“What is the city but the People?” Transversal Performance and Radical Politics in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Brecht’s Coriolan

  • Bryan Reynolds


Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Brecht’s adaptation of it were written during historical periods of high cultural anxiety and frustration.2 Both works reflect and comment on social, economic, and political problems contemporaneous to their conception. Whereas Brecht makes his purpose for creating Coriolan explicit in his nonfictional writings, he does not reveal the direct correlations between his play and, as he calls them, the “dark times” in which he wrote. To do this would have been dangerous for Brecht while living in a newly formed East Germany that was indirectly governed and closely monitored by Soviet forces. Similarly, despite the obvious topicality of its subject matter, Shakespeare gives no clear indication of his political investment in Coriolanus, and censorship was an issue that Jacobean dramatists were compelled to consider.3 In this chapter, I compare Coriolanus and Coriolan in light of their historical contexts in hopes of bettering our understanding of both the actions of the plebeians and Coriolanus’s negotiation of his own subject position in response to the changing sociopolitical environment in Shakespeare’s play. I aim to propose a new reading of Coriolanus that emphasizes performance rather than literal possibilities for the play-text.


Radical Politics Common People Body Politic Subjective Territory Critical Essay 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Works cited

  1. Adelman, Janet. “Anger’s My Meat’: Feeding, Dependency, and Aggression in Coriolanus.” Representing Shakespeare. Ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppelia Kahn. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1980. 129–49.Google Scholar
  2. Berghahn, V.R. Modern Germany: Society, Economy and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Ed. and trans. Randal Jonson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  4. Bond, Ronald B., ed. Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience and Will Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987.Google Scholar
  5. Bradley, A.C. “Coriolanus: British Academy Lecture 1912. ” A Miscellany. London: Macmillan, 1929.Google Scholar
  6. Brecht, Bertolt. “Big Time, Lost.” Die Gedichte von Bertolt Brecht in einem. Austria: Suhrkamp, 1984. 1010.Google Scholar
  7. Brecht, Bertolt. “Die Lösung.” Die Gedichte von Bertolt Brecht in einem Band. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981. 1009–10.Google Scholar
  8. Brecht, Bertolt. Coriolanus. Collected Plays. Vol. 9. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willett. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Random House, 1973. 57–146.Google Scholar
  9. Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Ed. and trans. John Willett. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.Google Scholar
  10. Bristol, Michael D. “Lenten Butchery: Legitimation Crisis in Coriolanus.” Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology. Ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion E O’Connor. London: Methuen, 1987. 207–22.Google Scholar
  11. Brockbank, Philip, ed. Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1976.Google Scholar
  12. Butler, Martin. Theatre and Crisis 1632–1642. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  13. Chamberlain, John. The Letters of John Chamberlain. 2 Vols. Ed. N.E. MacClure. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939.Google Scholar
  14. Clare, Janet. “‘Greater Themes for Insurrection’s Arguing’: Political Censorship of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Stage.” RES 38 (1987): 169–83.Google Scholar
  15. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. New York: J.M. Dent, 1947.Google Scholar
  16. Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin: A Political Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.Google Scholar
  17. Dollimore, Jonathan. Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  18. Farnham, Willard. Shakespeare’s Tragic Frontier. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.Google Scholar
  19. Finkelpearl, Philip J. “‘The Comedians Liberty’: Censorship of the Jacobean Stage Reconsidered.” ELR 16 (1986): 123–38.Google Scholar
  20. Finkelpearl, Philip J. “The Role of the Court in the Development of Jacobean Drama.” Criticism 24 (1982): 138–58.Google Scholar
  21. Gay, E.F. “The Midlands Revolt and the Inquisitions of Depopulation of 1607.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. N.S. 18 (1904): 195–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gildon, Charles. “The Argument of Coriolanus.” Coriolanus: Critical Essays. Ed. David Wheeler. New York: Garland Press, 1995. 7–10.Google Scholar
  23. Grass, Gunter. The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966.Google Scholar
  24. Hedrick, Donald K. “Male Surplus Value.” Presentation at Folger Library Shakespeare Colloquium, Washington, D.C., April, 1999.Google Scholar
