Political Themes in Shakespeares

Introduction

Authors like Annabel Patterson communicate the ability of the book Coriolanus to have political arousal. Many interpretations of Coriolanus critically appraise its adaptations from the seventeenth and the early 18th century. The book was produced in a society that was monarchical (Shrank, 2003). In fact, the easiest way to help understand the play is through a political lens, and for this reason, various journalists cite the play using the ‘Coriolanus effect.’ The play in itself consists sprawling action through its many sword fights and conflict between Rome and Volscians (the neighboring tribe). The play is extremely political as it relates to matters concerning government, control, and classism. The play’s main character is Caius Martius, the military hero of Rome (Mckay, 2013).

The aim of this essay is to illustrate the way politics of Rome and politics of early modern England is dramatized in Coriolanus Act 1, Scene 2.

Politics of Rome

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Coriolanus took place during the development of the Roman Republic. The play is believed to be written at around 1608, with the Roman elements seeming to govern Shakespeare’s work highly. The Roman political scene at that moment consisted violence and blood, especially with the struggle of citizens and clans during the ancient period. In addition, the play occurred during the historical period where Romans had high frustration and cultural anxiety. The characters in Shakespeare’s work are well acquainted with the Romans, who were historical, theatrical and conscientious (Manolis, 2018).

The setting of Coriolanus in Roman history is during the first years of the Republic of Rome after Lucius Tarquinius Serbus’s death (Reynolds, 2003). Tarquinius was a leader known to be brutal and was among the last kings of Rome. Coriolanus was written in a time when Rome was yet to become a republic fully and it was riddled with fights between city-states in Rome. Throughout the greater part of its existence, ancient Rome was a state that was in either in perpetual war or actually preparing for one. This is evident in where Tullus Aufidius, before leaving for his attack against Rome, confirms to the Corioles Senators that Romans are ready for their offense.

Also, evidence that Rome was in perpetual war is evident in Coriolanus, where another senator requests Aufidius to collect commission and leave Corioles to their defense, and Aufidius would be alerted in case his army is direly needed. Then, Aufidius responds by saying that the Roman troops are on their way already and that he doubts that the senator’s forces are prepared for the war. This is illustrated in the play where Aufidius says, “O, doubt not that, I speak from certainties. Nay more, Some parcels of their power are forth already, And only hitherward. I leave your honors. If we and Caius Martius chance to meet, ’Tis sworn between us we shall ever strike till one can do no more” (35).

During this time, Rome always had a massive army which was away most of the time and was ready to engage in battle at any time in order to win more territories and defend those which already exist for Rome (Reynolds, 2003). The growing Roman republic depended on war to acquire monetary tributes and natural resources from countries that were adjacent.

Politics of Modern England

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England was going through an array of changes when Coriolanus was written. Some of these changes include the Age of Discovery, an era where cultural interaction, trade, and exploration had increased substantially to other parts of the planet. England, at that time, was also heavily preoccupied with trade with Asia and the Middle East, the New World, slavery, and colonization of Africa. Also, Europe, in general, was going through a period of scientific

revolution whereby new discoveries were made in the fields of anatomy, physical science, and astronomy. While some authors perceive Coriolanus as Shakespeare’s depiction of Rome, others considered it as bringing London’s Jacobean era to life, which lasted between 1603 and 1625.

It was also in 1607 that the first English colony was set up in Jamestown, Virginia, in America. Act 1 Scene 2 of Coriolanus appeals to the idea of colonialization and increase of territory possession when Aufidius says “Nor did you think it folly/ To keep your great pretenses veil’d till when/ They needs must show themselves, which in the hatching / It seem’d, appear’d to Rome. By the discovery/ We shall be shorten’d in our aim, which was/ To take in many towns ere (almost) Rome/ Should know we were afoot” (20-25). According to the events taking place in the scene, we get the idea that Volscians had planned to take over many towns, which they possibly would before the Romans gained a clue about it. This taking siege of towns in Coriolanus can be regarded as an idea that was phenomenal in Shakespeare’s life with the dynamics of politics in modern England.

Conclusion

To conclude, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus Act 1 Scene 2 offers a great dramatization of the politics of Rome and the politics of modern England. The dramatization of Roman politics is evident where Romans were, in reality, always having an abroad army that was ready for any spontaneous battle, and in the play where the Roman forces are already heading towards Volscian. Also, the politics of modern England is dramatized in the context where England had acquired its first territory in America, and, in the play, Volscian plans to acquire more towns before Rome gets to know about it.

References

Manolis, K., 2018. Influence of Roman History on Shakespeare's Works. [Online]

Reynolds, B., 2003. “What is the city but the People?” Transversal Performance and Radical Politics in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Brecht’s Coriolan. In: Untimely ripped: Mediating witchcraft in Polanski and Shakespeare. ResearchGate.

Shakespeare, W. Coriolanus

Shrank, C., 2003. Civility and the City in Coriolanus. Shakespeare Quarterly, 54(4), pp. 406-423.

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