“Only that name remains. The cruelty and envy of the people,/…who have all forsook me, hath devoured the rest.”


Act Four, Part One

By Dennis Abrams


AufidiusMartius-LAct Four:  Although the tribunes do nothing to hide their joy at Coriolanus’s departure, it isn’t long before rumors spread that the Volscians will take advantage of his absence and launch another attack against the city.  For his part, Coriolanus heads directly to the enemies’ headquarters at Antium where he offers his services to Aufidius, who gratefully accepts. As their army heads for Rome, Aufidus’s agenda becomes apparent:  as soon as Coriolanus outlast his usefulness, Aufidius will destroy him.

A couple of things to watch for:

The use of noise. Coriolanus has been called “Shakespeare’s noisiest play,” from the use of music throughout (the play has more directions for music than any other Shakespeare play), to the shouts of the mob, the tribunes, the soldiers…in contrast, say, to Coriolanus’s greeting to Virgilia “My gracious silence, hail!’ which I think signified, like Cordelia’s “love and be silent,” honesty in a society which misuses language as deceit, and feelings that are too profound for words.  Notice, too, the silence of the Tribunes when Cominius and Menenius accuse them of responsibility for the Volscians’ renews attack, as well as Aufidius’s ominous silence still to come in 5.3., when, like Bolingbroke, that “silent king” watched Richard II uncrown himself.  And Martius’ silence throughout Volumnia’s long plea for Rome, emphasized by her four demands for him to speak.

Also, notice the use of the gesture of kneeling. Menenius telling the plebeians that knees, not “arms” must appeal to the gods. Coriolanus kneels to his mother in 2.1 (something Plutarch does not have him do), Volumnia begs Martius to kneel to the voters, and even mimics the gesture for him, in 4.5, Coriolanus kneels to submit his life to Aufidius, at 4.6.24 the plebeians promise that their wives and children shall kneel in gratitude to the Tribunes; Menenius will sneer that the Tribunes must now “knee/The way into [Martius’] mercy” (5.1.5-6), a few lines later, (65) Cominius will describe the uselessness of his own kneeling; and that same bitter experience is sometimes used in stage productions to explain Menenius’ later jibe that Coriolanus himself is more than a “creeping thing” (5.4.14 n.).  This will all reach its stage climax in a sequence of kneelings in 5.3. First, Martius will kneel to his mother, as he did earlier in 2.1, but Volumnia, to his horror, will tell him to stand up and then kneel herself (which is assuredly not in Plutarch); when Martius raises her in turn, Volumnia will call for Young Martius’ “knee,” and then bid the other petitioners to “shame” her son by joining with her to kneel once more. The gesture seems both submissive and aggressive, sincere and a challenge, a blend of contradictions.

And given the 50th anniversary, this, from Gore Vidal on JFK seems timely:

“After his defeat for the Vice-Presidential nomination in 1956, he was amused when I suggested that he might feel more cheerful if every day he were to recite to himself while shaving the names of the vice-presidents of the United States, a curiously dim gallery of minor politicians. Also, somewhat mischievously, I suggested that he read Coriolanus to see if he might find Shakespeare’s somewhat dark view of democracy consoling. Mrs. Kennedy and he read it aloud one foggy day at Hyannis Port. Later he made the point with some charm that Shakespeare’s knowledge of the democratic process was, to say the least, limited.”


From Garber:

Coriolanus 5“Forced to this point, rather like Hamlet, who similarly distrusts the playacting he sees around him at court, Coriolanus embraces the role of actor, presenting himself in rags at Aufidius’s door, but only in order to remove his costume and show himself as himself: ‘Rather say I play/The man I am’ (3.2.13-14).  This is a richly ambiguous choice of words, since for the speaker it means something like ‘I disdain artifice,’ but to the knowledgeable listener it also suggests that ‘man,’ adulthood and manliness, is a role. In the play’s denouement his playing at manhood will be further unmasked when Aufidius cunningly taunts him with the name of ‘boy.’ However, among the enemy Volscians, Coriolanus can counterfeit manhood only in the one way he knows – by counterfeiting godhood, and by inspiring in his fellow men an allegiance tantamount to religious awe. His soldiers, in Antium, take him as their grace before meat and their thanks at end. He is a magical personage, a talisman, a living emblem of transcendence. But in making himself into an emblem of godhead and war, Coriolanus has indeed become the antithesis of humanity, the opposite of a man, and once again this rejection of the human is signaled in the play by a rejection of language.

