"Coriolanus", community, theater, and seventeenth-century Commonwealth

Christopher James Fassler, University of Pennsylvania


Perhaps because of its unusually overt political focus, Coriolanus has commonly been used as a test case for one construction or another of Shakespeare's political interests and sympathies. The multiplicity of voices and political opinions given voice and embodiment in the play suggests, however, that the acting company, especially--among the many relationships required to make theater in early modern England--shaped the ideological tendencies apparent in their drama. Making this diversity of voices and perspectives clearer involves not only recognizing and identifying them within a play, but also demonstrating what discursive strands of English social and political rhetoric they belong to and how those discourses shape each other by their juxtaposition in Coriolanus and elsewhere. The discourses of rebellion and tyranny, particularly as they were invoked during and after such disturbances as the Midlands Rising of 1607, help demonstrate that no simple radical-conservative or subversive-orthodox model accounts well for the theater produced from the complex and historically exceptional experiment of early commercial public theater. That experiment was compounded of compromise, collaboration, and negotiation with patrons, audiences, actors, entrepreneurs, artisans, and others and was fraught with the instability and mobility which both threatened and made possible those relationships. The rebellion and threatened tyranny of Coriolanus and contemporary texts exemplify the ease with which theater challenged the basic assumptions of English orthodoxy and the danger posed to a precariously marginal enterprise by the violent social excisions of the tyrant, the rebel, and retributive authority. Thus, Coriolanus helps to show that the productions of early modern theater frequently attempted to delineate differences and conflict, not to encourage class isolation and separation, but precisely to demonstrate the desirability of continued social cohesion and reciprocity.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Theater|European history

Recommended Citation

Fassler, Christopher James, ""Coriolanus", community, theater, and seventeenth-century Commonwealth" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308567.