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Coriolanus: inordinate passions and powers in personal and political governance.

   For wisdom is the property of the dead,
   A something incompatible with life; and power,
   Like everything that has the stain of blood,
   A property of the living ...

--William Butler Yeats, "Blood and Moon"

Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, defines moderation as a disposition to choose the just mean between excess and deficiency in emotion and action as a response to varying circumstances and relative to each particular person. (1) As a situational ethic, moderation can only be limned "in outline and not precisely," (2) but that did not stop the golden mean from becoming a powerful cultural commonplace in early modern England. (3) Despite its ubiquitous invocation as an ideal, there was a great divergence in how this ethical principle was to be construed or applied to the various spheres--economic, religious, social, amorous, convivial--of early modern life. (4)

Shakespeare distinguishes himself from most of his contemporaries, Who pitted passion against moderation, excess against what they considered a lackluster Aristotelian mean. Given his complexity of thought, Shakespeare, throughout his corpus, presents diverse representations of moderation, reflective of various contemporary views: for example, self-restraint with regard to common pleasures, discipline in politics, virtuosity in self-advancement, and feminine modesty. Among Shakespeare's various depictions of the mean, however, none, I believe, is as innovative and potent as virtuous moderation, deploying rather than decrying passion toward salutary and excellent ends. Shakespeare throughout his plays vividly dramatizes a conception of moderation faithful to Aristotelian ethical theory of the mean as a situational virtue, which comprehends excessive affect and action. Moderation is, in value, a virtuous extreme and, in practice, an instrumental mean that involves the entire range of excessive and moderate passion and action: an excellence of disciplined passion. (5) In Aristotle's famous illustration of moderation as the action of a skilled archer aiming at his target, (6) the mean and the extreme converge literally in the bull's eye. As Aristotle suggests, even discerning the target in real life is much more complex than in archery in that the just mean is a moving target--not a simple arithmetic mean--varying by person, by circumstance, by emotion. As Shakespeare so richly shows, this perfective moderation, in harmonizing passion and reason, fuses effective strategy with virtue. The virtuous mean comprehends rather than eschews the sometimes extreme measures required of prudence; affectively, moderation, depending on the situation, might entail an intense expression of passion or a submerged one, without ever extirpating it. Entailing rational deliberation implemented in effective action--all fueled by a noble end--virtuous moderation presupposes psychologically complex, well-developed characters. It is no surprise then that the plays of Shakespeare, through their wealth of nuanced characters engaged in psychologically complex action, are so congenial for examinations of the passions and their virtuous governance.

This ethico-political study examines in Shakespeare's Coriolanus how the lack of virtuous moderation in the eponymous hero, Rome's first citizen, reflects the collective immoderation of the entire polity: the state's inability to bring its various parts into salutary corporate balance, thus overturning its pro-republican advances. This tragedy has intrigued audiences at two levels--characterological and political. Its title character, herculean in his strength and moral integrity, continues to baffle and provoke ambivalence in us. The play, a dramatization of Rome as an emergent republic, has also garnered critical attention recently in the effort to recuperate early modern texts as pro-democratic documents. (7) The personal and political strands merge in the interlinked fates of Coriolanus and the state. In this play exploring governance, Coriolanus's incontinence contributes to and is emblematic of Rome's constitutional imbalance as an incipient republic. The meaning of the tragedy depends on a clear vision of Coriolanus's character.

In this Roman tragedy, a heroic warrior is promoted to consulship only to be banished as a traitor. The peripetian course of Coriolanus's career in Rome from "th' casque to' th' cushion" (4.7.43) (8) to a sudden descent suggests hamartia and other deficiencies of character that scholars have vigorously imputed to Coriolanus. Cynthia Marshall offers a succinct summary of this "criticism of lack":
   Jonathan Goldberg, for instance, notes that Coriolanus' emotional
   privation constitutes a "crucial lack" and Michael Goldman observes
   his "lack of inwardness." (9) Paul Cantor finds all the play's
   characters to be deficient in this way ... a perception that may be
   related to Stanley Cavell's sense of the play's generic "lack or
   missing of tragedy." Janet Adelman notices how the lack extends to
   the audience: "We are made as rigid and cold as the hero by the
   lack of anything that absolutely commands our human sympathies."

Referring to Coriolanus's speech, Carol Sicherman, moreover, speaks of a "disjunction between heart and brain." (11) To boot, these and other critics, impugning his very patriotism, have noted his flaws of pride, irascibility, and unsociability. (12) Yet he fights fearlessly for Rome, while refusing praise and rewards, and a more honest man than he the city would be hard pressed to find. As Menenius claims:
   His nature is too noble for the world.
   He would not flatter Neptune for his trident
   Or Jove for's power to thunder. His heart's his mouth.
   What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent,
   And, being angry, does forget that ever
   He heard the name of death.


In Aristotle's terms to describe the self-sufficient, superior man, is he "a beast or a god"? (13)

None of the critical descriptions above seem to offer a satisfying interpretation of Coriolanus's paradoxical nature because of a moral trickiness to his character. Rather than lack, Coriolanus possesses, as hamartia, an excess of virtue, or what I call "hypervirtue" inherent in the conception of Roman virtue: the imperative to be both uncommon and common, to rise above the herd and to be co-operative within it. Roman virtus, derived from its root vir, meaning "man" literally means "manly excellence." As Geoffrey Miles explains, virtus is best exemplified through the Stoic notion of constancy, understood as fortitude, endurance, and consistency of action. (14) Like Aristotelian moderation, virtus is, in value, an extreme and, in application, a mean within the playing of one's proper role in the polity (civic decorum) (15) and within the larger natural order. An ideal applicable to civic participation in times of war and peace, virtus was best exhibited by the aristocratic warrior and the Stoic sapiens, the two types of people within the polity for whom self-sufficiency involving the utmost physical and mental toughness became a special devotion. As Cicero well knew, however, such "aspirations to individual self-advancement and self-perfection [were not] easy to reconcile with the common good of the state." (16) With his extraordinary strength, the double-edged passion that fuels Coriolanus's hypervirtue meets extraordinary success on the battlefield (though even there it is subject to critique) and disaster in the political arena, where he finds moderation incompatible with his virtue.