Having taken over the forces of the Volscians, threatening now his own city of Rome – threatening, in Shakespearean terms, something like civil war – Coriolanus is approached by a series of petitioners who plead with him for mercy. To every one of them except the last he denies not only mercy but speech. Cominius is the first emissary, and he finds nothing except a machine:

     I kneeled before him;

‘Twas very faintly he said ‘Rise,’ dismissed me

Thus with his speechless hand. What he would do

He sent in writing after me…


No speech, no human communication – ‘his speechless hand,’ and a letter of instruction or command, sent after the fact. The denial of speech is the denial of presence, and of emotion. Menenius is next, and to Menenius and his wordy petition Coriolanus makes the same replay. ‘O, my son, my son’ (5.2.68) is Menenius’s opening gambit, and he makes an appeal rather like that of Falstaff to the new King Henry V, the former Prince Hal. I am your real father, I made you what you are, fools have blocked my access to you. And like Falstaff, Menenius gets a dismissive reply: ‘Away!’ Once more Coriolanus offers, instead, a written communication: ‘Yet, for I loved thee,/Take this along. I writ it for thy sake,/And would have sent it’ (85-87). But there is to be no conversations, no voice, no speech: ‘Another word, Menenius,/I will not hear thee speak’ (88). He will neither speak nor hear.

This is indeed the posture of godhead, the attitude of something rather above or below the merely human, and it might well be his salvation and his escape if he were willing to spend his life in exile from humanity as well as from Rome. But the third emissary, of course, is his mother, Volumnia, accompanied by his wife, his son, and their friend Valeria. To Volumnia’s urgent demand ‘Why dost not speak’ he has, at least, no answer but to extend his hand and reaffirm the filial bond. Clearly and directly the whole play leads up to this mesmerizing moment onstage, when son kneels to mother, mother kneels to son, and all the family kneels as well, until, in what is perhaps Shakespeare’s most poignant stage direction,

[He] holds her by the hand, silent

Earlier, much earlier, Coriolanus had addressed his wife as ‘[m]y gracious silence,’ confirming the sense that silence is a key and valued Roman attribute, not the denial of language but a kind of language that transcends speech. Here, in act 5, scene 3, he holds hi mother by the hand, silent, and forges again a bond that is at once his salvation and his destruction, his ‘most mortal’ contact with kinship and the human race. The reaching out of the hand, so vital a gesture in King Lear, again in Coriolanus becomes a gesture of humanization. From this point he will again begin to speak.

In order to approach the majesty of this theatrical moment, and to appreciate the truly stunning effect of the scene onstage, it is useful to bear in mind another aspect of the question of language and silence that is also vital for the play: the matter of names and naming. The question of the proper name, linked in drama to the crucial question of identity and identification – Who am I? – is one that this play asks again and again. Early on, we are offered a kind of control for this concept, must as in Macbeth the presence of the ‘good mother,’ Lady Macduff, served as a control for the ‘bad mother’ (or non-mother), Lady Macbeth. Here the control is a briefly mentioned character by the name of Censorinus. ‘And nobly named so,’ says a tribune, ‘twice being censor’ (2.3.233). The man was fittingly named Censorinus, since he became a censor. As we have seen in other plays, notably in Richard II, it is a matter of whether or not the name fits the role.

But what of Coriolanus? What is his true name, the name he merits and deserves either in the play’s form as a history or in its form as a tragedy? Martius is one of his names. Caius Martius is what he is called as the play opens. But almost immediately he gains a new name, the surname, or ‘addition,’ of Coriolanus, the conqueror of the city of Corioles. After the battle he refuses to accept any spoils or reward, except for two honorable gifts from the general Cominius – the general’s own horse, and a title:


     [F]rom this time,

For what he did before Corioles, call him,

With all th’applause and clamor of the host,

Martius Caius Coriolanus. Bear th’addition

Nobly ever!


‘Addition,’ meaning a role to be proud of, a title, rank, or public name, a ‘style’ of address, is a familiar term from Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet. In a play about Rome it is a cognomen, an additional name or epithet (as in the name Scipio Aemilianus Africanus). Thus to his first two names, ‘Martius Caius,’ is now added the surname Coriolanus. From what the play has already demonstrated about the man, it will come as no surprise when this honor turns out to be his undoing. But no sooner has he been awarded this honorific surname that we have a chance to see what names mean and do not mean to Martius Caius. Like any war hero, he has a particular request to make of his general, and boon he requests is that a poor man of Corioles who once gave him shelter be freed. ‘O, well begged!’ say the generals, and ‘Martius, his name?’ But Martius has forgotten his name. ‘By Jupiter, forgot!’ Names have no significance for him – he fails to understand the magic in a name, just as he will fail to appreciate the danger implicit in his own. Did the poor man of Corioles die because Martius had forgotten his name?

