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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: October ::
Politics of *Coriolanus*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 659.  Sunday, 18 October 1993.
 
From:           Nina Walker <
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Date:           Saturday, 16 Oct 1993 13:23:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 4.0637  Shakespeare and Politics
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0637  Shakespeare and Politics
 
I'm in complete agreement with Piers Lewis's insightful analysis of the
more enduring politics in *Coriolanus*, those that transcend the
particular time and place connotations we give it. To add to the
discussion I would ask if perhaps you think that the banning came about
because of events that took place at a Paris performance shortly before
WWII in which Communists and Fascists rioted each claiming that *Cor*
was propaganda for the other side? This might have been fresh in the
minds of the authorities. Also, I would add, if it hasn't already been
mentioned that a reading of B. Brecht's notes on the play is
enlightening and supportive of Piers Lewis's argument (see Brecht,
*Brecht on Theatre*, trans, John Willett (London:Methuen & Co.,1964).
 
George Eliot made a careful study of *C* in preparation for her novel,
*Felix Holt the Radical*. Echoes from the play and epigrams to lead off
the chapters are evidence as well as her own notes. In *Felix* she
endows her hero (a working man and radical democrat) with the very same
characteristics Lewis ascribes to Coriolanus. Eliot's book was and is
considered her "political" novel just as *C* has been dubbed
Shakespeare's political play. I agree that on a particular philosophical
level they both are, raising questions about democracy, aristocracy,
moral virtue in governance, individual merit vs. the demands of a
populace, and questions of class interest. However, the way in which
Eliot framed her novel and hero incurred the same reaction that
Shakespeare's play has triggered. According to a peer assessment at the
time of Eliot's publication : "And each party and school are determined
to see their own side in it--the religious people, the non religious
people, the various sections ...the educated, the simple, the radicals,
the Tories, the socialists, the intellectual reformers...the critics,
the metaphysicians, the artists, the Positivists, the squires, are all
quite convinced that it has been conceived from their point of view."
 
On quite another track, I am interested in Coriolanus's tragic flaw
and the role it plays in his undoing. It doesn't take long for his
enemies to figure out that he cannot control his temper. If the right
buttons are pushed, he's certain to lose it and become his own worst
enemy. Am I all alone, or did anyone relate this to the movie *A Few Good
Men*. I thought the Jack Nicholson character to be very much like
Coriolanus and a central feature of the plot is the defense lawyer's
sense that if he can push the right button, Colonel Jessup will explode
on the stand and do himself in. Tom Cruise's calculations of the
Colonel's reaction is based on his feeling early on that the Colonel has
an uncontrollable rage (handy in the warrior class) and he can tap it.
This is reminiscent of Brutus and Sicinius's manipulation of
Coriolanus's flaw.
 
To wander even farther afield of the orginal intent, I have an unrelated
request. My daughter is student teaching in a 6th grade classroom and
they are about to tackle *MSND* She asks for any suggestions you might
have for approaching the play with this age group. Someone has suggested
an animated version done on HBO. Do you know where we can get a copy?
Any other ideas will be much appreciated.
 
                                 Thanks in advance,
                                 Nina Walker
 

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