Emblematizing what the state suffers as a whole, Coriolanus's incontinence in virtue serves nonetheless as foil to the excesses and deficiencies of the other key political stakeholders--the tribunes' exertion of arbitrary power, the patricians' political imprudence and weak will, and the plebeians' fatal combination of political naivete and impulsiveness. At the marketplace, the venue of Coriolanus's public trial, his rivals, the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius, formally accuse him of being a tyrant and "a traitor to the people" (3.3.68). Coriolanus's incontinence in virtue, manifesting itself in political imprudence, falls prey to the tribunes' vicious manipulation of the people's passions. Dispensing with due process of law, the tribunes sentence Coriolanus to capital punishment, later reduced to exile. The rule of law thus devolves into arbitrary law, or tyranny of the masses, as the people at the marketplace cry for his banishment. Shakespeare's tragedy vividly dramatizes how incontinence and vicious conduct by its constituent citizens bring about the breakdown of the body politic and, in this way, reinforces the Aristotelian notion that the well-being of the state is dependent on the virtue of its individual citizens.

I. Uncommon within the Commonwealth: Personal Ethos vs. Public Good

Coriolanus is the exceptional man who "hath been used / Ever to conquer and to have his worth / [by] contradiction" (3.3.26-28), by difference. By the very core of his ethos, Coriolanus repels commonness, including what he perceives as the common abilities of the plebeians as opposed to the inherent arete of his own aristocratic class of patricians. What critics often overlook, distracted by Coriolanus's extravagant displays of pride and anger, is the intellectual grounding of his political stance. (17) As a patrician, he firmly subscribes to the dominant political conception of antiquity, the Platonic tripartite state hierarchically composed of rulers, soldiers, and workers/commoners corresponding respectively to the reason, passions, and appetites of the tripartite soul. He holds the traditional low opinion of the third class of plebeians as "the mutable rank-scented meinie" (3.1.70), ever fickle, subject to appetites. (18) Valuing moral strength and integrity especially in times of foreign threats, he spurns moral weakness and vacillation on the part of both the plebeians and the patricians. Coriolanus opposes political change upon the valid "reasons" (3.1.122) that the transitional state of republican rule is one of confusion and vulnerability, dangerously diluting patrician power with the authority of a politically naive citizenry schooled by the more savvy tribunes. Especially because the play, by its end, comes to confirm his political prognosis, Coriolanus's view of Rome in the short run would be tenable were it not for its deterministic aspect. Coriolanus is right in his assessment of the plebeians as presently lacking the political skills necessary to fulfill their civic duties. The problem, however, is that Coriolanus's opinion regarding the plebeians is that their condition is static, with no view toward their perfectibility. Such a naturalized view of the hierarchical classes is clearly antithetical to the very definition and existence of a republic, grounded on the validity of every citizen's voice, or vote. Despite his genuine commitment to excellence, Coriolanus presents himself as an obstacle to the long-term goal of an effective communal form of government designated as the republic.

Coriolanus's martial prowess, fueled by passion, enables Rome's defeat of aggressive neighboring states, thereby bringing the civic peace requisite for her slow evolution from an oligarchy to the more equitable/egalitarian republic. Rome's act of gratitude to her best citizen/protector of the state in wartime, the bestowing of consulship to Coriolanus, becomes the seed, ironically, for its near-disintegration in peacetime. Moderation, requisite for the rational discussion and often collective decision making in civic society, is antithetical to the heroic ideal of exceeding the crowd. The assets and defects of this pursuit of self-perfection manifest themselves first in Coriolanus's actions as soldier. As a warrior who single-handedly won Corioles for Rome, Coriolanus is the constant Roman par excellence, exhibiting supreme courage and physical self-mastery. His conduct invariably displays an unremitting virtue, charged with passion during the heroic action but with dismissiveness toward his worthy deeds once done. When praised for his superhuman feats of valor, in his view mere "nothings monstered" (2.2.73), Coriolanus refuses to be distinguished from his fellow soldiers who fought with equally virtuous spirit--if not ability--for their country: "He that has but effected his good will / Hath overta'en mine act" (1.10.18-19). Hence, Coriolanus "stand[s] upon [his] common part with those / That have upheld the doing" (1.10.39-40), nobly declining a larger share of the war booty. This is, indeed, the action of Aristotle's just man who "does not assign to himself more of what is good in itself, unless such a share is proportional to his merits"--or noble-spirited virtue, in Coriolanus's view--"so that it is for others that he labours, and it is for this reason that men ... say that justice is 'another's good'" (my emphasis). (19)

There are, nonetheless, cracks in Coriolanus's magnanimity and modesty, qualities proper to the virtuous man. For one, his inclusive attitude of elevating all to the same level of excellence does not extend to plebeians, since Coriolanus later contemptuously (and sarcastically) remarks that "our gentlemen, / The common file" (1.7.42-43) briskly fled from the battle. The plebeian Have-nots of Rome seem less inspired than their patrician counterparts to defend a corporate machine designed to maintain and protect the politico-economic interests of the Haves. Even if there are a few plebeians within the ranks of this martial aristoi, Coriolanus's acknowledgment of their exceptional virtue seems to be as "good-willed" without "effect" (1.10.18)--applying his standard--as his unaccomplished gesture of kindness toward the nameless Volscian man who "used me kindly" (1.10.82). As Aristotle notes, virtue arises not by moral will alone, acting in accordance with or in resistance to nature:
   None of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that
   exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For
   instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be
   habituated to move upwards, even if one tries to train it by
   throwing it up ten thousand times.... Neither by nature, then, nor
   contrary to nature do virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by
   nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit. (20)

Vis-a-vis both the brave plebeian soldiers and the nameless Volscian host, Coriolanus, with an acculturated view that plebeians and aliens merit less consideration, lacks the active will to carry through his good intention.

Contrary to first glance, Coriolanus's virtuous modesty also presents itself as flawed pride, an imperfection inherent within the relentless pursuit of perfection. Cominius's report of his taxing virtue reveals Coriolanus's excessive rejection of honor:
      Our spoils he kicked at,
   And looked upon things precious as they were
   The common muck of the world. He covets less
   Than misery itself would give, rewards
   His deeds with doing them, and is content
   To spend the time to end it.


Personal excellence so rules his life that Coriolanus is unable to accept gifts graciously, a refusal that conveys a sometimes justified and sometimes overplayed disregard for the values others treasure. According to Aristotle, pride, in regard to the supremely virtuous man, is the proper mean between humility and vanity, for the "proud man ... is an extreme in respect of the greatness of his claims, but a mean in respect of the rightness of them; for he claims what is in accordance with his merits, while the others go to excess or fall short." (21) Hence, while "his nature is too noble for the world" (3.1.255), Coriolanus invariably acts with "a merit / To choke it in the utt'rance" (4.7.48-49), the paradox of perfection. While noble in the boundlessness of intrapersonal striving, Coriolanus's humility becomes an improper pride within civic intercourse.

