Coriolanus by Bruce King (auth.)

By Bruce King (auth.)

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If such excesses of scholarship and Christian allegorising make Simmons' readings appear special pleading he shows why the Roman plays seem so futile; a pagan world in which action can only be referred to secular social norms lacks purpose and is disillusioning. There is no suggestion of a dimension that would give life purpose, meaning, consolation. While the plays with Christian dimensions may show a futile secular world there are symbolic patterns which offer consolation- confession, repentance, restoration and an afterlife.

In Julius Caesar and Coriolanus Shakespeare shows a real city; in each the governing order is challenged and the city is in crisis. The plays are concerned with the question of what a city is or should be. The patricians identify Rome with themselves; the tribunes see the city as its citizens. In the play as a whole 'Rome' occurs 86 times but almost always by the patricians. The tribunes use it six times; the citizens never. Identification with the notion of Rome is therefore patrician, although the idea of the city is claimed for the citizens.

The second half of the play has a contradictory message. Having driven out its military leadership the city has no defence and is 'doomed to destruction'. The people 'can only hate and bite', but are unable to defend their city. Among the nameless crowd 'only Coriolanus was a great man .... History is cruel and abounds in traps. ' Shakespeare in julius Caesar and Coriolanus has introduced Republican Rome into tragedy, and history has now become ironic. Coriolanus is marked by greatness but is crushed by history.

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