Coriolanus: History and the Crisis of Semantic Order


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The dramatic structure of Coriolanus is in many respects unique among those tragedies of Shakespeare which are based on English and Roman history. This uniqueness derives, I believe, not only from the moment of Rotnan history which Shakespeare chose to consider, but also from that point in the unfolding of the political process at which Shakespeare begins the play. With the exception of Coriolanus, all of the English and Roman tragedies center upon the transitional period in an historical process during which the political order of the state permanently changes at the moment when the protagonist is destroyed. The deaths of Richard IT, Richard Ill, Caesar, and Antony are part of such processes, and their deaths involve the appearance of new political alignments in England and Rome. The political structure which emerges at the end of each play marks a new stage in the history of the state because adherents to the new order possess the kingdom and have established new political eras. No new political alignment or structure comes into being with the destruction of Coriolanus. When he dies, there is no vision of the destruction of evil, no revelation of God's control of history, no mourning for an old order destroyed, no sense of loss, no sense of regret that the world could not contain so noble a hero.

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