Aristotle claims that a "truly proud man must be good." (22) Coriolanus's flawed pride points to cracks in his hypervirtue. Like those well-born or those enjoying power or wealth who, lacking perfect virtue, become disdainful and insolent, Coriolanus cannot "bear gracefully the goods of fortune; and, being unable to bear them, and thinking themselves superior to others, they despise others and themselves do what they please." (23) The paradox of perfection unfolds most vividly in Coriolanus's difficult interaction with the common lot. Vis-a-vis the plebeians, ambivalently presented as mediocre in courage and intelligence, Coriolanus "love[s] them as they weigh" (2.2.69), pushing the virtue-challenged to prove their worth. He stresses in this regard that the state dispensation of corn was not a reward for the plebeians' cowardly martial effort at Corioles. This situation counterposes two divergent perspectives on civic duties and benefits: social entitlement versus merit. In Coriolanus's hard-line view, the plebeians must rightly earn civic entitlements and through their cowardice "did not deserve corn gratis" (3.1.128). His rigorous martial standards exact an equal effort as his from those with less moral luck, that is, without the mental and physical capacities and socioeconomic privileges conducive to the virtue he himself has attained. (24) Unlike Antony, who is fraternal toward his followers in Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus holds "a lofty bearing ... among humble people [which] is as vulgar as a display of strength against the weak." (25)

The question of the fair distribution of corn is directly linked to the concerns of social equity framed in the Aristotelian notion of distributive justice. The just distribution of wealth in society, Aristotle claims, should proceed according to merit--though there is disagreement over the interpretation of merit: as in Coriolanus, "democrats identify it with the status of freeman, supporters of oligarchy with wealth (or with noble birth), and supporters of aristocracy with excellence." (26) In act 1, the plebeians' violent demands for food are, instead of being satisfied, appeased by the appointment of two tribunes to represent their concerns at civic debates. Indeed, Sicinius and Brutus, as it turns out, successfully galvanize the veto power of the plebeians to obstruct the installation of imperious Coriolanus as consul. The danger of Coriolanus as leader of an emergent republic is that, in theory, he is a supporter of aristocracy, promoting excellence, but in practice, he acts more as a supporter of oligarchy, promoting wealth and noble birth. Potentially valuable, his devotion to excellence, inherently biased--or in Sicinius's words, "poison[ed]" (3.1.91)--to exclude the common crowd, could well be harmful to the nascent republic.

While Rodney Poisson makes an admirable case for Coriolanus as Aristotle's magnanimous man, noting just disdain as one of the latter's characteristics, (27) most critics, including me, see that in Coriolanus's case, his contempt toward the plebeians is far from just. I argue further that in his lack of imagination, it does not dawn on Coriolanus that with more food in their bellies (more kindness in the martial regime), the plebeian soldiers might have shown more heart to fight. Indeed, the rabble-rousing First Citizen complains about the constant state--in war and peace alike--of being eaten while the plebeians themselves starve: "If the wars eat us not up, [the patrician rapacious belly] will; and there's all the love they bear us" (1.1.75-76). Though Coriolanus's aim is to embody the constancy of the warrior and the sapiens, he has not imbibed the spirit of Stoic teachings, for Cicero, in advocating the pursuit of excellence, expounds an ethical individuation that allows for diverse potentials to be attained by dissimilar persons:
   [T]hat kind of men is seldom found, who after they be either of
   excellent profoundness of wit, or of famous learning, and
   knowledge, or with both these adorned, have got a time to take
   advisement [on] what race of life they would [most rather] run; in
   the which advice, all a man's counsel is to be applied to each
   man's proper nature. For since in an things, [it] be done, out of
   that nature wherewith every man is born ... we search what
   becometh, then, in pointing out the whole life, much more regard
   thereof must be had that in the continuing of our life we may agree
   with ourselves, and never halt in any duty. (28)

Cicero, following Aristotle's lead, allows for the virtuous ideal to vary according to the relative circumstances of the agent. (29) The best man, explains Aristotle in his chapter on justice in Nicomachean Ethics, "is not he who exercises his virtue towards himself but he who exercises it towards another; for this is a difficult task" (my emphasis). (30) In measuring others against his rigorous personal standard, however, Coriolanus subjects the promptings of his own self improperly onto others, thereby disrupting the civic order. It is Coriolanus's very compulsion to be "author of himself" (5.3.36) that, the tribunes fear, will translate into excessive civic authority, were he to be consul. This ethical intolerance later comes to a head in his genocidal negation of the city which banishes him.

In the light of his incontinence with regard to honor, Coriolanus's leadership on the battlefield--precisely where his martial prowess is eminently displayed--opens itself to query. Though fellow officer Lartius commends the noble soldiery of Coriolanus as he "sensibly outdares his senseless sword" (1.5.24), the ironic sense of sensibly as irrationally shows that Coriolanus channels martial fury into singular feats of strength. Granted that this supra-rational ability to will the mind and heart toward particular ends is a special power of discipline and focus, its virtue largely obtains upon a successful outcome, which is never guaranteed. Within a rational analysis of virtue, Coriolanus's heroic passion is further problematic as recommendable martial ethos because it acts with complete disregard for death, upholding virtue over life itself. By "refusing to calculate possible harm to himself or to others, and by preferring action to words," Coriolanus's military prowess, Katharine Maus argues, following Paul Jorgensen's lead, "is not merely irrelevant to peacetime employment but indeed renders him politically incompetent or even dangerous." (31) Although Coriolanus was successful in the siege of Corioles, his ardor for honor recalls that of Hotspur, who meets the opposite outcome when, according to Bardolph, "with great imagination / Proper to madmen, [he] led his powers to death, / And winking leapt into destruction" (2 Henry IV, 1.3.31-33). Thus, what looks like plebeian cowardice to Coriolanus may be for the ill-fed soldiers a wiser decision not to engage in "Foolhardiness!" (1.5.17). According to the passional standard, however, the same compulsion that drives the fury-driven hero to "banish ... every vestige of sense" (32) later makes him banish the plebeians, who, as the Platonic analogue of the appetites, are more responsive to the senses.

Amidst this tension between Coriolanus and the plebeians, both sides are decorously framed by the civic custom of promoting the war hero to consulship. Both sides are also narrowly scripted into partaking in the sociopolitical ritual of a hero's display of wounds, celebrating his heroic deeds with the people and incorporating all into a body politic through this national ethos. This ritual, in which the plebeians, fixed on Coriolanus's physical sacrifices for Rome, would put their "tongues into those wounds and speak for them" (2.3.6-7) demonstrates precisely Rome's hybrid political state respecting both the aristocratic heroic ethic and a nascent democratic principle of popular voice in state governance. On his side, Coriolanus would almost rather forego the consulship than submit to a ritual both humiliating and superfluous from his perspective of proven merit. On their side, the plebeians are compelled by civic duty to endorse a martial hero turned civic leader who has time and again voiced himself as their foe. Within Rome's distribution of political power, Coriolanus's desire to return to an aristocratic state is pitted against the plebeian desire to expand their voices beyond the role of merely approving or denying the consul.

