; Coriolanus states assuredly, alternatively, "aworld elsewhere!" (3.3.135).
Like Derrida's Artaud, who "desiredthe conflagration of the stage upon which the prompter was possible ... [and] wanted the machinery of the prompter spirited away,wanted to plunder the structure of theft", Coriolanus would pursue his own vengeful plunder upon the prompted stage, would incite his own destructive act of conflagration upon those who would dare to prompt him. If Artaud, as Derrida writes, "wanted to erase the stage, no longer wanted to see what transpires in a locality alwaysinhabited or haunted", Coriolanus wants to burn his to the ground, to reduce his "cankeredcountry"to cinders and ashes.
"Ah, wherefore with infection should he live, And with his presence grace impiety…" [Shakespeare's Sonnet, 67]
Of all Shakespeare's major characters, Coriolanus is perhaps one of the least loquacious-one of the least given to soliloquy and extended pronouncement. Indeed, with Coriolanus, not only is prompted language to be resisted, but language in general also seems to be suspect. This character is clearly not, by Shakespearean standards, a man of words but rather a man of action, manifesting and embodying his mother's instructed belief that 'Action is eloquence" (3.2.76).
Unlike another of Shakespeare's great warriors, Othello, who in a polished, and perhaps tactical, manner claims, "Rude am I in my speech / And little blest with the soft phrase of peace" (1.3.82-83), and then goes on to speak quite unrudely and at length to justify his marriage to Desdemona, Coriolanus seems by comparison the genuine article, the man of few words, the "strong, silent type"When Coriolanus doesspeak, it is often with an austere, minimally syllabled, and steely precision that would seem to exhibit, not a simple inarticulateness, but rather a distrust of language-so that he saysonly what mustbe said, quickly and directly, as if to get the words out of his mouth before they turn distastefully upon him.
Historically,the character Coriolanus's relative in eloquence may have contributed to the play Coriolanus'srelative neglect or, even worse, its dismissal by many critics and scholars.3Within the play there are few, if any, immediately memorable, canonical lines that have filtered into the larger culture. No to beor not to be, no tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, but rather an abundance of spare, almost pedestrian, phrases like "Ibanish you" or "There is a world elsewhere"- phrases that, within the precise context of the play and along the heated continuum of accumulated action, are indeed powerful, moving, and often explosive.
Yet, in isolation or insufficiently impacted in the momentum of events, these almost banal words and phrases arejust as likely to sit dumbly, benignly upon the page, as cold and dispassionate as the character who utters them. However, rather than read the laconic manner of Coriolanus as simply indicative of a decline in Shakespeare's theatrical achievement or a waning of his character-building skills, we can also read both the play Coriolanusand the character Coriolanus as a carefully crafted exploitation of writerly restraint and character stasis, an austerely inscribed theatrical examination of lyrical limit, linguistic illusion/disillusion, the cultural formation/deformation of identity, and the evanescent boundary of private language.
With the character Coriolanus, then, perhaps the crucial issue is not simply a resistance to being prompted, but, more profoundly, a resistance to language in general, even a language that one might presume to privately possess. For Coriolanus it is not just thefigure of the prompter that is the problem, but the medium of the prompter as well: all language is inevitably tainted. As Derrida observes of Artaud, '"As soon as I speak, the words I have found (as soon as they are words) no longer belong to me, are originally repeated... I must first hear myself. In soliloquy as in dialogue, to speak is to hear oneself". Intolerably and maddeningly to hear oneself is to hear the prompter prompting, and language becomes an impure substance that belongs to everyone and no one at once, both plebeians and patricians alike speaking from the same source and substance, repeating and repeating and repeating the words that are always already spoken. "Ah,' as Shakespeare's sonnet says, "wherefore with infection should he live…". Of course, we already know that Coriolanus has chosen to live "elsewhere!"The question that remains is precisely where "elsewhere" actually is, or even conceivably could be.
In his book Disowning Knowledge, Stanley Cavell also addresses the question of language and its prompting in Coriolanus.However, instead of the more surreptitious image of the prompter whispering into receptive ears, Cavell presents a more unhygienic encounter in which words, materially imagined, are placed (or more likely shoved) into open mouths, the language transferred salivically in the form of regurgitated repetition. Cavell writes: '"A pervasive reason Coriolanus spits out words is exactly that they are words, that they exist only in a language, and that a language is metaphysically something shared, so that speaking is taking and giving in your mouth the very matter others are giving and taking in theirs".
Cavell's conception of Coriolanus's spitting out his words with disgust, as though they were foreign particles to be gotten rid of, also suggests an infection or con￼tamination of consciousness.6 This image of a dispossessed language that enters through the mouth and circulates through the invisible interior body like some kind of masticated cud likewise inevitably brings to mind that other orifice embedded in the very name of our hero, Coriolanus Cavell elaborates on the anal- ityof Coriolanus'sname when he speculates thatwhatalarmsCoriolanus "issimply being a part, one member among others of the same organism... [and his] disgust is a function of imagining that in incorporating one another we are asked to incorporate one another's leavings, the results or wastes of what has already been incorporated".
Faced with these unpalatable beginnings and endings of language-words as shared substance transferred indiscriminately from mouth to mouth and tongue to tongue, only to be finally noisomely expelled - Coriolanus rejects the words and repels the repeated promptings that would try to place them in his mouth. Rather than speak, rather than use the already befouled language, Coriolanus chooses either silence or the concrete eloquence of action. Standing before the consul of the Roman senate, asked to speak and to plead his case, Coriolanus simply says, "When blows have made me stay, I fled from words"(2.2.74).
