Coriolanus and the Paradox of Place
Colorado State University–Pueblo
Doug Eskew. "Coriolanus and the Paradox of Place". Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10) <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/eskecori.html>.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;Donne's "coherence" refers, at least implicitly, to an Aristotelian hierarchy and its structure of places, such as the mutually constituting places of "Prince" and "subject," of "father" and "son." The hierarchy-levelling "new philosophy" allows "every man" to conceive of himself as self-constituting, as a "phoenix," to be "None of that kind." The implication here, as reactionary as it is, with Donne's use of the word "kind" (and the related terms "coherence," "supply," and "relation") is that the Aristotelian system had lost a substance that held the structure together and that the new system was one of modern relativism, which Heidegger will describe as an ideology in which "every place is equal to every other" (60).
All just supply, and all relation:
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he. (213-18)
the word "substance," used to designate what a thing is, derives from a word designating something that a thing is not. That is, though used to designate something within the thing, intrinsic to it, the word etymologically refers to something outside the thing, extrinsic to it. Or otherwise put: the word in its etymological origins would refer to an attribute of the thing's context, since that which supports or underlies a thing would be a part of the thing's context. And a thing's context, being outside or beyond the thing, would be something that the thing is not. (23)What Burke renders here as the structure of language, its "grammar," a large, but decreasing number of Renaissance men and women held as the structure of the universe, working in the smallest of microcosms and the largest of macrocosms.
there reigneth all abuse, carnal liberty, enormity, sin and Babylonical confusion. Take away kings, princes, rulers, magistrates, judges, and such states of God's order, no man shall ride or go by the highway unrobbed, no man shall sleep in his own house or bed unkilled. (Aughterson 93)The Verge is a "half-pace" because the king's place remains stable but only in relation to the person of the sovereign, as if this place were a scaffold or a stage that would come to rest on top of and thus subsume the places of others. This doubling of place implies as well a sharing of substance, much like that represented in the figures above. When the king or queen came calling in Shakespeare's day, he or she had use of the subject's substance--that is, the subject's material goods and services, that which "stands beneath" supporting the subject now stands beneath both the subject and the sovereign.9
Would the nobility lay aside their ruthCaius Martius thus enters the play using a figure that has the effect of militarizing the rhetorical: insultatio, the quintessential figure of the warrior.15 Insultatio, in its etymological sense, refers to the rejoicing the triumphant warrior performs on top of his dead enemy.16 As T. W. Baldwin notes, Shakespeare was thinking of this sense of insultatio when he has Cloten say how he will treat Posthumus: "He on the ground, my speech of insultment ended on his dead body" (Cymbeline 3.5.136-138; Baldwin 2.159). If the use of Caius Martius' sword is a physical manifestation of his violent nature, then his insultatio is the verbal manifestation of the same. From this figure and the way it assumes an elevated place for the warrior, we can imagine Caius Martius' ideological geography conceiving of the political structure only as the most ideologically blinkered warrior could: standing triumphant atop the defeated corpse of the other. Kenneth Burke might remind us that a corpse is the container with an absence of the thing contained. Caius Martius' figure has the effect, therefore, of denying that he shares anything of substance in common with the Plebeians. Importantly, he alludes to this very figure upon being banished by them, saying that their "loves" he "prize[s] / As the dead carcasses of unburied men / That do corrupt my air: I banish you" (3.3.125-127).
And let me use my sword, I'd make a quarry
With thousands of these quartered slaves as high
As I could pitch my lance. (1.1.186-189)
when two authorities are up,Caius Martius imagines, then, the changes in structures of authority as a change from an Aristotelian sense in which places are contained by other places to one in which places are set in relation to one another within a void of unorganized space. "Gap," translated into its Greek equivalent, is chaos, which is precisely what surrounds the places of emerging conceptions of the spatial universe. Caius Martius fears Heidegger's description (also quoted above) of an ideology in which "every place is equal to every other."