  25. Heinemann, Margot. “How Brecht read Shakespeare.” Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. 202–30.Google Scholar
  26. Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.Google Scholar
  27. Honig, Edwin. “Sejanus and Coriolanus: A Study in Alienation.” Modern Language Quarterly 12 (1951): 407–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howard, Jean E. and Marion E O’Connor, eds. Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology. New York: Methuen, 1987.Google Scholar
  29. Huffman, Clifford Chalmers. Coriolanus in Context. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1971.Google Scholar
  30. Hiisges, H., ed. Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. Braunschweig/Berlin/ Hamburg, 1934.Google Scholar
  31. Ide, Richard. Possessed with Greatness: The Heroic Tragedies of Chapman and Shakespeare. London: Scholar Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  32. Jagendorf, Zvi. “Coriolanus: Body Politic and Private Parts.” Coriolanus: Critical Essays. Ed. David Wheeler. New York: Garland Press, 1995. 229–50.Google Scholar
  33. Jagendorf, Zvi. “Coriolanus: Body Politic and Private Parts.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 455–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. James I. Minor Prose Works of King James VI and L Ed. James Craigie. Edinburgh: The Scottish Text Society, 1982.Google Scholar
  35. Johnson, Samuel, ed. The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare. Philadelphia: Bioren and Madan, 1795–1796.Google Scholar
  36. Jorgenson, P.A. “Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: Elizabethan Soldier.” PMLA 64 (1949): 221–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Keegan, John. The Mask of Command. New York: Viking Press, 1987.Google Scholar
  38. Kernan, Alvin. Shakespeare, the King’s Playwright: Theater in the Stuart Court 1603–1613. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  39. Kishlansky, Mark. Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. MacCallum, M.W. Shakespeare’s Roman Plays, and Their Background. London: Macmillan, 1967.Google Scholar
  41. Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. London: International Library Publishing Co., 1904.Google Scholar
  42. Marx, Karl. The Marx-Engels Reader. Second edition. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.Google Scholar
  43. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Intro. A.J.P. Taylor. Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1982.Google Scholar
  44. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Wage-Labour and Capital and Value, Price, and Profit. New York: International Publishers, 1976.Google Scholar
  45. Patterson, Annabel. Shakespeare and the Popular Voice. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1989.Google Scholar
  46. Pettet, E.C. “Coriolanus and the Midlands Insurrection of 1607.” Shakespeare Survey 3 (1950): 34–42.Google Scholar
  47. Phillips, James Emerson. The State of Shakespeare’s Greek and Roman Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.Google Scholar
  48. Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Common Understanding. New York: Free Press, 1967.Google Scholar
  49. Reynolds, Bryan. “The Devil’s House, ‘or worse’: Transversal Power and Antitheatrical Discourse in Early Modern England.” Theatre Journal 49.2 (1997): 143–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rossiter, A.P. Angel With Horns. Ed. Graham Storey. London: Longmans, 1961.Google Scholar
  51. Scofield, Martin. “Drama, Politics, and the Hero: Coriolanus, Brecht, and Grass.” Coriolanus: Critical Essays. Ed. David Wheeler. New York: Garland Press, 1995. 251–72.Google Scholar
  52. Simmons, J.L. Shakespeare’s Pagan World: The Roman Tragedies. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973.Google Scholar
  53. Sorge, Thomas. “The Failure of Orthodoxy in Coriolanus.” Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology. Ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion E O’Connor. New York: Routledge, 1987. 225–39.Google Scholar
  54. Stow, John. Annales. London: 1631.Google Scholar
  55. Suvin, Darko. To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy. New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1984.Google Scholar
  56. Tillyard, E.M.W. The Elizabethan World Picture. London: Chatto and Windus, 1943.Google Scholar
  57. Tricomi, Albert H. Anticourt Drama in England 1603–1642. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.Google Scholar
  58. Turner, Henry Ashby Jr. The Two Germanies Since 1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.Google Scholar
  59. Volker, Klaus. Brecht. London: Marion Boyars, 1979.Google Scholar
  60. Wilson, John Dover, ed. Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. London: New Shakespeare, 1960.Google Scholar
  61. Zeeveld, Gordon W. “Coriolanus and Jacobean Politics.” Modern Language Review 57 (1962): 321–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Bryan Reynolds 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bryan Reynolds

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations