Coriolanus And Othello

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Coriolanus and Othello

Coriolanus and Othello


Believed to have been written around 1608, Coriolanus is commonly regarded as one of Shakespeare's most accomplished political dramas. Indeed, for years scholars have been fascinated by the enigmatic figure of Caius Marcius Coriolanus and by Shakespeare's frank comparison of the decaying values of republican Rome with the dissolute ideological conditions of Jacobean England. Based on Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, Coriolanus concentrates on the warrior-hero Caius Marcius, a figure notable for his adamant devotion to personal honor, prodigious bravery, and military prowess, but who also loathes political compromise and possesses a haughty disdain for the Roman plebeians. After a hard-won victory at Corioles, Caius Marcius is heralded as the triumphant Coriolanus and nominated by the Roman Senate to become consul. Ill-suited to political leadership, Coriolanus treats the common people with derision (Bartels & Emily, pp. 140-51).

Two tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius--representatives of the plebeians and Coriolanus's political enemies--cleverly manipulate their constituents into banishing the war hero. While in exile, Coriolanus joins his city's enemies, the Volscians, and leads a military campaign against Rome. His mother Volumnia intercedes, however, and persuades her son to spare the city. Coriolanus is thereafter murdered by the followers of the Volscian leader Aufidius as retribution for his failure to conquer Rome. In recent years, critics have examined the puzzling contrast between Coriolanus's personal code of honor and his arrogant disdain for his Roman constituents; how Shakespeare employed linguistic techniques to shape the audience's sentiment towards Rome and its tragic hero; and how the playwright manipulated commonly held assumptions about ancient Rome to create a transparent critique of the political, religious, and social values of Jacobean England (Rozett, pp.55-65).

Many commentators have been captivated by Shakespeare's representation of Coriolanus as a character who embodies the consummate Roman values of honor, virtue, and patriotism in war, but who lacks the political tact and empathy to govern Rome during times of peace. D. Douglas Waters (1999) attempts to shed light on Coriolanus's hubris in classical terms, focusing on the Aristotelian concepts of mimesis and catharsis as they apply to the play. Arguing that catharsis should be understood as "clarification," Waters suggests that the dramatic presentation (mimesis) of Coriolanus's anger and greatness of soul leads to the "intellectual, moral, and emotional clarification of pity and fear in the audience for the tragic hero's downfall." Kenneth Gross (2001) maintains that Shakespeare's conception of Coriolanus represents a perceptive examination of the human condition, focusing on how one can forsake human nature and become unnatural and inhuman (Burnett, pp. 95-124).

Gross explores how Coriolanus's difficult transition from warrior to governor affects his nature and initiates a private language with which the hero increases his understanding of himself and non-military situations. Hannibal Hamlin (see Further Reading) studies the verbal and visual allusions to pagan and biblical divinity in Coriolanus. He maintains that Shakespeare deliberately incorporated a scheme of competing values between Roman gods, the Old Testament Jehovah, and the New Testament Jesus to ...
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