Having finished teaching, cleared a whole host of other things, got on top of journal work, put the Leibniz paper to rest, and still in limbo on another project, I was able to turn to a long-dormant idea yesterday. The plan was to write a short piece on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. That was perhaps going to be for this blog, or perhaps some other online outlet. I thought I would write something on the political parallels between the play and contemporary moment. I’d read the play some years back and returned to it again when I was working on King Lear early last year. But I’d never done anything with it, and the events of the last year or so meant that the themes of popular discontent and elite disdain seemed especially striking. See, for example, the quote in an earlier post.
So I sat down with the Arden edition text and read it again. I then watched the 1984 BBC version with Alan Howard in the title role, which is a bit clunky and very much a stage production. And I realised I had very little to say along the lines I’d anticipated – there are some potentially interesting parallels but nothing especially novel, striking or profound.
But I was struck by a number of other aspects of the play which were much more interesting. I already knew that the play used the word ‘territories’ three times – an extremely rare word in Shakespeare – and banishment is a crucial element in the plot. I think there might be something interesting to discuss in terms of its political geographies. I was also astonished by the sheer number of animal and corporeal terms used – not just in the famous description of the body (or belly) politic in the opening scene, but throughout. Animal and body terms are not uncommon in Shakespeare, of course, but this felt unusual. There is a real primal, organic sense of instincts and struggle at stake. Add to this the sense of a contaminated, corrupt, ‘cankered’ city and there is quite a combination. The other ways the city and sometimes the state are described are interesting as well.
So I read the play again more slowly a couple of times, noting these instances and starting to drop quotes and act/scene/line references into sections of a notes file. I spent much of today shaping this material into paragraphs and points for development. I’m not sure how far I will go with this – there is quite a bit of literature on the body politic idea in this play; some on the physical body and animals; but little on the political geographies. I spent sometime downloading a load of pdfs of journal articles and noting shelfmarks for some books. It may well be that there is little I can say that hasn’t been said elsewhere – although Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s most discussed plays and a lot of the literature on these themes is old. But there might just be an occasional piece here. Quite what form, and for what kind of outlet I have no idea. This is why writing is interesting.