In trying to enact their civic duties responsibly, the plebeians regard their voices as valid opinions in a democratic government, as opposed to an absolute form that enforces one truth and one will. They are conscientious to avoid committing monstrous ingratitude: as the third citizen explains, "We have power in ourselves to [deny Coriolanus our voices], but it is a power that we have no power to do.... [S]o if he tell us his noble deeds we must also tell him our noble acceptance of them" (2.3.4-5, 7-8). The plebeians fulfill their social duty graciously, reciprocating the deference shown them. If it were not for the accusation of ingratitude or, worse, unpatriotism in this time of fragile peace, they might well have preferred another candidate more inclined to sympathize with plebeian interests and concerns.

Contrariwise, Coriolanus, who regards the ritual of publicly displaying his wounds as a freak show and mercenary act defiling the heroic deed, lacks the prudence and justice to enact his side of the ritual. Thinking ill of the plebeians, Coriolanus will not bow to the will of the people: "I had rather be their servant in my way / Than sway with them in theirs" (2.1.189-90). His compulsion for immaculate virtue prevents him from partaking in this ritual of civic communion. Coriolanus finds it insufferable that "reasons of state can force a noble man to do base things." (33) The hypervirtuous Coriolanus, like a squeamish virgin, (34) shirks from intercourse with the common rabble and through this aloofness expresses a disdainful lack of civility and civic respect toward them. As Cathy Shrank argues, he is antipathetic to civilized, civil, and civic society and thus lacks Aristotle's virtues of social intercourse. (35)

Virtue without human love is like a rose without perfume. Coriolanus's sense of justice, narrowly bound to the confines of his personal self, does not extend magnanimously to the feelings and beliefs of others. The coldness of Coriolanus's hypervirtue effectively induces a reciprocal coldness in its recipients. As his mother chides him, "You might have been enough the man you are / With striving less to be so" (3.2.18-19). A victorious hero's return home might invoke the excitement of civic glory from a distance, but Coriolanus's aloofness in person alienates rather than endears him to the common mass. In refusing the praise of his heroic deeds as "nothings monstered" (2.2.73), Coriolanus fails to see the monstrosity, nonetheless, of his perfection: his utter lack of compassion and understanding for human imperfection, such that he has broken his bond with humankind long before he decides to side with the Volscians against his Roman kin. Consequently, just when he thinks he has successfully discharged an onerous duty and won the plebeians' approval, they, at the tribunes' instigation, easily retract it because he did not "enquire [his] way / ... with a gentler spirit" (3.1.57-58).

II. Inordinate Passions and Powers

Sicinius and Brutus's obstruction of Coriolanus's power apparently results from a need to protect their newly invested authority and the emergent republican state they claim to represent. (36) Yet the tribunes, themselves creatures of passion unopposed to stooping to "dirty politics" deliberately provoke his anger to prove him a tyrant--in classical and Renaissance understanding, a ruler subject to inordinate passions (37)--and thereby a hazard to Rome that she must eliminate. Scholars have considered in depth the play's republican politics in the light of Jacobean monarchy. According to Joshua Scodel, who brings topical references to bear upon the play, "Commonplace wisdom" however imperfectly, "held that both monarch and subject should use moderation to preserve the constitutional balance of the royal prerogative and subjects' liberty, a relation conceived of as a vague but normative mean between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy." (38) Yet in Coriolanus, the confrontations between opposing sides become displays of inordinate passions devolving into arbitrary power. In the ensuing verbal battle, the tribunes' accusations against Coriolanus hang on his absolutist, or "tyrannical" nature. Brutus charges, "You speak o'th' people as if you were a god / To punish, not a man of their infirmity" (3.1.85-86), to which Sicinius adds, "It is a mind / That shall remain a poison where it is, / Not poison any further" (3.1.89-91). Along with pride, other metaphors shift 180 degrees: Coriolanus, the war hero, protector, and patriot, suddenly becomes recast in terms of poison, disease, and treason against the polity, the people who constitute the polis. His sovereignty as an inflexible consul threatens the sovereignty of the "many-headed" (2.3.15) republic. Despite his fervent prayer for civic peace (3.3.35-39), Coriolanus cannot avoid a fatal face-off when the tribunes seize unjust powers to crush him.

With characteristic ambivalence, Shakespeare highlights Coriolanus's intelligent virtue by proving all his admonitions right about the chaos provoked by "double worship" (3.1.145) and unbound veto power by an uneducated citizenry--at least in the short term and, moreover, by the hero's own retaliation against Rome. Coriolanus's anger, Rodney Poisson argues, is "too logical and proper an argument to be taken as mere spleen." (39) Contrary to an oversimplified opposition of passion and reason, anger, according to the classical ethics of both Plato and Aristotle, is "a passion auxiliary to wisdom." (40) According to Aristotle, justified anger is virtuous: "The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised." (41) Coriolanus's yielding to fury is not an act of incontinence, either by impetuosity (propeteia) or weakness (astheneia), the two types that Aristotle distinguishes: "Of incontinence one kind is impetuosity, another weakness. For some men after deliberating fail, owing to their emotion, to stand by the conclusions of their deliberation, others because they have not deliberated are led by their emotion." (42) Coriolanus is neither weak nor impetuous since he goes through the three-step process of practical wisdom from deliberation to decision to action, as clarified by Thomas Aquinas, the famous medieval commentator on Aristotle. (43) Deliberately, he compares his fury provoked by the tribunes' political maneuverings against him as consistent with the continent man's forbearance, as is manifested at his departure from Rome, when he consoles his loved ones: "Choler? Were I as patient as the midnight sleep, / By Jove, 'twould be my mind" (3.1.88-89). Coriolanus is angry at the right things and against the right people but, contrary to John Bligh's unqualified moral endorsement, at the wrong time and with the wrong intensity; integrity without political prudence does not achieve virtuous moderation. A man who equates his personal ethos with the civic good subverts the Roman injunction to serve the public good, which is leaning toward a republican rather than a paternalistic model of government.

Despite their partial validity, Coriolanus's political objections aim more at protecting the patrician order through his leadership than pursuing the well-being of the entire polity. Coriolanus inflexibly sees the class conflict in biased opposition between patrician "wisdom" and "general ignorance" (3.1.147,149): "one part [the patrician] does disdain with cause, the other [the plebeian] / ... Insult without all reason" (3.1.146-47). The play, however, proves that the moral and intellectual distinction between patricians and plebeians is not an intrinsic one, and that his own superior abilities qua patrician lie along the same continuum of human competence as the plebeians. Coriolanus's deficient understanding closes him to the possibility that his aristocratic convictions may be misgrounded and misconceived. Between his desire and the actual attainment of virtue lies a considerable deficiency of understanding and will. Menenius's last prompt before facing the tribunes, "Calmly, I do beseech you" (3.3.32), induces Coriolanus to sound a most "noble wish" (3.3.40):
      Th'honoured gods
   Keep Rome in safety and the chairs of justice
   Supplied with worthy men, plant love among's,
   Throng our large temples with the shows of peace,
   And not our streets with war!


