Anatomizing Caius Martius Coriolanus illuminates Shakespeare’s critique of Rome in the Roman plays: Rome’s single-minded privileging of a species of valor that is indistinguishable from wrath; an imperialist urge for conquest implicit in its earliest historical and cultural beginnings; and an underlying cruelty, implacability, and wholehearted devotion to a perverse and frequently contradictory principle of adversity and oppugnancy. Martius seems to fit the mold of Seneca’s angry man, and his disposition and conduct betray the destructive and self-destructive nature of Rome; yet he also has the capacity for an attitude that runs contrary to Roman mores in his surprising access to pity, an emotion Seneca and Cicero deem unRoman, weak, and inferior to the virtue of clemency. Martius concedes to unexpected emotional registers and is remarkable for his ability, for a time, to see beyond the Roman customs and conventions that have sculpted, defined, and enclosed him. In a startling incongruity, Martius, Rome’s apparently absolute exponent of valor, simultaneously discloses all that is cruelly present and constitutive of Rome and all that is pitilessly absent and lacking from it. In the tragic close Martius suggests the good of a world where “valor will weep.”


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pp. 358-396
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