• Katharine Goodland
  • John O’Connor
Part of the A Directory of Shakespeare in Performance Series book series (DSP)


“What is the city but the people?” No other Coriolanus I have seen has seized on this as the key line. Brian Bedford founded his production, not on the title role, but on the perception of the Roman people as the protagonist. And he had an elemental textual justification. How many times is city mentioned in Julius Caesar? None, And in Coriolanus? 39, The emphasis is overwhelming, a plain statement that in the end the play is about the community. In a sense, then, Coriolanus is “political,” but not in crude and sub-Marxist categories, Bedford avoided the obvious possibilities. As an analysis of class conflict, Coriolanus now seems neither threatening nor disturbing; and the director conceded this by cutting some of the more openly class-oriented portions of the text… The play opened in darkness, with rhythmic panting sounds, then light disclosed a frieze of citizens on the upper stage. The citizens debate registered well… The continuing presence of the people, above all in the later stages, enforced a sense of the body to which Coriolanus was ultimately answerable, and to which he answered… Bedford avoided the truth of irony, and pointed unmistakably to the outcome. In the final scene, the Roman crowd metamorphosed into the Volscian crowd… As Coriolanus pitched into the crowd, they turned in upon him and rent him. And then the Volscian people turned out toward the theatre audience with looks of candid, open-eyed complicity. They had devoured the hero, and we became part of the eating, “The people,” as the phlebians had earlier cried, “are the city,” (Ralph Berry, Shakespeare Quarterly 33 [1982]: 201–02)


Defensive Attitude Opening Date Class Conflict Obvious Possibility Plain Statement 
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© Katharine Goodland and John O’Connor 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharine Goodland
  • John O’Connor

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