From Identity, Otherness, and Empire in Shakespeare’s Rome, by Maria Del Sapio Garbero
Rome was an Elizabethan obsession. The classical Rome was split (lacerato) into two Romes, republican and imperial Rome. English humanists avidly (avidamente) studied and translated the classical historians of Rome, Suetonius, Tacitus, Livius or Plutarch.
Elizabethan England in particular came to consider itself as a second Roman Empire and its capital London is the “new Rome”.
Moral philosophers recommended Roman republicanism and Stoicism as norms for civic discipline and responsibility, patriotic pride.
Coriolanus is the most Roman of Shalespeare’sRoman plays. Shakespare in this play preserve Roman manners and customs and allusions.
Coriolanus is the creature of his mother. It was she who had instilled in him from earliest childhood the masculinist Roman codes of civic honour. She taught him to exorcise all unmanly, effeminate motions and emotions.
There lurks a fatal double-bind in the Coriolanus complex: on the one hand, this kind of grooming or identity formation makes sure that Coriolanus remains “the perennial mama’s boy”, incapable of liberating himself from the umbilical cord and achieving an adult autonomy of character; on the other, it is precisely autonomy of character that is at the centre of the code of romanitas instilled by his mother (virtus, pietas, constantia, fortitudo).
In Ancient Rome, one cannot not perform. The world in which its characters move is primarily a political, a public world focused on public spaces, the market-place, the Capitol, the battle field or theatre of war, and their mode of speaking is primarily the rhetoric of public address. Patricians constantly act in front of, and to, and for, an audience.
His self is primarily a public self, a self enacted in public, constantly aware of the image it is projecting. One has to act the Roman.
Coriolanus, as a man, his masculine control over his desires and emotions. As a politician, hiding his personal interests under a fine, discreetly calibrated show of disinterested virtus and constant service to Rome.
Only at moments of crisis, when Coriolanus’ internalized scripts clash with each other, he demonstrates an awareness (consapevolezza) of acting and articulates this awareness in metatheatrical metaphors. At such moments he appears as a man playing a part.
“Like a dull actor”
Volumnia performs the role of Roman matron in language and gesture to perfection, narcissistically identifying with Rome’s tutelary goddess Juno.
Coriolanus needs constant briefing in his performance, by Menenius, by Cominius and above all by his mother. She tries to make him aware of how over-acting can spoil a performance “ You might have been enough the man you are with striving less to be so”
Coriolanus, finally, feels he is an actor without his script: “like a dull actor now I have forgot my part and Ial out even to a full disgrace”
Shakespeare took Coriolanus for a historical character, fascinated like them by the paradox of the patriot turned traitor for his very patriotism and by the concomitant Ciceronean paradox of summum ius being summa iuria or summa virtus summum vitium.
Leggi anche Shakespeare's Romulun and Remo, here