"O me alone! Make you a sword of me!" - Coriolanus
In the final moments of Macbeth, with an enraged and vengeful Macduff about to slay the king, Macduff exclaims in anguish, "I have no words; My voice is in my sword .. ." (5.8.7-8 ). Coriolanus, the later tragicwarriorof Shakespeare, also seems to wish to make such a noble claim, to have his voice within his sword, to have the words temper the sharp and deadly metal. In his renunciation of the already-tainted language, Coriolanus affirms the unworded gesture, the violent, uncorrupted act of the warrior that exceeds or precedes the insidious promptings of the prompter through what James Calderwood describes as "the unambiguous expressive power of his sword". With this sword, the inarticulate Coriolanus appears to find his medium of articulation, a language beyond language, beyond the insufferable contaminations of repeatable words.
Artaud also passionately desired to replace the infected language of words with a language of "concrete gesture"'a more primal utterance of inflicted wounds, leaving cruel and illegible marks upon the sentient body. As Derrida describes it, "Without disappearing, speech will now have to keep to its place; and to do so it will have to modify its very function, will have no longer to be a language of words ..., of concepts that put an end to thought and life". Artaud himself wrote in The Theater and Its Double-in a manner that brings to mind the hopeless, impossible aspirations of Coriolanus-that, unlike spoken language, the concrete gesture has "an efficacy strong enough to make us forget the very necessity of speech ... For beside the culture of words there is the culture of gestures... [and] the suggestions of gesture will always express more adequately than the precise localized meaning of words".
For Coriolanus, the violent, valiant gesture of the sword-whereby he single- handedly defeated Corioli-was an inviolable act, self-conceived, unprompted and unpromptable, cutting to the very quick of the real, its unrehearsed and unrepeatable origin. Like Artaud's "concrete gesture" 'Coriolanus's sword thus expresses "more adequately" than words the self-sustaining presence of nobility and the sovereign self. However, once Coriolanus returns to Rome to be showered in "acclamations hyperbolical" and "praises sauc'd with lies" (1.9.50-52), he angrily, resistantly apprehends that even the decisive gesture of an expertly wielded sword, once done, can be undone, can be redone. Coriolanus observes and deplores that his wordless gestures are indeed subsequently "monster'd" by others - the blood and wounds of action defiled by their syllabled retelling. In a kind of reversed alchemical process, what was pure is thus transformed into something base. To Coriolanus's horror and disgust, the "concrete gesture"is almost automatically recuperated into an ignoble form of vulgar representation: the blood itself turning into ink, the wounds forming into words (legible scars upon the legible body), the language of gesture becoming a repeatable, representable language spoken and respoken.
"He should have showed us His marks of merit, wounds receiv'd for's country" -Second Citizen
And from the worded sword (the sordid word), it is the wounds received that must also be made to speak. The citizens clamor to see the wounds, and it is the ￼custom for these "marksof merit" to be shown, bargained for, and bartered in exchange for the people's "voices."But these blooded cuts upon the body, scars from the sword, will not speak for themselves and must instead be spoken for.
As one of the citizens in the marketplace sayswhen Coriolanus reluctantly approaches to seek their support, "For,if he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them". Like the obstinate voice of Coriolanus, the wounds must also be prompted, tongued into utterance. The initial corporeal silence of the wound, the muted mark of the sword's wounding penetration, is not alone sufficient-there cannot be, as Derrida writes of Artaud, "stigmata... substituted for the text". Like the concrete gesture of the sword, the wound must also be rendered into language, represented as readable text: the incision as inscription, the wound as word.
Earlier, Menenius had rejoiced alongside the warrior'smother at the news of Coriolanus's valiant wounds, saying exultantly and admiringly, "The wounds become him" (2.1.122), describing the bloody inflictions as if they were a suit of fine clothing that fashionably made the man. Yetthis is precisely what Coriolanus resists: he does not want his wounds to become him.His wounds, like his words, are not to be spirited away, stolen, represented as spectacle. For Coriolanus, his definition and identity are to be essentially self-possessed, possessed essentially, and are not to be found de-meaningly inscribed upon his wounded body.
In his initial appearance before the "unwashed" plebeians in the marketplace, Coriolanus hints that he will reveal his many wounds, teasingly announcing, "I have wounds to show you, which shall be yours in private" (2.3.76-77). But this intimate display is never enacted; the wounds, privately or otherwise, are never revealed. And perhaps they needn't be, for Menenius is correct, more correct than he may have imagined, his words betraying an even more wounding signifi- cance. For Coriolanus's wounds have become him: unseen but still spoken, the private wounds are now the legible lines of the man.
"He was a kind of nothing, titleless" -Cominius
When Coriolanus is banished from Rome, he turns and banishes back. With his terse and cryptic pronouncement, "Ibanish you:' he venomously dismisses those who, he says, "corrupt my air" (3.3.123). Again, having been given the words, Coriolanustakestheminhismouth and spits them back: You banish me? I banish you! Yet, aside from the insolent bravado of Coriolanus's counter-indictment, it is left fairly in question as to where and how at that perilous moment, surrounded by swords and greatly outnumbered, Coriolanus could conceivably banish anyone. Where but within the dense scenario of his own sovereign imaginings could he now maneuver and mold the outcome of these unfolding, unraveling events? His world is crumbling before him in large part because of the obstinacy of his own convictions, his unwavering resistance to simply submitting to the roted promptings of the prompter, showing contrition, and speaking to the people as necessity demanded. There he stands, condemned and alone, facing the citizens of Rome and audaciously telling them that theyare the ones who are banished. But banished from what?Where in the world would they go? Coriolanus is the one being pushed from the gates of the city. And the real question is, where in the world will he go?