In the fourth act, when he is banished from Rome, Coriolanus undergoes a process of stripping similar to that experienced by major characters in other Shakespearean tragedies. Once a man who had everything – mother, wife, child, public honors, even, briefly, the consulate – he swiftly becomes, like Lear, a man without anything; like Edgar, a man in costume, in disguise. And like the disguised Edgar, he has no name. Arriving at the home of his former enemy, he is greeted by Aufidius, himself called ‘[t]he second name of men,’ with an insistent catechism of identity: ‘Whence com’st thou? What wouldst thou? Thy name? Why speak’st not? Speak man. What’s thy name?’ (4.5.52053). When Coriolanus unmuffles himself, he finds that he is still unrecognizable:

Coriolanus: (Unmuffling his head)

If, Tullus,

Not yet thou know’st me…



Commands me name myself


     What is thy name?


A name unmusical to the Volscian’s ears

And harsh in sound to thine.


     Say, what’s they name?

Thou hast a grim appearance, and thy face

Bears a command in’t…

              What’s thy name?


Prepare thy brow to frown. Know’st thou me yet?


I know thee not. Thy name?


My name is Caius Martius, who hath done

To thee particularly, and to all the Volsces,

Great hurt and mischief. Thereto witness may

My surname Coriolanus. The painful service,

The extreme dangers, and the drops of blood

Shed for my thankless country, are requited

But with that surname…


       Only that name remains.


He is now just a living surname – ‘Only that name remains.’ It has obliterated all the other names – no wife, no mother, no kin – leaving the name Coriolanus as legend. The surname has become the man, a magic word, said at grace before the soldiers’ meal. Even his mother, Volumnia, in her final plea to him, recognizes that the public role and the public name have displaced the personal: ‘To his surname ‘Coriolanus’ longs more pride/Than pity to our prayers.’ (5.3.171-172)

From Tanner:

0524“Coriolanus has always appeared as single, singular; sharply outlines and standing out against the rest. He is ‘constant,’ ‘absolute,’ adamant we might say. During the war against the Volscians, he is locked, trapped, within the enemy’s gates on his own – as a soldier says: ‘He is himself alone,/To answer all the city’ (I.iv.52-3). This description holds good whether the city is Corioli or Rome. ‘O me alone!’ he cries, after his one-man victory (I.vii.76), and the cries goes – instantly – over to the enemy. As in the case of Timon, it seems that ‘absolutists’ are either rigidly ‘constant,’ or must totally invert their commitments. As we have seen, Shakespeare is very interested in these sudden switches of allegiance whereby a passionate Roman becomes a virulent anti-Roman (I am thinking of Lucius in Titus Andronicus and Alcibiades in Timon of Athens) – on the spot, as it were. In what is arguably his only soliloquy (as with Timon, there is no inwardness in the depiction of Coriolanus, none of the wracked, intelligent conscience-searching of a Macbeth: Coriolanus is all outside, all deed, all sword), Coriolanus says:

O world, thy slippery turns! Friends now fast sworn…

On a dissension of a doit, break out

To bitterest enmity…

…So with me:

My birthplace hate I, and my love’s upon

This enemy town.


Well, it might be – and Shakespeare could be exploring the unstable and changeable foundations of what we fondly take to be our most inmovably fixed commitments, allegiances, and loyalties. But Coriolanus might not be so rid of his ‘birthplace,’ so cleanly and hatefully disengaged from Rome, as he thinks. It is notable that, after his banishment, he is seen entering the enemy town of Actium ‘in mean apparel, disguised and muffled.’ This detail, unremarked, is in Plutarch. But Shakespeare would surely have seen an added irony in Coriolanus having recourse to almost the same ‘dissembling’ strategies he had so furiously repudiated in Rome. Has he learnt theatricals in spite of himself? Is he going to ‘play’ the dragon, ‘act’ the vengeful god, ‘counterfeit’ the ireful anti-Roman? If so, he may well not prove as impregnable as he has hitherto seemed, for a time could come when the ‘acting’ has to stop. Not that he gives signs of dissembling. His determined disavowal and rejection of Rome seems absolutely resolute and total. His single imperative to his old friend, Menenius, who comes to plead with him on Rome’s behalf, summarizes the stance of denial and dismissal he has adopted – ‘Away!’ He spells it out:

Wife, mother, child, I know not. My affairs

Are servanted to others…

Therefore be gone.

