Coriolanus Context

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  • Coriolanus Context!
    • Socio-cultural context
      • History based plays v. popular and a means of indirectly addressing authority at the time
      • Renaissance historical writing = Wheel of Fortune – a swift rise to fame always accompanied by an equally swift decline.
      • Shakespeare used Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland + Ireland for his English history plays + Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for Roman plays
    • Political and Cultural background
      • General interest in the ancients
      • Literature of Rome, its institutions and history, studied as object lessons for the day
      • Coriolanus deals w/ dangerous topics to present to monarch- hides this in ancient basis
      • Varying patterns of government under scrutiny in Shakespeare’s day
      • James I’s first parliament 1604-10 marked by incessant disputes - no parallel directly to the king
      • Question of absolutism central both to Coriolanus’ character and to the play – prime Jacobean issue
      • James and Coriolanus both polarised friends and enemies into distinct groups in a way which threatened the state
      • Popular uprisings
      • Class conflict
      • Materialism
    • Literary - the classical hero
      • Based on precepts of the classical Greek drama of the 5th century
      • Highly formal, strict pattern
      • Stories drawn from ancient history
      • Hero
        • High-birth, high social stature, endowed w/ many admirable qualities, widely admired
        • Has one flaw in his character, suelo excess of virtue rather than vice - will prove fatal to him
        • Endures a great fall and is brought low, suelo by lesser people
    • General
      • Probably written in 1607-08 and first performed in 1609-10 at the Blackfriars Theatre in London
      • The next-to-last tragedy that Shakespeare composed
      • Shakespeare's interest in Roman history = general Renaissance fascination with the classical world
      • Limited character appeal
      • Limited scope as a play
      • Interesting political messages


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