With his brazen claim to banish the banishers (what might seem an almost infantile rejoinder to a gravely serious, grown-up situation), Coriolanus is perhaps presenting what Horatio in Hamlet calls a "prologue to the omen coming on" (1.1.126). For Coriolanus's words could be construed as darkly hinting at an eventual return to Rome, a destructive reentry that would, if accomplished, banish everyone-friend, family, and foe-from the infected scene, purifying by fire the contaminated country. But now, surrounded by patricians and plebeians alike and about to leave his world behind, Coriolanus disdainfully walks away, turning his back on that which he had so often defended and so vigorously battled for. His final emphatic words to the citizens announce his departure for the world "elsewhere!"-a bold, enigmatic claim that must have echoed ominously off the thick interior walls of the city.
Though he is questioned again and again by Aufidius, Coriolanus will not say his name. Six times Aufidius demands to know the name of the unidentified figure who has entered his home, and each time, Coriolanus stubbornly, assuredly waits to be recognized, recognized "forthe man I am"(4.5.57).
For Coriolanus, the obligation to say his own name, to prompt his own recog- nition, would again seem to entail a diminishment of dignity, a disgraceful naming of nobility that should not have to be named. From the majestic vantage that Coriolanus has maintained, his name should have instead been transparently present, replete with what Derrida describes as (again, with reference to Artaud) "aperfect and permanent self-presence ... a magic identification". But in fact, away from Rome, off the battlefield, and out of his armor, this "magical identification" cannot occur, and Coriolanus cannot be recognized by Aufidius for the man he is. The indeterminate figure standing before Aufidius is simply not known. A final time Aufidius demands, "Iknow thee not! Thy name?" Only then, reluctantly, Coriolanus concedes, for "necessity commands me name myself" (4.5.58 ). Prompting the memory of Aufidius, Coriolanus is finally obliged to sayhis own name, to tell his enemy who he is.
As demonstrated by Aufidius's failure to recognize him, Coriolanus must now understand (or perhaps knew all along) that he can only bethe man he is, that he can only magically inhabit his name, in the place where both he and his name have gained their noble fame, their resonant, ￼resident meanings. Once he is outside the Roman walls, Coriolanus is bereft of defining form, of configuring identity. Indeed, Cominius, his former general, on a mission to Antium to appeal to Coriolanus to spare Rome, reports: "'Coriolanus' he would not answer to; forbad all names: He was a kind of nothing, titleless.' For if his name is to be renewed, regained, it must be "forg'd... o'th'fire of burning Rome" (5.1.11-14).
For Coriolanus there is no world elsewhere; there can be no "Coriolanus"elsewhere. Rome is the sole location within which his identity can be understood as identity,his presence understood aspresence. Echoing Derrida's description and diagnosis of Artaud, Rome is for Coriolanus the necessary site of "the closure of the presence in which he had to enclose himself... , delimiting a fatal complicity ... inhabit[ing] the structures they demolish". "There is no theater in the world today,"Derrida later notes, "which fulfills Artaud's desire". Likewise, for Coriolanus, there is no world in the world that can fulfill his impossible desire, sustain his sovereign certainty, no otherworld to which he might possibly go. Banished, he can only banish back, and in the same moment begin plotting his destructive revenge, his destructive return to the slippery world from which he has never really departed.
Artaud imagined a self-engendered theater in which he could claim that "I Antonin Artaud, am my son,/my father, my mother,/and myself" (Anthology 238 ). Likewise, Coriolanus imagines a self-engendered world in which his name is known, his dignity unquestioned, and his nobility transparently present. Appealed to by Menenius to spare Rome from his fiery intentions, if only to save his family and friends, Coriolanus dismisses his earlier ally, saying simply, "Wife, mother, child, I know not" (5.2.80).
Nevertheless, through a series of appeals-first from Cominius, then from Menenius, and finally, effectively, from his family-the intransigent, constant Coriolanus begins slowly to waver,begins to reveal fissures of weakness upon his solid surface. "But out, affection!" he says, bolstering his resistance to his mother's lengthy and impassioned plea,' "All bond and privilege of nature break!...I'll never/Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand/As if a man were author of himself/And knew no other kin"(5.3.24-25, 34-37). The moment Coriolanus says "Asif a man were author of himself" is decisive, for it is the moment that his own diminishing form begins to come more clearly into view.
What Cominius and Menenius cannot accomplish, Coriolanus's mother, wife, and child finally do. Rome will be spared. But the price paid for its preservation is Coriolanus's own solid standing, his own noble self. Coriolanus utters words of resignation and defeat that only moments earlier would have seemed unimaginable coming from his hardened mouth: "Imelt, and am not of stronger earth than others" (5.3.28-29). Coriolanus is now conquered and compliant, receptive to the promptings of the prompter, and fatally resigned to the closure of his own inevitable, inescapable representation. "Like a dull actor now/I have forgot my part and I am out,/Even to a full disgrace" (5.3.40-43).
Attentively witnessing the scene from the side, Aufidius recognizes the significance of the moment and seizes the opportunity. Coriolanus's acquiescence to his family's appeal and his acceptance of Rome's pardon opens the way for Aufidius's ultimate victory. Upon his return from negotiating a peace between the enemies, Coriolanus is abruptly and brutally killed for his capitulations to Rome. Aufidius then delivers the closing lines of the play over the body of the dead Coriolanus. After speaking words of sorrow, recognizing the loss of an honored enemy, Aufidius makes his "final claim on Coriolanus: "Yethe shall have a noble memory. Assist"(5.6.153-54).