Yet all of Menenius and Volumnia's supplicating schooling of Coriolanus to act "mildly" comes to naught because of Coriolanus's truculent conviction of aristocratic virtue and rule as superior to republican governance, or what he views as mob rule. Despite all his best intentions to conform to the republican process, Coriolanus cannot and will not because he fundamentally adheres to a class-based rule of aristocracy, which equates "wisdom" with "gentry [and] title" (3.1.147). Were Coriolanus truly concerned about the public good--about the people of Rome--he would do well, given his troubled relations with the plebeians, to withdraw his candidacy for consul. Virtuous moderation of this sort would encourage rather than scorn others in perfective endeavors, as does Coriolanus's exclusive, patrician virtue. Like the Sophoclean hero, Coriolanus "is blind to something essential in himself or his situation, and tragedy arises from the interplay between his circumstances and his admirable but imperfect nature." (44)

Coriolanus's virtuous autarchy and the republican polity are completely incompatible: as Aristotle explains in the Politics, "for men of preeminent virtue there is no law--they are themselves a law." (45) Coriolanus "cannot rule / Nor ever will be ruled" (3.1.42-43) within the Roman republic, the very reproof he hurls at the plebeians. That is why in spite or because of Coriolanus's exceptional virtue, he is excepted: the republic implements what Aristotle refers to as the civil procedure of ostracism--"to cut off the principal men in the state" in the professed aim of political justice. (46) At the marketplace, the venue of Coriolanus's public trial, Brutus and Sicinius formally accuse him of being a tyrant and "a traitor to the people" (3.3.68). The "lawful censure for such faults / As shall be proved upon you" (3.3.47-48) dispenses with the due process of law and jumps abruptly to sentence Coriolanus to capital punishment, later reduced to exile. The breakdown of civility and the civil process, however, reflects the breakdown of the civil state, as the tribunes seize extrajuridical power to "defend" the republic when, in fact, Rome has devolved into a "state of exception" characterized, as Giorgio Agamben explains, on the one hand by the "extension of the military authority's wartime powers into the civil sphere" with full executive powers, and on the other by a suspension of due process protecting a citizen's rights. (47)

In his farewell, Coriolanus rightly explains to his mother his fate to "exceed the common or be caught / With cautelous baits and practise" (4.1.33-34) by the "unmeriting, proud, violent, testy magistrates" (2.1.39-40) who make him "exceed the common [wealth]" literally beyond its borders. But this outcome is not completely foreordained. If Coriolanus epitomizes one who "play[s] / The man I am" (3.2.14-15), one who is absolutely true to his own nature, unable to exercise Ciceronian civic decorum, Sicinius and Brutus disingenuously resort to the use of arbitrary power: in the name of self-interest instead of the public good, they use dishonorable methods to aggravate, rather than resolve, the conflict when Coriolanus confronts them in a conciliatory stance. In Aristotle's words, "instead of looking to the good of their own constitution, they have used ostracism for factious purposes." (48) Unable to act alone like Coriolanus, the cowardly tribunes act with the support of the gullible masses whom they exploit to secure their power with an attitude of mistrust instead of an open, magnanimous spirit required to work co-operatively beyond class differences toward a viable republic. This act of monstrous ingratitude toward Rome's pre-eminent hero proves, at the least, shortsighted.

Even as Aristotle discusses the civil procedure of ostracism, he hints at its danger: "Any one would be ridiculous who attempted to make laws for them: they would probably retort what, in the fable of Antisthenes, the lions said to the hares ['where are your claws and teeth?'], when in the council of the beasts the latter began haranguing and claiming equality for all." (49) Violent retribution, like the scourge of God, (50) is exactly what is visited upon the hares of Rome: the ill-treated warrior-hero, while displaying stoic forbearance in leaving his loved ones, acts single-mindedly to tender his imprecatory speech act upon the plebeians. Jane Kingsley-Smith lucidly focuses on the conflict: "How to be a Roman and an exile? The Ciceronian argument that Rome was not a state when it banished the true citizen only holds in a context of passive resistance." (51) Such is clearly not the case with the soldier Coriolanus, who, in the ancient debate between the active and the contemplative life, falls naturally in with Cicero on the side of action, but in a way clearly antithetical to Stoic wisdom: one may follow one's own individual nature as long as it does not conflict with nature and, accordingly, with right reason, which governs the universe. (52)

Coriolanus's divergence derives from the conflicted understanding of the ideal Roman state and the ever-changing polity based on diverse views. In Coriolanus's absolute perspective, it is the people, the city itself, who have betrayed his aristocratic ideal of Rome and ideologically must be destroyed. His heroic passion drives him to crush the base multitude, regardless of tribal bond, in the same vein that zealous faith supersedes love of family and kin. Coriolanus's inflexibility leads to the bravado of imposing exceptionary law back on the people--"I banish you" (3.3.127). Only this time Coriolanus's war against Rome includes the patricians, who, in failing to heed his advice to rescind tribunal power, are guilty of "dishonour" (3.1.160) through cowardice and weak will.

III. The Higher Claims of Universa Natura

As much as he tries to act as though "truth to oneself overrides all other moral or social obligations," (53) Coriolanus cannot resist the stronger claims of universa natura over his propria natura. (54) Coriolanus's aim to burn and cleanse Rome in the name of virtue, despite his valiant deeds in service of the public, can only absurdly claim to be for the Good. Even in Coriolanus's situation of righteous anger, public service demands a more charitable approach of helping those inferior to oneself instead of killing them off as the least fit in a process of "natural selection." Moreover, in annihilating Rome, Coriolanus would destroy what in better times would serve as the mirror of public opinion, which he would not so much lean on, but use to acknowledge his rightful worth. (55) Name and lineage bestowed identity in ancient times; without kin, tribeless, one was "Nobody" the name Odysseus used to fool Polyphemus. In Politics, Aristotle states, "he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state." (56) Unlike Socrates, who inclines more toward god by submitting graciously to his unjust death sentence for the alleged charge of corrupting the youth of Athens, (57) the virtuous Coriolanus, through his holocaustic aims toward Rome, inclines here more toward beast.