(V.ii.83-4, 88)

Away every Roman; away even his own Roman self. Cominius receives as much of a brush-off as Menenius:


He would not answer to; forbad all names;

He was a kind of nothing, titleless,

Till he had forged himself a name o’ th’ fire

Of burning Rome.


I will come to the importance of ‘names’ in the play. Here we may note his attempt entirely to erase and disown all traces of his Roman identity, rending himself – certainly from the Roman point of view – ‘a kind of nothing.’ Just as swords are ‘forged,’ so he will forge a new name in the fire of burning Rome.

To my knowledge, it was Bradley [MY NOTE:  We’ll hear from Bradley later] who first pointed out how references to fire and burning Rome (not mentioned in Plutarch), suddenly start and then proliferate in Acts IV and V, as the not-Coriolanus, the anonymous, titleless ‘nothing,’ starts to move inexorably – all engine-beast-god now – against the city of his birth. This dragon is breathing fire. Territories are being ‘consumed with fire’; there is terrified talk of burned temples and houses put to ‘the brand.’ Menenius gives his opinion:

If he could burn us all into one coal,

We have deserved it.


Volscian soldiers, talking to downcast Romans, refer gleefully to ‘the intended fire your city is ready to flame in’ (V.ii.47), and Menenius, trying to get through to the alienated and no-longer Coriolanus, haplessly recognizes – ‘Thou art preparing fire for us’ (V.ii.72). It is all summed up in Cominius’ description of the oncoming avenger:

I tell you he does sit in gold, his eye

Red as ‘twould burn Rome, and his injury

The jailer to his pity.


Fire consumes everything and leaves, effectively, nothing. A total razing and cleansing. This is not so much revenge as an intended eradication, obliteration, annihilation. This unnamable and omnipotent figure is, indeed, absolute – ‘too absolute.’

The nightmare prospect behind all this, is the destruction, the ‘unbuilding’, the ‘unroofing,’ or the ‘melting,’ of the city – THE city, Rome. When things come to crisis point between the plebeians and the tribunes, and Coriolanus and the nobles, Cominius cries out:

This is the way to lay the city flat,

To bring the roof to the foundation,

And bury all which yet distinctly ranges,

In heaps and piles of ruin.


For Rome, the ‘city’ simply was the available civilization (no matter what its internal impairments might be), and whatever was outside the city was uncontainable and unformulable (out of language, out of bounds), potentially ‘monstrous’ – dragons clawing their way towards the city walls. But there was a nightmare within the nightmare – pointed to when, in the internal crisis, Menenius beseechingly cries out:

Powered to process [i.e. by law, the cement of the city];

Lest parties (as he is beloved) break out

And sack great Rome with Romans

(III.i.312-14; Tanner’s boldface]

From the start of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, we have seen that Rome could be ‘barbarous’, Romans barbarians (as in this play the plebeians are to Coriolanus – ‘I would they were barbarians, as they are,/Though in Rome littered’ – III.i.237-8 – though no one, on his day, more ‘barbaric’ than Coriolanus). That could be handled, contained, perhaps worked out. The city would still stand. But if Rome should self-destructively turn on itself; not just a Roman by a Roman ‘valiantly’ vanquished, but Rome by Romans…if the city tears itself to pieces, what price any hope for civilization and order then? We must be clear about this. Shakespeare is very far, very far, from being an uncritical admirer of the Roman world as he conceived, it or, at least as he dramatized his version of it. It is a hard, brutal, militarized, legalistic, excessively male world, with women and domestic values and virtues – procreative eroticism, love, gentleness, mildness, pity – marginalized to the point of near-extinction. But Rome – arid, unimaginative, unbounteous, politic and cruel Rome – was the alternative to chaos, the (badly faulted) prototype of civilized (problematic, question-begging word, as Shakespeare well knew) societies in the western world. Shakespeare being Shakespeare, he lent some of his finest poetry to a final elegiac efflorescent flaring of an Egyptian world that was inevitably superseded. For good or bad, good and bad, Rome was the future, and the future was to be – mutatis, mutandis – Roman.

