March 30, 2009, 7pmThe word compromise was in Shakespeare's vocabulary, but barely, and not, it would seem, very welcome. In Richard II, King Richard is assailed for having "basely yielded upon compromise" lands and other assets "which his ancestors achieved with blows." Compromise seems here associated with the slimy parts of politics---talking, not fighting---though that word, in the plural and hence in our modern sense, does not appear in Shakespeare.
Coriolanus Conversations: The Politics of Compromise
Moderated by Director Robert Walsh
Ron Goldman, Cast Member & Psychologist
Diana Henderson, Shakespeare Scholar, MIT
Robert S. Ross, Professor of Political Science, Boston College
With scenes and discussion about the play and its relevance to our times, in our lives, today.
In any case, it is odd but interesting to invoke these terms in connection with Coriolanus. Coriolanus himself is, on the whole absolute---a word that appears four times in the play, twice used by him, sarcastically, of the common people, twice applied to him, as a term of approbation. He, much more than anyone, has the strongest, clearest set of values.
Absolutism, however, in 1607 or so when Shakespeare presumably wrote this play, was under scrutiny. King James I was flirting, at least, with the idea of absolute monarchy---the God-given right of a king to rule as he saw best. He was facing increased resistance from members of his court and especially from the elected members of Parliament, vox populi, the voice of the people. There seems a strong possibility that Shakespeare chose to dramatize this story from its source in Plutarch precisely because he could see in it the birth of politics in our sense. He could see the transition, at the very beginning of the Roman republic, from a time when the power of the state was vested in whatever man could claim it by absolute strength of arms, to a time when power was geld to derive from the people, temporarily assigned by them to some strong person to use in their interest.
It is certainly the case that at the core of this play is a call from the people to compromise, and an equally literal call toward the absolute. How the struggle turns out in the pay you know, if you have seen it. What's remarkable is how relevant the conflict still seems, 2500 years further on.
-David Evett [Scholar-in-residence]
While waiting for this to start, I was listening to conversations happening with audience members near me. One woman was attempting to translate the Russian on one of the images projected on the wall, and said she thought it approximated to "everything for the struggle."
I gave up on making full sentences complete with contextualization out of my notes.
Henderson: Coriolanus and Cordelia: both can't not speak the truth [I was struck by what constitutes the word similarity -- "cor," meaning "heart."]
1607 grain riots, climate change (colder - Maunder Minimums), inflation, enclosures (land), people moved to London, anti-immigrant riots
Shakespeare was a landowner, concerned about mob mentality, Warwickshire
Essex Rebellion - Earl of Southampton, failed rebellion against older woman
Ross: Politics means pandering, even on the part of African dictators
Goldman: savage love, savage mothering, soul-murder, rage at his mother, cannot afford to know it
Henderson: mythic past
Ross: "if this is what I need to do for stability, so be it" -- Shakespeare's tension as a landowner
His [Coriolanus'] tragedy is that he loved his mother
Henderson: His tragedy is that he can't bring peace.
I will not destroy my family for honor code.
King James wanted to be a peacemaker, Augustus Caesar ... fractured class groups in this play
Ross: Do you take Coriolanus at his word?
Henderson: Our mindset of the modern individual leads us to see him as saving face etc.
breaking apart so many times; Act 3 and having to talk to a Rome who is not his ideal Rome
Q: Why does the use of "shall" so set him off?
A: is a command word, 3rd person
Henderson: tribunes are Shakespeare's additions
Ross: A lot of the New Deal came out of fear of the masses -- fear instability, so let's give them stuff.
Henderson: Brecht - unhappy is the land that needs a king
Goldman: Coriolanus is incensed by his authority being challenged -- psychologically cannot allow (the idea that he could challenge his mother) & traitor
Ross: public scenes that should have been private
The woman who plays Volumnia [Bobbie Steinbach] got up and prefaced her remarks with saying how fond she is of Goldman -- "I admire and delight in..." She talked about the research she'd done in preparing for this role and argued that Volumnia is not as unusual or cruel as we're making her out to be. She said that Roman boys had fathers who taught them politics, introduced them to the Senate, etc. (Coriolanus had no father, recall) and also that all boys went to war at 16. She also said, "If he dies, yes it will hurt, but I won't tell Virgilia that." In closing: "Freud today, Rome then ... and I'm done."
Goldman opened saying he has "great affection" for her :)
Human beings behave in monstrous ways -- it's hard to face up to how much mothers and fathers can hurt their children because we need to protect the ideal parents we have in our head.
Volumnia succeeds by humiliating Coriolanus.
Ross: She does it so she won't die.
Henderson: So Rome won't die.
And she has no problem with wounded bodies; he's the one who wants to only to be a machine -- painted -- display on battlefield (vulnerability).
Ben [who plays Coriolanus] talked about Coriolanus inhabiting a role.
Walsh [talking about the peace negotiations]: "And after that they go back to the tend for a well-deserved beer." / someone: "coupla martinis" / Walsh: "Volskian lager"
Henderson: The conception of an individual as prior to and separate from state is a modern assumption.
Walsh: Coriolanus realizes that fighting for Rome is fighting for the plebians.
As actors, we always have to be taking positive actions.
Ross: "convenient peace" -- it's a way to extricate himself; he knows it's neither noble nor feasible
Ben: advantageous to Antions - lopsided peace - historically, the Romans overthrow them soon after
Coriolanus is coming back to purify the body of Rome
When he is banished from Rome, he says that no, he banishes Rome (he carries the true Rome with him) but later he says "I'll back to Rome," and at this point he's realized he's no longer a Roman but an exile.
Walsh: He is living for an ideal.
Ross: we hope for a model of developing accountability, reforming institutions, rather than coup
Henderson: the audience can see what is missing that makes this a tragedy