Coriolanus's exchange with his wife and his mother, however, reveals how the affective side of eros--amorous passion, familial love, and human compassion--are vehemently resurging from the martial repression of heroic eros. Coriolanus's inner reaction to Virgilia--"those dove's eyes / Which can make gods forsworn? I melt, and am not / Of stronger earth than others" (5.3.27-29)--reveals not that our hero lacks emotion or inner depth, but rather how rigorously they have been hidden from us by the compulsions of Roman virtus--a blend of martial eros and Stoic constancy--to protect what he believes is the solitary bastion of Romanitas--his own self. (58) Coriolanus's protest anticipating Virgilia's plea underscores, nonetheless, the strength of her venereal against his martial power:
      Best of my flesh,
   Forgive my tyranny, but do not say
   For that "Forgive our Romans" O, a kiss
   Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge!
   Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss
   I carried from thee, dear, and my true lip
   Hath virgined it e'er since.


When Coriolanus protests against arguments of unnaturalness, "Desire not t'allay / My rages and revenges with your colder reasons" (5.3.85-86), Volumnia, by maternal prerogative, subtly chides him toward a more rational, temperate, pacific, and humane course of action, "to show a noble grace to both parts [Volscian and Roman] / Than seek the end of one" (5.3.122-23): "Think'st thou it honourable for a noble man / Still to remember wrongs?" (5.3.155-56). She bids him to see his intended action, in Aufidius's words, "in th'interpretation of [broader] time" (4.7.50), that if he burned Rome, he would indeed reap a name, an undesired, infamous one, dogging him with endless curses: "The man was noble, / But with his last attempt he wiped it out, / Destroyed his country, and his name remains / To th' ensuing age abhorred" (5.3.146-49). With a last chiding, "There's no man in the world / More bound to's mother, yet here he lets me prate / Like one i'th' stocks" (5.3.159-61), Volumnia and her train kneel before him. This final image of noble abjection both enacts a speech act and proclaims a solemn prophecy: "thou shalt no sooner / March to assault thy country than to tread-- / Trust to't, thou shalt not--on thy mother's womb / That brought thee to this world" (5.3.123-26). This humble gesture of supplication puts Coriolanus in the ultimate position of disgrace, thereby disarming him completely. Here again, his narrow sense of personal justice must bow to the larger compulsions of social justice within the universa natura.

Volumnia's invocation of the mother-child bond underscores the irony that Coriolanus's immoderation, his monstrous constancy, is the modified offspring and tragic issue of his mother's hypermasculinity, her way to overcompensate for the passive roles women play in civic and martial action, the means to attaining social honor. More consistently than any of Shakespeare's characters, Coriolanus enacts the distinction between masculine and feminine roles that Othello--to assure the Venetian Senate of his military commitment--so colorfully invokes in his vow not to "let housewives make a skillet of my helm" (Othello, 1.3.271). Accordingly, Coriolanus is paired with Virgilia, a figure of feminine modesty like Octavia of Antony and Cleopatra. Soft-spoken Virgilia is often interpreted in criticism as the cipher character of the silent, submissive wife. I argue, however, that her insistent femininity and protection of the domestic sphere represent Shakespeare's particular critique against Rome's hypermasculine ideology. In her protection of the home and its values, "No less than seven times in about forty lines does she refuse to accompany Volumnia and Valeria out of doors," (59) steadfastly remaining by the hearth. She is the voice of human sentience and nurturing in an environment where the norm, even among women with their traditionally readier access to feeling, is to regard cruel violence as a sign of nobility. Thus, Valeria, a gentlewoman, calls Coriolanus's son "a noble child" upon hearing how he viciously "mammocked" (1.3.63, 61) a butterfly in his play. Virgilia's refusal to venture outdoors, marking her repugnance to bloody news in contrast to Valeria and Volumnia's bloodthirstiness, uxorially mirrors her husband's squeamishness regarding the public disclosure of his wounds. In this closed and reticent manner, Virgilia ardently protects private space and the feelings that inhabit that space. Though Coriolanus calls Virgilia "my gracious silence" (2.1.161), it is less to signify wifely subjection than the feminine complement to his martial austerity. In this manner, she is the play's model of virtuous moderation, passionately defending the hearth while supporting her husband's martial and civic endeavors bravely and passively. Scholarship has virtually ignored the extent of Virgilia's courageous forbearance in resisting hegemonic masculinity and enduring Coriolanus's times away at battle.

Feminists generally praise Volumnia's rhetorical command in her lengthy, moving entreaty to Coriolanus more than Virgilia's demureness, considered a sign of less agency and persuasive power. Yet Virgilia's erotic presence evokes in her husband aspects of him rarely disclosed publicly--gentleness, respect, and passion toward her. It is, moreover, Virgilia's brief interjection, "Ay, and mine, / That brought you forth this boy to keep your name / Living to time" (126-28), with the effective presence of herself and her son, that again signals the crumbling of his hardness: "Not of a woman's tenderness to be / Requires nor child nor woman's face to see" (130-31). Arguably it is by their virtue that he yields grudgingly to his mother (representing the mother-state of Rome), for whom his "hazards still have been [her] solace" (4.1.29). In this sense, Volumnia is granted verbal space to fulfill her bloodthirstiness, which implicitly demands the death of her son, whether in the course of battle or here as a civic sacrifice. The understated personal and civic tragedy of Coriolanus lies in that despite Coriolanus's expressions of love, Virgilia, like her epic forbear, Dido, is ultimately powerless against the imperatives of his hypervirtue.

Like his submission to the Roman mother-state foreordained by inalienable affective bonds, Coriolanus's contention and ensuing death by the Volscians are equally predetermined by his unvarying character, or ethos, allegorizing integrity. When Aufidius calls him a "boy of tears" (5.6.103) in a move to gain ascendancy, Coriolanus's Senecan fury works only to fulfill this derogatory epithet as the hero, deficient in practical wisdom, fails to ignore little slights in favor of acts of greater justice and the promotion of peace. Egging the Volscian conspirators on, Coriolanus welcomes death:
   Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads,
   Stain all your edges on me ....

      I [who]
   Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles.
   Alone I did it. 'Boy'!