The Rome of Coriolanus is a noisy place; more specifically it is a city of ‘voices.’ Since most plays are comprised of speakers, I must attempt to avoid a fatuity here. But the word ‘voice’ (or ‘voices’) occurs over forty times, far more often than in any other Shakespeare play. And the voices are, preeminently, the voices of the people. In this play, the people (or mob, or rabble, or children, or slave – according to their behavior and your point of view) are, certainly, volatile, fickle, too – easily swayable, and, when pressed too hard or deprived too far, dangerously dissentious and mutinous. (They are probably ‘stinking’ too – the working classes are the sweating classes, and doubtless, their food is none of the best either.) But the play makes clear that many of their grievances are justified, while the behavior of the supposedly responsible, ‘paternalistic’ patricians, leaves a lot to be desired. Coriolanus is only the most obscenely contemptuous of the common people among his class – it is a matter of degree, not kind. Menenius is as willing to call them ‘rats’ as Coriolanus is determined to call them ‘curs.’ The use by Menenius of the tired allegory of the body politic to placate the mob in the first scene, is really a piece of gross effrontery. [MY NOTE:  I’m glad somebody has pointed this out!] Smugly and complacently, he allows the Belly ( = the Senators) to explain to the ‘mutinous members’ (= the people) that they ‘From me receive that natural competency/Whereby they live.’ A ‘natural competency’ is just exactly what these famished citizens-plebeians lack, and, indeed, all they ask for. Later in the play, Menenius says how ‘supple’ we are ‘when we have stuffed/These pipes and these conveyances of our blood/With wine and feeding’ (V.i.53-5). Clearly, he speaks from experience, and the earlier, hostile case against the Belly-Senate –

     it did remain

I’ th’ midst o’ th’ body, idle and unactive,

Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing

Like labor with the rest…


— would seem to fit him, and who knows how many other Senators, perfectly. [MY NOTE:  Why does Romney’s 47% keep coming to mind?] The voice and ‘voices’ of the people, then; to which we should add the unusually large number of references to mouth(s), tongue(s), breath(s). There is the heroic-martial Coriolanian world of swordly doings and deeds; and the people’s world of voices, or mouthly deeds. Coriolanus is an ‘engine,’ but the voice of the people is an instrument, too. Voices are votes (as in some Elizabethan elections, during this period in Rome the elected were chosen by vocal acclaim, or ‘shouting’), and it is having to supplicate for the people’s ‘voices’ in the market-place which is anathema to Coriolanus. But – ‘the people/Must have their voices’ and if Coriolanus cannot finally bring himself to ask for them ‘kindly,’ the voices will turn on him. In the event, he will be ‘Whooped out of Rome’ by, as he sees it, ‘th’ voices of slaves’ (IV.v.81-2). (For all his gnashing vituperations, Coriolanus is not really at ease using tongue, mouth, voice. When Cominius describes how Coriolanus dismissed him ‘with his speechless hand’ V.i.67 – we have the essential man in all his silent physicality.) but the voices which ‘did hoot him out of th’ city’ might well ‘roar him in again’ (IV.vi.124-5). When it is learned that Coriolanus will spare Rome, a Senator exhorts the city, impossibly as it sounds, to ‘Unshout the noise that banished Marcius’ (V.v.4). Shouting, whooping, hooting, roaring – this civic noise sounds ugly.  And there is not much to redeem it in the rhetoric of the patricians, either. Gordon would seem to be justified in his pessimistic summing up of the play (in his essay ‘Name to Fame’):

‘It is a show of civil life. The city must stand and continue, for outside it there is the monstrous, or the nothing. But within the walls absolutes turn out to be instrumental; the words that identify and bind become words that debase and destroy: whoops, or hoots, curses, lies, flatteries, voices, stinking breath…In this city to speak is to be guilty.’

No wonder Virgilia prefers to remain silent.

‘Voices’ are also intimately connected with ‘fame’ and ‘name’ – two more words which often recur. Gordon again: ‘Name is Fame, is Honour, and is won by deeds – in Rome, by deeds in war.’ Fame depends on ‘praise,’ ‘renown,’ ‘applause and clamor,’ ‘good report’ — all more or less dependent on ‘voice.’ Volumnia, explaining to Virgilia how she brought up her sons, says: ‘I, considering how honor would become such a person – that it was no better than picture-like to hang by th’ wall, if renown made it not stir – was pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame’ (I.iii.10-14; Tanner’s italics). To acquire ‘name’ and ‘fame,’ Coriolanus will need ‘voices’ in a more than electoral sense. (In ancient Greece, the word for ‘truth’ – ‘aletheia’ – meant, literally, not forgetting, or forgotten. The epic singers and reciters were so important just because they prevented the silent deeds of heroic warriors from falling into an eternal, soundless, oblivion. They preserved and perpetuated the ‘renown,’ exactly by reknowing, renaming. This kept the honor ‘stirring.) Caius Marcus of course wins fame and name after his exploits at Corioli:

     from this time,

For what he did before Corioles, call him,

With all the’ applause and clamor of the host,

Caius Marcius Coriolanus.