Aufidius's use of the word "shall"recalls an earlier explosive moment in the playwhen the tribune Sicinius dared to use "His absolute 'shall'"(3.1.87) in banishing Coriolanus. Now, in the final moments after Coriolanus's death, the "absolute 'shall'" is heard again, with Aufidius's final enigmatic words providing the final affront, the final wounding blow to the dignity of Coriolanus. Aufidius's instructions are the culminating violation of Coriolanus's honor-his words are delivered, the stage instructions indicate, as Aufidius "stands on" the Roman warrior'sdead body--a violation that Coriolanus, in his death, cman do nothing to resist or repel. For Coriolanus's "noble memory" is not alone sufficient to sustain itself. Even in his death, Coriolanus's nobility is neither sovereign nor self-evident, but must be assisted, prompted into being."
"In Coriolanus, Shakespeare conducts a full-fledged critique of neo-Stoicism and martial virtus, exposing their inherent, destructive potential. Through this critique, Shakespeare examines the dangers, tensions, and anxieties resulting from the emergence of a ‘bounded’ or closed, impenetrable self to replace the earlier Galenic model of an open, porous body and its effects on ideals of masculinity. Shakespeare stages this shift in models of selfhood and masculine identity by foregrounding the bleeding male body as spectacle through the Ovidian figure of Marsyas as transfigured by later Christian iconography. The emblazoned body of Coriolanus demonstrates the clash between ideals of virtus and later representa- tions of the body of Christ – the crisis of masculinity figured in shifting images of Jesus as the early medieval warrior to that of the bleeding, vulnerable male body in late medieval culture. As a walking contradic- tion, Coriolanus embodies this shift in clinging to his delusion that he is an autonomous being with complete self-control and immunity to pain and emotion, while simultaneously demonstrating that he is incapable of controlling self-destructive passions. Through the character of Coriolanus, Shakespeare opens up debates on the complex, often conflicting discourses of masculinity and representations of the male body that lie at the heart of Renaissance humanist ideals.
Shakespeare evaluates and contrasts the opposing strands of Renaissance humanism – neo-Stoicism and Augustinian philosophy – which present different outlooks and values concerning the passions and human behavior, as well as the constitution of the micro- and macro- cosm, the self and the universe. Whereas in neo-Stoicism the passions are seen as undesir- able, negative forces that must be controlled, in Augustinian humanism, the passions are viewed as primarily benign, with the capability of taking the path of righteousness or wickedness. The latter is more closely aligned with the medieval, Galenic theory of the body as permeable, accessible, engaged in open exchange with elements in the macrocosm; and adapt- able, able to adjust and modify.
Although this model was still dominant in the early seventeenth century, a notion of the ‘individual’ was emerg- ing, signaling a paradigm shift from Galen’s humoral theory to Harvey’s conception of the circulatory system, as David Hillman has argued. The idea of a ‘newly bounded self’ surfaces at this time. Hillman describes this self as enclosed in an impermeable ‘container’, shut out from its surroundings and its own internal organs, closed up in skin that, like a protective casing, shields the self from all that is external to it.
Even so, depictions of the open, permeable body during this time period are frequent, indicating a fixation or obsession with the earlier, Galenic model of the body. According to Hillman, these depictions may be ‘idealized’, ‘nostalgic’ in tone; or, conversely, they may be ‘horrified’, ‘repudiatory’. This intense and contradictory reaction to the emergence of the bounded self may indicate a rise of anxiety ensuing from the sealing off of the open body. Shakespeare depicts this conflict to investigate the cultural trauma generated by the surfacing of this newly bounded self. In Coriolanus, representations of the body’s interior and its ‘skin’ or shell suggest the bounded self, while those of the porous, fluid body signal the backlash of the Galenic model. Both patterns of images abound in Coriolanus, indicating Shakespeare’s fascination with the tension between these conflicting conceptions of the body and self and their relationship to masculinity.
For Hillman, representation of the interior of the body reveals an ‘aesthetic repression’, a ‘distancing of selves and the body’s inner life’. Hillman describes Coriolanus as ‘a dramatised battle over the interior of the body – over who has access to, and who is to be identified with, the interior’. Representations of the body’s internal parts and organs – the belly, bowels, or ‘innards’ – and, tellingly, its ‘container’ – the skin and diseases affecting the skin, such as measles, sores, and plague – may be associated with the bounded body.
References to ‘boils and plagues’ (1.5.1–3), ‘plague’ (1.7.43), ‘measles’ (3.1.82), ‘poisons / Where the disease is violent’ (3.1.220–1), ‘sore’ (3.1.234), ‘a disease that must be cut away’ (3.1.296), ‘gangrened’ (3.1.308 ), ‘infection’ (3.1.311), and ‘red pestilence’ (4.1.13) recur throughout the play. Menenius’s fable of the belly, an analogy of the state to the body with which he attempts to pacify the angry citizens, is a kind of blazon of the body’s interior, in which the ‘members’ of the body (plebeians) rebel against the ‘belly’ (patricians) because it hoards the food without labor. The belly, with a bizarre ‘kind of smile’, communicates to the body’s ‘discontented members’ and ‘mutinous parts’, providing a ‘trickle-out’ theory of economics: it stores the food and then distributes it out to the rest of the body (1.1.85–138 ). The fable obviously provides the justification for the subordination of the citizens to the patricians, but it also reveals the play’s obsession with the body’s interior. Even though the fable dates back to Aesop, here it signifies the strained relationship between the self and its interior that reappears throughout the early modern period, especially when joined with other references in the play to bowels or digestion – such as ‘bosom multiplied digest’ (3.1.134) and ‘tearing / His country’s bowels out’ (5.3.103–4) – along with numerous allusions to eating, devouring, food, and starvation.
references to the skin and diseases affecting it proliferate throughout the play. In images suggesting the bounded self, the skin is depicted as a protective shell that seals off the body’s inte- rior. The numerous references to ailments of the skin in this play may suggest a negative sense of being trapped inside one’s own polluted covering. Moreover, the tearing open, bleeding of the body through the skin’s surface indicates the return of the idea of the skin as porous, penetrable. The omnipresent images of blood throughout the play – coupled with the numerous stage directions for Coriolanus (and, once Aufidius) to ‘enter bloody’ – evidence a rather threatening return of the Galenic body. Martius enters bleeding in 1.5 and 1.6 and bloody in 1.9; Aufidius enters bloody in 1.11; and references to ‘blood’ or ‘bleeding’ recur throughout this tragedy. Coriolanus himself personifies this ten- sion between the idea of the closed, autonomous self and the return of the permeable, bleeding body. He seems isolated from the external world, glorifying in his independence and his ability to go it ‘alone’ – describing himself as ‘stand[ing] / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin’ (5.3.35–7). In fact, Coriolanus is referred to – and refers to himself – as ‘alone’ numerous times in the play. Simultaneously, he appears ‘smeared’ and ‘masked’ in blood, revel- ing in his ‘painting’ from the blood of those he has slaughtered and in the gushing of his own wounds (1.9.10; 1.7.68–9).
It is crucial to remember that Coriolanus’s obses- sion with war and bodily attacks is predicated on his destruction of the other, not only on the wounding of the self. His mask of blood signifies their death by his sword. Therefore, his bloody body – his wounds – signify their deaths. Upon seeing the bloody Coriolanus returning from battle, Cominius exclaims, ‘Who’s yonder, / That does appear as he were flayed?’ (1.7.22–3). Onstage, the actor playing Coriolanus would look as if his skin had been torn off his body – suggesting both the flaying of martyrs and the mythological figure Marsyas, who was flayed alive by Apollo and described by Ovid in his Metamorphoses as, in Golding’s translation, ‘one whole wound’ (6.494), a spectacle of the bloody male body hung on a tree. Jonathan Sawday describes Marsyas as a ‘body caught in a moment of violent homoerotic possession; stripped of his skin; ... transformed into “one whole wound” into which curious spec- tators gaze’.
This image would also have held complex associations with late medieval depictions of Christ as ‘a bloody smear’, suggesting the tension between the two types of masculinity embodied in depictions of Jesus – the earlier warrior and the later bleeding martyr. Bynum notes that visual images of Christ drenched in blood abound in this era, greatly contrasting to that of the earlier Militia Christi. She describes some of the representations that were ubiquitous in Northern Europe as ‘pitiful’, others as ‘threatening’. These visual depictions, which amount to a ‘cult of blood’, attest to the ‘violent quality of the religiosity itself – what we might call its visual violence, especially the prominence of the motifs of body parts and of blood’. Christians were encouraged to meditate on portrayals of fragmented and bleeding bodies, which would often lead to a mystical experience with flowing blood as an erotic release, as ‘ecstasy’.
Along with this cult of blood emerged that of Christ’s wounds. Christians prayed to and kissed images of them to earn indulgence and provide protection from calamity. Pictorial representations of Christ’s body in parts, with wounds emphasized or even depicted as separate from Christ’s body, became all-pervasive. In some depictions, no actual body appears at all, only the parts, often displayed with Arma Christi (instruments of Christ’s torture). In these renditions, the wounds themselves signify Christ. This cult of wounds exists in verbal as well as visual culture. Christ’s wounds are fashioned into a blazon in devo- tional literature, illustrated medieval poetry, and medieval drama, combining text and image. The blazon of Christ’s wounds is staged in the Towneley Cycle’s ‘Last Judgement’, a play that foregrounds the tortured body on display. In the scene of the last judgment, Christ holds out his arms and exhibits his wounds, providing his own ‘verbal blazon of his mutilated body’, as Owens describes it, pointing out the map of his wounds on his body and explaining their significance to the Christian’s salvation. In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare draws from this inherited tradition in staging the emblazoned, mutilated body of Lavinia that signifies as a ‘map of woe’ to her father, who claims he can ‘interpret all her martyred signs’ (3.2.12, 36). When played by a male actor, Lavinia – on display as the wounded, bleeding martyr – may register as both female and male, suggesting the medieval portrayals of Christ showing his wounds.
In this and later Renaissance drama, the stage draws from these visual representations from the Middle Ages, particularly in the spectacle of the male body and the emergent emphasis in anatomical study. Sawday traces this link in analyzing images of Christ’s demonstration of his wounds, noting that ‘Christ was thus understood as the subject of a gaze whose end was the establishment of the truth of his own resurrection – a process analogous to the scientific scrutiny of the human interior.’ All point toward a kind of knowledge, either that of Christ’s resurrec- tion or that of the body’s layers. For Katharine Park, dissection for various purposes – academic, ritual, religious, autopsies, and births – became the framework through which the body was comprehended. Whereas the female body was used to signify the internal body as ‘holy vessel’, the male body most often was employed to represent the external body – its surface and layers just beneath – as in illustrations exhibiting its penetrability to weapons and susceptibility to wounds or in other illustrations of males posed as David or Christ, skin peeled back to reveal muscular tissue. A particularly interesting series of early sixteenth-century woodcuts by Berengario links the criminal (often the subject of dissection) with the martyred saint. Interestingly, these woodcuts include the executioner’s equipment along with the saintly figure, suggesting the Arma Christi in medieval depictions of Jesus on the cross. In one woodcut, the criminal is figured as a kind of Ovidian Marsyas-Jesus, the ‘flayed figure of the crucified Christ’.
Shakespeare draws from these traditions in his portrayal of Coriolanus wearing the robe of humility before the citizens (2.3), staging changes in representations of the body from Catholic to Protestant England. In Shakespeare’s dramatic departure from Plutarch and his sources, Coriolanus refuses to show his wounds to the plebeians, frustrating the expectations of both on- and offstage audiences. For Russell West- Pavlov, Shakespeare’s adaptation of this scene foregrounds the move toward a closed male body that was to become the standard of an emer- gent capitalist order based on particular notions of masculinity. As he puts it, ‘The stage registered these new pressures upon the male body, but as an art form indebted to older forms of pageantry and spectacle in which an ostentatious male body was put on display, it could not fail to foreground the interferences and tensions between residual and emergent configurations of what it understood as “manliness”.’ As a warrior who declines the position of the Christian masochist/martyr on display, Coriolanus signifies the shift from the early medieval depictions of Christ as warrior to the violent religious iconography of medieval Catholicism and, finally, to the closed body of the early modern era.
The earlier Catholic connection is reiterated verbally with the trib- une’s references first to ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’, underscoring the body of Coriolanus as spectacle; and then to ‘tongues’ and ‘wounds’, evok- ing the grotesque visualization of kissing Christ’s wounds (2.1.192–6; 2.2.5–7, 40–9). Christ’s side-wound is frequently depicted quite graphi- cally at this time as a distinct part of the body, often highly sexualized, resembling a bodily orifice and referred to as an entrance to a ‘womb’ or an anus. Richard Rambuss argues that contemporary scholarship has tended to emphasize associations with the former in supporting a view of ‘Christ as mother’, rendering these images as predominately feminine and effacing references that suggest responses to the body of Christ as male. I agree with Rambuss that, even in its most feminized renderings, the body of Christ is nevertheless a male body, one that is typically highly eroticized, especially in depictions of the bleeding, crucified Christ. Associated with the plethora of images related to the belly, bowels, and digestion, Coriolanus’s wounds may also suggest the anus, the secret place of the male’s passivity, the hidden site where he as the closed male body can be penetrated.
The Third Citizen’s figurative reference to the ‘tongue’ in the holes or ‘wounds’ may evoke sexual connotations, and Coriolanus’s refusal to exhibit his wounds may further support his need to deny his own penetrability in order to embody his extreme version of virtus. As one who has ‘penetrated’ cities in battle, Coriolanus himself, as Jennifer A. Low puts it, ‘refuses to render himself vulnerable to figurative penetration’ in this scene. Interpreted in this light, Coriolanus’s refusal to show his wounds to the masses reveals a more deeply rooted fear of his own passivity and the potential permeability of his body. Moreover, Coriolanus’s resistance of the spectacle of his wounds onstage signals an emphasis on the newly bounded body. As West-Pavlov notes, in denying the audience this demonstration of his wounds, Coriolanus ‘retreats into an invisible space guaranteeing discrete corporeal boundaries’, signaling a denial of the medieval, Galenic humoral body epitomized in depictions of Christ and stressing the tension inherent in the shift to the newly bounded body.
The link between Coriolanus and images of Christ is developed further when Menenius describes Coriolanus as a ‘lamb’ vulnerable to the ‘hungry plebeians’ (2.1.8–9, 11) and when Coriolanus himself, Aufidius, and Menenius refer to Coriolanus as a solitary agent, battling like a ‘dragon’ (4.1.31; 4.7.23; 5.4.10–11). In the latter, Coriolanus sug- gests a reversal of Militia Christi, the early medieval image of the warrior Christ conquering the Dragon (devil or death), which later evolves into depictions of St George and the Dragon. Menenius likens Coriolanus to a dragon and follows this description with a parodic blazon of Coriolanus as warrior, an unflinching war machine: ‘The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes. When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his treading. He is able to pierce a corslet with his eye, talks like a knell, and his “hmh!” is a battery. He sits in his state as a thing made for Alexander’ (5.4.14–19). Interestingly, Coriolanus is aligned with the Dragon, not with Christ or St George. He is a fusion of both warrior and enemy. He is not the redeemer vanquishing death but the embodiment of death itself, as Volumnia refers to him (2.1.145).
These associations correspond to changing conceptions of selfhood and masculinity. Through the character of Coriolanus, Shakespeare examines the consequences of extreme virtus and neo-Stoicism: the mental ideal of impenetrability, the fantasy of existing in the world while separate from it – the view that, according to Charles Taylor, led to the emergence of the ‘disengaged self’. Apparently impervious to physical pain or needs and to any fear of death, Coriolanus seems to epitomize the combined ideals of manly valor (impenetrability) and neo-Stoicism – the achievement of emotional distance from and immunity to the external world and ‘[t]he heartache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to’ (Hamlet, 3.1.64–5). As William J. Bouwsma explains, neo-Stoicism holds a ‘definition of virtue as that self-sufficiency which, by freeing the individual from all dependence on things external to himself, makes him invulnerable to fortune and so supplies him with inner freedom, the only freedom to which man can aspire’.43 Neo-Stoicism advocates resolving issues in life by adopting a ‘disciplined apatheia, a cultivated indifference to physical needs and impulses, affections, external conditions’.
Coriolanus’s desire to be completely self-sufficient, utterly independent, exemplifies, in part, the ideal of neo-Stoicism. This ideal is perfectly expressed by sixteenth- century neo-Stoic humanist Justus in De Constantia: ‘I am guarded and fenced against all external things and settled within myself, indifferent to all cares but one, which is that I may bring in subjection this broken and distressed mind of mine to right reason and God and subdue all human and earthly things to my mind.’ Moreover, in his sense of superiority and arrogance, Coriolanus exhibits the neo-Stoic’s elitist temperament. Although ancient Roman Stoicism combines with the ideal of social duty and holds a basic tenet of equality, it assumes that only a small number of elite men may truly achieve the ‘good life’. This attitude is carried forward in the Renaissance. Bouwsma notes that the neo-Stoic humanist with his self-perceived ‘spiritual superiority’ sought to ‘distinguish himself from the vulgar crowd’.