(5.6.112-13, 115-17)

The ambivalent heroism here lies in his bravura of facing fearlessly a sure death, but one that might perhaps have been avoided through more prudent political navigation. Against the common view of Coriolanus's reaction as a knee-jerk response to his pride, I propose that Coriolanus perhaps acts with more astuteness at both the personal and political level than critics normally attribute to him. Here Coriolanus decorously achieves the consummate act of personal honor in the service of the Roman state. His modus operandi, "I play / The man I am" (3.2.14-15), takes on a new layer of conciliatory significance. Even with this overt regression to unrestrained aggression, Coriolanus, knowing that the realities of suing for peace effectively demand that he be its sacrificial tender ("O mother, mother! / What have you done? ... / Most dangerously you have with him prevailed, / If not most mortal to him"; 5.3.183-84, 189-90), seals the peace treaty more firmly by adding more wounds to those he refused to show in the communal ritual of act 2, scene 3. As in the storming of Corioles in act 1, "He is himself alone, / To answer all the city" (1.5.22-23). That is why Coriolanus, "eagle in a dove-cote" (5.6.115), belying his aggressive words, passively receives wounds in a final act of "stoic individualism turning death to self-assertion,' a scene that the actor playing Coriolanus should perform graciously, not "bother[ing] to draw his sword." (60) At the personal level, as R. B. Parker insightfully notes, his "death is a last act of aggression, his final humiliation of Aufidius." (61) Despite his outburst of umbrage, Coriolanus, done with the mortal "rhythm of winning and losing," (62) has no further need to prove himself against rivals of lesser martial and moral virtue. Surely Aufidius cannot deny that his insult to his ever superior rival, "unholy braggart" (5.6.119), boomerangs right back at him as the envious Volscian defeats him not in a solo dual combat but dishonestly, with others' assistance. Despite words still devoted to personal integrity, Coriolanus's actions faithfully serve his city. Thus come to a close what Kenneth Burke calls "the delights of faction," (63) which offered both the less educated spectators and more sophisticated auditors--to use Gurr's distinction (64)--of the early modern audience with lively stage spectacle and intellectual stimulation. In this manner, Coriolanus demonstrates Shakespeare's characteristic aim to appeal to a broad audience of all tastes and social classes, as reflected in the diverse Roman polity. His complex and ambivalent presentation of both the hero and the Roman state allows both a nuanced understanding of Coriolanus and a cautious promotion of the citizens' cause against monarchic rule, a critical political issue in the time of Jacobean absolutism.

Ironically, in his highest act of serving Rome, Coriolanus signals his release from honor measured by public opinion and exhibits the supreme instance of self-sufficiency achieved only at death. In this paradoxically passive, almost Zen-like self-assertion, Coriolanus is "getting somewhere," to use Burke's words, even as he is "totally immobilized, a quite unusual state for so outgoing a character." (65) If his death appears to critics as a deflated, ignominious end for a hero, Coriolanus is released from their opinions as well. In this final action consummating his heroism, Coriolanus achieves his prized self-sufficiency through a delicately balanced participation and exclusion from the polls, which defines his honor. "Longer to live most weary" (4.5.94), Coriolanus welcomes death, aware perhaps that his ethos does not allow him to sustain this finely achieved balance further in civic life. Complying with Stoic virtue, he chooses death because living well means more to him than merely living. Such a defiant action, unattended by Romans, of achieving honor by deed alone, inner victory by external defeat, invokes our admiration and sympathy. With the self-awareness that his premonition of death implies, his mother's victory "most mortal to him" (5.3.190), the Herculean grandeur of the exceptional man lies in this noble acceptance of self-immolation: "let it come" (5.3.190). (66) In this manner, Coriolanus, like the Sophoclean hero, achieves moderation at last: "the self-knowledge that enables man to face reality, renounce delusion, and understand his part in the cosmic pattern." (67)

IV. Belly Parable: A Final Evaluation of Corporate Imbalance

As Andrew Gurr, Arthur Riss, and others have argued, Coriolanus instantiates "a decline in the ideological persuasiveness" of the belly metaphor, undercutting a "natural" correspondence "between the hierarchical unity of the human body and the feudalistic organization of the ruling political body." (68) Indeed, Menenius's belly parable of act 1, scene 1, is a distortion of the Platonic tripartite body politic, by which the ruling class, designating its head, overextends its physiological functions and boundaries and, contrary to its characterizing rational faculty, rapaciously occupies the belly, home of the lower appetites. According to Menenius, the condescending answer of the 'good belly" (1.1.137), representing the well-fed and prosperous senators of Rome, is that through
   Their counsels and their cares ...
   Touching the weal o'th' common, you shall find
   No public benefit which you receive
   But it proceeds or comes from them to you,
   And no way from yourselves.


Similarly, under the ideology of the feudal aristocratic system, lords collected tithes from their vassals and serfs. By virtue of their famished condition, the plebeians' view of the "cormorant belly ... the sink o'th' body" (110-11) as "idle and unactive, / Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing / Like labour with the rest" (88-90) seems more accurate. Although it would seem that Coriolanus, by his inherent sense of justice, would balk at the greed of his fellow patricians, Shakespeare, for his purposes, keeps class allegiances virtually intact and does not explore possibilities of interclass alliances. Such is the root of the constitutional troubles as depicted in Coriolanus. By the middle of the play, the tribunes have successfully installed themselves as power players, alongside the Senate, with no indication that they will advance public benefit any better than the selfish patricians. If Coriolanus was the necessary sacrifice for the development of a viable republic, we hope that he was not a meaningless one. His absence, while marking the movement away from monarchy, at the same time signals the urgent need of patricians and plebeians to subordinate class differences and to restrain political opportunism toward the higher goal of the public good. Underscoring Aristotle's claim that "all must have the virtue of the good citizen--thus, and thus only, can the state be perfect," (69) Coriolanus underscores the double-sided difficulty of the republican endeavor relevant to this day: of establishing not only an educated citizenry, but also effective leaders with the right balance of ethics and politics, character and political prudence, to guide policies toward the human good.

Slippery Rock University


(1) Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II.6.1106a28. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is abbreviated hereafter as NE. All citations of Aristotle (NE, trans. W. D. Ross; Politics, trans. Benjamin Jowett) are from Introduction to Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Modern Library, 1947). I would like to express my thanks to Anthony Ellis and the editorial staff of Comparative Drama for their careful readings toward the polishing of this essay.

(2) Ibid., II.2.1104a1-8.

(3) Joshua Scodel, Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 3.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Aristotle, NE, II.6.1107a6-8.

(6) Ibid., 1.2.1094a23-24.

(7) James Kuzner, "Unbuilding the City: Coriolanus and the Birth of Republican Rome," Shakespeare Quarterly 58 (2007): 174-99 (179).

(8) All citations of Shakespeare are from The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 1997).

(9) This misreading is compounded by the reliance on unreliable opinions on the supposed lack of Coriolanus's interiority, as noted by James Calderwood, "Coriolanus: Wordless Meanings and Meaningless Words" Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 6 (1966): 211-24 (213). It is important in this regard to bear in mind Christopher Givan's cautionary note that "Shakespeare, at the height of his powers, has managed not to divest himself of his psychological insight but rather to portray his hero in a more indirect objective manner" See Givan, "Shakespeare's Coriolanus: The Premature Epitaph and the Butterfly," Shakespeare Studies 12 (1979): 143-58 (143). Given that Roman gravitas lends itself to public declamations rather than interior monologues, we must scrutinize his public words and actions much more carefully and also sift through others' words judiciously if we are to construct an accurate portrayal of Coriolanus. Furthermore, the tendency among the characters themselves to reify Coriolanus does not mean that the audience must take these views indiscriminately.

(10) Cynthia Marshall, "Wound-man: Coriolanus, Gender, and the Theatrical Construction of Interiority," in Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects, ed. Valerie Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 93-118 (94).

(11) Carol Sicherman, "Coriolanus: The Failure of Words," English Literary History 39 (1972): 189-207 (197).

(12) John Bligh, "The Mind of Coriolanus" English Studies in Canada 13 (1987): 256-70 (256).

(13) Aristotle, Politics, 1.2.1253a29.

(14) Geoffrey Miles, Shakespeare and the Constant Romans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 29.

(15) Ibid., 13.

(16) Ibid., 29.

(17) Bligh, 256.

(18) Plato, Republic, in Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 4.440-41. See Barbara L. Parker, Plato's "Republic" and Shakespeare's Rome: A Political Study of the Roman Works (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004), 27, on the centrality in Tudor thought of Plato's Republic, with its tripartite body politic corresponding microcosmically to reason, passion, and appetites in man.

(19) Aristotle, NE, V.6.1134b3-5.

(20) Ibid., II.1.1103a19-25. Here I rely on Jeffrey Gauthier's helpful suggestions about my paper "Virtue, Passion, and Moderation in Shakespeare," delivered at the Northwest Philosophy Conference, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR, 2007.

(21) Ibid., IV.3.1123b12-14.

(22) Ibid., IV.3.1123b30.

(23) Ibid., IV.3.1124a29-31.

(24) See Paul Cantor, Shakespeare's Rome: Republic and Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 68: "The distribution of wealth and privilege in Rome favors the growth of spiritedness among the patricians and works against it among the plebeians."

(25) Aristotle, NE, IV.3.1124b22-23.

(26) Ibid., V.3.1131a26-29.

(27) Ibid., IV.3.1124b5; Rodney Poisson, "Coriolanus as Aristotle's Magnanimous Man," in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, ed. Waldo F. McNeir and Thelma N. Greenfield (Eugene: University of Oregon Books, 1966), 210-24.

(28) Cicero, Marcus Ciceroes thre bokes of duties to Marcus his sonne (1556), trans. Nicolas Grimalde, ed. Gerald O'Gorman (Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1990), 1.1699-1710, sig. FT, p. 95; slightly modified for clarification.

(29) Aristotle, NE, II.6.1106b36-1107a2.

(30) Ibid., V.I.1130a8-9.

(31) Katharine Eisaman Maus, introduction to Coriolanus, in Norton Shakespeare, 2787; Paul Jorgensen, "Shakespeare's Coriolanus: Elizabethan Soldier," PMLA 64 (1949): 221-35 (222).

(32) In this sense, Coriolanus's passional energy resembles amatory fury in Neoplatonic accounts such as that of Giordano Bruno, who regarded love as a means of mystical ascent. See John Charles Nelson, Renaissance Theory of Love: The Context of Giordano Bruno's "Eroici furori" (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), 178.

(33) Cantor, 92.

(34) As the late A. D. Nuttall observes in Shakespeare the Thinker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), the "cult of virginity is hopelessly entangled with a peculiarly ungenerous form of self-interest" (250).

(35) Cathy Shrank, "Civility and the City in Coriolanus" Shakespeare Quarterly 54 (2004): 406-23 (418). She notes the topical relevance of republican politics to England, despite her monarchical rule, by highlighting the importance of civic culture as disseminated by humanist education and practiced within her 204 corporate towns and cities (407-8). For Aristotle's virtues of social intercourse, see NE, book IV, chaps. 6-8.

(36) See Cantor, 89. John Plotz, "Coriolanus and the Failure of Performatives," English Literary History 63 (1996): 809-32, argues that Coriolanus's quick responses to the tribunes' intentional needling are shows of "authentic interiority ... a viable alternative to shallow public life" or "opportunistic mendacity" (809). Plotz's point is well taken but inclines toward an analysis of false dichotomies.

(37) Scodel, 156.

(38) Ibid., 6.

(39) Poisson, 223.

(40) Bligh, 257.

(41) Aristotle, NE, IV.5.1125b32-33.

(42) Ibid., VII.7.1150b18-22.

(43) Francis Goyet, "Prudence et 'panurgie': Le machiavelisme est-il aristotelicien?" in Au-dela de la "Poetique": Aristote et la litterature de la Renaissance/Beyond the "Poetics" Aristotle and Early Modern Literature, ed. Ullrich Langer (Geneva: Droz, 2002), 13-34 (20).

(44) Helen F. North, "Temperance" in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, 4 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974), 4:367.

(45) Aristotle, Politics, III. 13.1284a12-13.

(46) Ibid., III.13.1284a35, 1284b17.

(47) Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 5.

(48) Aristotle, Politics, III. 13.1284b21-22.

(49) Ibid., III.13.1284a14-19.

(50) See ibid., I.2.1253a27; III.13.1284a10, 1284b31, for comparisons of the pre-eminently virtuous man to a god or Zeus.

(51) Jane Kingsley-Smith, Shakespeare's Drama of Exile (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 148.

(52) Miles, 33.

(53) Ibid., 36.

(54) Ibid., 37, 167.

(55) For reference to a mirror in this sense, see Julius Caesar, 1.2.70-72; see also Nuttall, 175-76, for further discussion.

(56) Aristotle, Politics, I.2.1253a28-29.

(57) See Plato, Apology, in Plato: Complete Works, 17-36.

(58) Bligh, 256.

(59) Robert Miola, Shakespeare's Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 172.

(60) R. B. Parker, introduction to Coriolanus, ed. R. B. Parker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 70, 67.

(61) Ibid, 69.

(62) Givan, 157.

(63) Kenneth Burke, "Coriolanus--and the Delights of Faction," Hudson Review 19, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 185-202.

(64) Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 2-3.

(65) Burke, 199.

(66) According to Eugene Waith, The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare and Dryden (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), in Coriolanus, as in Hercules, "arete is pushed to the ultimate degree; yet, in defiance of justice, he is rewarded with extraordinary suffering. His ability to endure it is the final proof of his heroism" (38)

(67) North, 4:367.

(68) Arthur Riss, "The Belly Politic: Coriolanus and the Revolt of Language,' English Literary History 59 (1992): 53-75 (71 n. 3; 53).

(69) Aristotle, Politics, III.4.1277a3.
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Date:Mar 22, 2010
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