Bear th’ addition nobly ever!


Or, as the Herald announces it:

     he hath won,

With fame, a name to Caius Marcius; these

In honor follows Coriolanus.


As his mother proudly says – he is ‘By deed-achieving honor newly named’ (II.i.179).

But if name and fame depend upon voice, mouth, breath, their possible persistingness is always vulnerable, precarious. Voices can be withheld, or – just like that – shout the other way. (Is it notable that only once does Coriolanus think of writing as possibly a proper preservative of fame – and I will come to that in a moment.) Of course, when Coriolanus leaves Rome to join the Volscians, he makes a point of trying to shed and disown all his previous names, both family-given and war-won (‘forbad all names’). This attempt by Coriolanus to reject or leave behind his names is highlighted by Shakespeare (but not Plutarch) when the disguised and prevaricating Coriolanus first arrives in Antium, and Aufidius has to ask him five times – ‘what is thy name?’ At last, Coriolanus has to answer. His attempt at an act of willed dis-nomination proves finally to be impossible. And when Aufidius at the end refuses to call his Roman ally by ‘thy stol’n name/Coriolanus’ (V.vi.89), it is, to be exact, the last but one straw. Perhaps the most poignant episode illustrating both the cardinal importance and the ephemeral forgettability of names, occurs after the first battle with the Volscians. Victorious Coriolanus asks a modest, and indeed honourable, favor of his commander Cominius:

I sometimes lay here in Corioles

At a poor man’s house; he used me kindly.

He cried to me; I saw him prisoner;

…I request you

To give my poor host freedom.


Cominius is more than happy to comply. All they need is ‘his name.’

By Jupiter, forgot!

I am weary; yea, my memory is tired.

Have we no wine here?


So easily can a ‘name’ be ‘lost.’ In Plutarch, the kindly ‘enemy’ host is wealthy, and there is no mention of his name having been forgotten by Coriolanus. You can decide what kind of point Shakespeare was making with his changes. But, clearly, some amnesias are lethal, and the forgetting of a person’s name may cost the forgotten one not less than everything. Coriolanus himself will effectively give up his life in one last desperate attempt to secure fitting and appropriate remembrance.”


As a bonus, I just came across an essay on Steven Berkoff’s production of Coriolanus that I think might contribute a lot to your reading of the play.  Here’s the first two paragraphs:

Steven Berkoff’s production of Shakepeare’s Coriolanus was the most penetrating rendering of a human soul I’ve ever seen on a stage. Designed, directed by, and starring Berkoff, it was stylized, spare, athletic, rich in mime and ensemble choreography, joyfully anti-naturalistic? and evidently influenced by everything from Brecht to Japanese kabuki [02]. But beyond the elegant stage design [03], superb supporting cast, and fine music, the real force of the play was generated by the organizing energy and dramatic presence of Berkoff himself? in a persona he has wryly labeled “the Berkoff beast.”

That persona is impossible to convey fully in words alone, but we can approach it by focusing on his rendering of one of Shakespeare’s most troubling and eccentric characters. Berkoff’s vision of the Roman hero and traitor was grandly idiosyncratic. Here was a new Coriolanus? as a strutting, macho, campy yet thoroughly menacing Mussolini. Here was a man who? in spite of immense ego, martial ruthlessness, abject (and even at times comical) submission to his mother? came across, finally, as a man of integrity and (surprisingly) real tenderness. Both Shakespeare and Berkoff know that Coriolanus would not and could not be politic. He was a warrior? and nothing but a warrior. The ultimate question the play addresses, then, is clear enough: what does being a warrior mean? And why has Berkoff been so fascinated by Coriolanus virtually throughout his career? [04]

Read the rest here.

Our Thanksgiving week schedule:

My next posts:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning (it’ll be a long one continuing with Act Four including some fun stuff from Ralph Feines on acting the role of Coriolanus); I’ll post again on Sunday on Act Five.


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