Although Coriolanus may exemplify these aspects of neo-Stoicism, he fails in its primary ideal, losing sight of the ultimate goal expressed by Justus above: one’s ‘subjection ... to right reason and God’. He is unable to follow the dictates of reason, striving no higher than achieving martial exploits and beating his arch-rival, Aufidius. Shakespeare refuses any attempt to create a psychological interiority for this character, as he does for others; Coriolanus does not confide his inner thoughts in soliloquy. The audience observes Coriolanus’s actions and interactions with others and hears commentary about Coriolanus from other characters but not from Coriolanus himself. Coriolanus’s actions often demonstrate his inability to use temperance to balance his conflicting emotions, to restrain his ‘choler’ and master his passions. Coriolanus is described as full of ‘choler’ (3.3.25) and refers to himself as consumed with ‘anger’ (4.2.54–6).
Coriolanus appears to be pulled from the contradictory drives noted by Renaissance writers on the passions and melancholy, what Nicholas Coeffeteau describes as the ‘contrary motions and desires that which we strive against’; Thomas Wright refers to as ‘internall combate’, and Robert Burton analyzes as the tumultuous feelings that pull one apart: ‘We are torn to pieces by our passions, as so many wild horses.’ Coriolanus exhibits behavior that suggests he is tormented by these passions, which correspond to the following categories of disturbances in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy: taciturnity, anger, vainglory, and arrogance. Burton aligns taciturnity with the Stoics, describing their haughtiness as exhibited by ‘one so arrogant that he thought himself inferior to no man living’. As a note to this perturbation of the passions, Burton adds that such arrogance ‘causeth so many bloody battles ... gaining honour, a little applause, pride, self-love, vainglory’. Burton here implies a link between this one feature of Stoicism and martial valor or virtus – both of which are embedded in ideals of masculinity inherited from ancient Rome in the Renaissance.
Apparently torn apart by ‘internall combate’, Coriolanus is unable to follow the straight-and-narrow path to reason offered by Stoicism, which has direct links to ancient Roman ideals of masculinity and virtus. For the Augustan male, ‘masculinity’ does not merely relate to virility or gender norms, but to the larger sense of autarky – control and restraint of one’s self, both inside and outside. The Roman male must be invulnerable to all emotional stimulation or passion, for ‘a Man to be a man must be durus (hard), but love (for which he needs to be durus) will make him mollis (soft)’, as Alison Sharrock puts it in her analysis of Ovid’s challenge to Roman masculine ideals. Masculinity, in these terms, is thus equated with ‘impenetrability’. The line is drawn here: a ‘real Roman man’ is the ‘active penetrator’ not the ‘passive penetrated’. The borderline between active male/passive not male must be constantly policed, for as Ellen Greene points out, this Roman ‘masculine identity is thus always at risk’. Coriolanus exemplifies this fragility of masculinity, as he struggles with his identity as a hyper-masculine war- rior and vulnerable son, his role as an impervious noble and reluctant politician.
In fulfilling the part for which his mother Volumnia has groomed him, Martius (later Coriolanus) has built his fragile masculine iden- tity on skewed principles of virtus. Plutarch begins his biography of Coriolanus by defining virtus as ‘valliantnes’, stressing its importance in Roman culture. Karl Galinsky provides an extended definition, outlining these three associations with virtus: 1) deeds of manly valor, or victoria, leading to great reputation and honor, or honos; 2) character built through effort and merit (character, leadership); and 3) honorable deeds in service to the Republic. Virtus involved personal glory, but primarily, it was supposed to be a means to an end of duty to res publica. And, importantly, virtus was supposed to exist alongside pietas – familial, religious, and patriotic duty. Clearly, Coriolanus excels only in the first, main aspect of virtus: manly valor.
The ideal of virtus surfaced in sixteenth-century England as a nostal- gic response to the changing role of the nobleman from warrior/soldier to courtier, a factor in a cultural crisis of masculinity that is often the subject of Shakespeare’s plays, as exemplified by Hotspur in Henry IV, Part One, and continued into the Jacobean era. Joo Young Dittmann describes this ‘Stoic virtus’ as ‘gender-coded’ in his analysis of masculinity in early modern culture and in Shakespeare. As Dittmann contends, Coriolanus is a play that reveals contradictions inherent in masculinity itself. In his censure of Roman Stoic masculinity – a component of the medieval chivalric ideal – Shakespeare disparages the Renaissance court’s nostalgic, cultural fascination with chivalry and its notions of manly valor. In this sense, Shakespeare transports Ovid’s criticism of Roman virtus to early modern notions of gendered identity and heroism.
In part, Shakespeare’s examination of these heroic ideals includes a sharp critique of neo-Stoicism’s aversion to emotional expression, which results in the pervasive fear and loathing of any action that may reveal vulnerability or be perceived as feminine. This fear is evident on many levels, including character and soliloquy. As noted above, Coriolanus – unlike Hamlet, Macbeth, and other tragic figures – does not confide to the audience in soliloquy. As one who disavows femininity to this degree, Coriolanus’s lack of soliloquy is significant; it reinforces his aversion to any sign of vulnerability in his adherence to an extreme, distorted ideal of virtus. As Low explains, Coriolanus ‘resists the traditional theatrical vulnerability of the soliloquizer, in itself a metaphorical openness to penetration’. This dread of vulnerability, of openness, is linked to a misogyny that underlies notions of masculinity and femininity. According to Gary Spear, this fear of ‘openness’ indicates ‘the essential instability lodged at the center of all constructions and embodiments of masculinity, an instability that is anxiously elaborated in the early modern discourse of effeminacy’. Exemplifying excessive virtus, Coriolanus vehemently shuns any behavior that could be marked as ‘effeminate’, such as acting or performing for the rebellious multitude which, in Coriolanus’s view, is to be ‘possess[ed]’ with a ‘harlot’s spirit!’ (3.2.111–12). Although he reluctantly agrees to Volumnia’s plan to ingratiate himself with the people, Coriolanus is unable to pull it off, resulting in his exile. For Coriolanus, the very idea of acting is aligned with femininity. This link corresponds to Western concepts of mimesis and imitation, truth and falsity, honesty and deception – ‘the feminine’ as the faulty imitation, the seductive illusion – the antithesis of manly valor.
