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A Marxist Reading of Shakespeare's Coriolanus Essay

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A Marxist Reading of Coriolanus

 
    One popular dissecting instrument of any Shakespearean character is the modern tool of psychoanalysis. Many of Shakespeare's great tragic heroes-Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello, to name a few-have all been understood by this method of plying back and interpreting the layers of motivation and desire that constitute every individual. Add to this list Shakespeare's Roman warrior Coriolanus. His strong maternal ties coupled with his aggressive and intractable nature have been ideal fodder for modern psychoanalytic interpretation. This interpretation, however, falls within a larger, political context. For despite the fact that Coriolanus is a tragedy largely because of the foibles of its title character, its first and most lasting impression is that it is a political play. Indeed, the opening scene presents the audience with a rebellious throng of plebeians hungry for grain that is being hoarded by the patricians. When Menenius, a patrician mouthpiece, enters the scene a dialectic is immediately established, and the members of the audience inexorably find themselves on one side or the other of this dialectic, depending, most likely, on their particular station in life.

 

The English nobility that viewed this play in Shakespeare's time undoubtedly found Menenius' fable of the belly compelling, in which the belly-representing the patricians-is said to be a distribution centre that may initially receive all the flour (nourishment), but parcels it out evenly to the various limbs, and organs-representing all other classes of the republic-leaving itself only the bran. I doubt the audience in the pit found this body trope very persuasive, especially since this play was initially per...


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...bject of our misery, is as an / inventory to particularize their abundance; our / sufferance is a gain to them" (I.i.16-18). By rioting for grain and then banishing Coriolanus, the citizens are taking what limited steps are available to people of their class to effect change and receive recognition of their voices. Their insurrection will indeed throw forth greater themes, one of which will be emancipation.

 

Works Cited

Appignanesi, Richard. (1976). Marx for Beginners. London, England: Writers and Readers Publishing Co-operative (Society Limited).

Cavell, Stanley. (1985). Who does the wolf love? Coriolanus and the interpretation of politics. In Parker, P. & Hartman, G. (ed.),

Shakespeare and the question of theory. New York: Methuen.

Jagendorf, Zvi. (1990). Coriolanus: body politic and private parts. Shakespeare Quarterly, 41(4), pp. 455-469.


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