In a frantic attempt to maintain his identity as a death machine, Coriolanus violently ‘penetrates’ everyone and everything.63 His battles become metaphorical sexual acts in which he symbolically penetrates the gates of the city (1.5), rendering the battle itself a symbolic wed- ding night when greeting Cominius (1.7.29–32). His cry, ‘O’ me alone, make you a sword of me?’ (1.7.76), thus carries with it strong sexual and violent associations. His inability to balance manly valor – his inexhaustible lust for blood in battle – with the other aspects of the ideal – strong leadership and devotion to public service – leads to his own destruction by giving his enemies all they need to overtake him.
In part, his virtus rests on an obsession with his rival, Aufidius – an addition to Shakespeare’s sources. Coriolanus comes to epitomize what Coppélia Kahn defines as the ideal of the Roman warrior as exemplified in this play, typified by its ‘suppression of human sympathy ... embodied in Volumnia, and its extreme competitiveness, which pits man against man in an incessant contest for superiority ... embodied in Aufidius’. This aspect of ‘valliantnes’ – ‘man against man’ – is characterized by the emulation of and victory over an enemy who exhibits equally admira- ble martial prowess, as exemplified in the rivalry between Martius and Aufidius. As Martius puts it, to him Aufidius is his rival because ‘[h]e [Aufidius] is a lion / That I am proud to hunt’ (1.1.226–7).
The obsession is mutual: Aufidius swears that if he and ‘Caius Martius chance to meet, / ’Tis sworn between us we shall ever strike / Till one can do no more’ (1.2.34–6). Aufidius links passionate battle to erotic desire, a comparison that follows numerous analogies of war and sex that run throughout the play.
Aufidius calls his enemy a traitor and then humili- ates him further by proclaiming that Coriolanus should not call on Mars when he is but a ‘boy of tears’ (5.6.103). The term ‘boy’ here, in an early modern context, may suggest not only a youth but also a womanly man or a sexually submissive sodomite – terms associated with femininity and vulnerability in both ancient Roman and early modern contexts, therefore highly charged insults to Coriolanus’s manhood. Shakespeare clearly punctuates this affront, as Coriolanus repeats the word ‘boy’ three times (5.6.105, 113, and 117). I argue that the term signifies all three of the meanings above – all extremely offensive because of their underlying connection to femininity. Even in cultures that accepted and valued male–male sexual experience, such as ancient Greece, phobia directed toward the pathic or effeminate man in male–male relationships existed alongside the valorization of homoerotic friendships and bonds between warriors.
In ancient Roman culture, the sexually passive partner became the symbol of disorder, an image that came to resemble later early modern constructions of the sodomite as one who ‘threaten[s] the integrity of orthodox social structures’, in Gregory Bredbeck’s words, and also suggests the sexualized male figure of Ganymede. As Bruce Smith notes, Coriolanus’s manhood is crushed at this comment, as masculinity is conferred to men by other men. At this ultimate offense, the warrior ‘rankles at his demotion – chronological, social, sexual – to the status of “boy”’. Coriolanus unleashes his fear and rage, further emphasizing the fragility of his manly valor in the face of Aufidius’s insult: ‘Boy? O slave!’ he shouts, ‘“Boy”! False hound’ (5.6.105 and 113). Clinging to his past idea of himself, Coriolanus retorts, ‘Alone I did it. “Boy”!’ (5.6.117). Coriolanus taunts the mob.
Coriolanus’s final ‘bring it on!’ shout reveals his underlying death wish to be savagely emblazoned – to be slaughtered brutally like Actaeon, torn to bits by the Volscians over whom he has been both a scourge of death and a domineering commander. Coriolanus refuses to surrender the sword, but he does seem to give up the fight to maintain the closed, masculine body. Coriolanus’s fantasy seems to be to die dis- membered, fragmented – the release of the martyr’s death. However, Coriolanus is denied that frenetic, climactic end. In a final attempt to regain past martial feats, Coriolanus draws his sword – but this time, he is not invincible. The conspirators stab and kill their enemy.
His masculine selfhood undermined, Coriolanus’s death is stamped with the shame of being the conquered, not the conqueror. Coriolanus’s emblazoned body is now finally on display, his wounds open and bleeding in full view, the visual spectacle accompanied by Aufidius’s qualified praise. All of Coriolanus’s bloody exploits, his unmatchable prowess, his refusal to compromise the closed body, have led to this end. In this final tableau, Shakespeare stages the discordant models of masculinity inherited from Roman and later Christian traditions, foregrounding the pressures instigated by the emergence of the newly bounded body and commenting on its roots in the discordant strands of humanism, neo-Stoicism and Augustinian philosophy. The concluding image of the bleeding warrior’s corpse emphatically punctuates the tragedy’s critique of neo-Stoicism and extreme virtus in early modern ideals of masculinity." [Lisa Starks; 'One Whole Wound', Violence, Trauma, and Virtus in Shakespeare’s Roman Poems and Plays]