Neither supreme, how soon confusion
May enter 'twixt the gap of both and take
The one by th' other. (3.1.112)
Editors are divided whether to place this scene in Antium orWe should note that Gordon places the scene both in Antium and in Corioles. We should note additionally that Gordon here is theorizing in terms of seriality, which as we have learned from Henry Turner, is a way of conceiving of place primarily vis-à-vis performance (161-185). One place comes after the other, as the play moves from scene to scene. The difference here, according to Gordon, is that this serial movement from one place to another occurs within the confines of a single scene. The reason Gordon proposes this odd intra-scenic movement is that his solution solves a problem of modern editing, not a problem of Renaissance drama. We have no evidence that the simultaneous place of the final scene was a problem for Shakespeare and his audience; there does not even seem to have been a problem for modern editors until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Corioli . . . . The solution seems to me to be this. Shakespeare
meant the scene to be Antium, and wrote with Antium in his mind
until he came to Aufidius' speech . . . . There he was carried
away by the magnificent opportunity of placing 'Coriolanus in
Corioli' . . . and for the rest of the scene thought rather of
Corioli than of Antium. (139)
Hail lords! I am returned your soldier,Caius Martius claims, then, the paradoxical identity of a warrior and a maker of peace. He allows, moreover, that he is "of" two city-states: he is at some level "infected" with "love" of Rome at the same time that he is a member of the Volscian military hierarchy (he "subsist[s] under [their] great command," he claims). Caius Martius does more than simply represent himself in paradoxical terms. This is a character who has hitherto been unable to utter a circumlocution, who has only been able, he says, to "play / The man I am" (3.2.14-15), who in many ways characterizes the Renaissance plain-speaker in extremis, but who nevertheless produces here the most deceptively equivocal utterances in the play.20 Of particular interest are the conditionals that practically bookend the address, one in the form of "no more . . . than," the other "no less . . . than." The first equivocates in that it hides the degree to which Caius Martius is "infected" with patriotism; the negation does not deny that he owns love for his country, it is only "no more than" an earlier moment. Still, as a negation, it suggests that he is explicitly denying something, something that would assure the Volscians of his fidelity, while under closer reading, he is denying very little. The second conditional equivocates, suggesting that the Romans have suffered shame, while a closer reading reveals that he has made no such positive claim. His negation merely says that shame to the Romans outweighs loss of honor for the Volscians. In his diplomatic role, however, Caius Martius aims precisely for a reconciliation in which the Romans suffer no shame and the Volscians gain no honor. Overall, he gives the impression that, first, he remains a Volscian subject of the war; second, his expedition has profited them; and third, these things have caused shame to the Romans. None of these impressions could withstand serious scrutiny, for although a subject of the Volscian military machine, much like the Roman Plebeian soldiers before Corioles, he refused to enter the gates of Rome; although the expedition may have yielded a net profit, it is nothing compared to the spoils he would have had if he had sacked Rome; and although the Romans may have indeed suffered some shame in begging for mercy and negotiating a peace, it pales in comparison to the shame they would have incurred upon being defeated by the very protector whom they had recently exiled. Antium's honor, likewise, pales in comparison to what it might have been.
No more infected with my country's love
Than when I parted hence, but still subsisting
Under your great command. You are to know
That prosperously I have attempted, and
With bloody passage led your wars even to
The gates of Rome. Our spoils we have brought home
Doth more than counterpoise a full third part
The charges of the action. We have made peace
With no less honor to the Antiates
Than shame to th' Romans. And we here deliver,
Subscribed by th' consuls and patricians,
Together with the seal o' th' Senate, what
We have compounded on. (71-84)
The author wishes to thank Alan Dessen, Kelly Eskew, Greg Foran, Marissa Greenberg, Jon Lamb, Jennifer Lowe, and James Mardock. Special thanks go to Rodney Herring, Vim Pasupathi, Wayne Rebhorn, and Frank Whigham.
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1 All quotations of Shakespeare come from The Norton Shakespeare.
2 On the protective function of the simultaneity of place, see Marcus 160-211.
3 For other critics who explore simultaneity of place, see Fumerton 53-59, Platt, Turner 166-185, Weimann 70, 93, 180-215.
4 On the work of Casey and Shakespeare, see Menzer 16-17 and Weimann 188 and 214. Weimann emphasizes the way both Aristotelian and Platonic perspectives were simultaneously active in the ideological threshold of early modernity. On the work of Casey and Milton, see Gillies, passim. For a different perspective on the conceptions of place and Shakespeare's stage, see Turner 162-63 and 177. For a similar perspective (via Cassirer), see Mullaney 17-20. On the use of Platonic cosmology during the Renaissance, see Rumrich 1035-40 and Yiu 74-77.
5 Recently, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe political power in ways homologous to Aristotelian and Platonic views of place and space. "Empire" has a "network of hierarchies and divisions that maintain order," while the "multitude" has "circuits of cooperation and collaboration that stretch across nations and continents and allow an unlimited number of encounters" (xiii). If Empire thrives on imposing an old-fashioned hierarchy, the multitude thrives on taking advantage of its ability to create an internet-like "swarm" (91).
6 On the influence of Aristotelian thought and the conception of place in Renaissance England (and its theater), see Turner 45-50. On Renaissance Aristotelianism, see Schmitt. On Aristotelian thought in the work of Kenneth Burke, see Blitefield, Hershey, and Holland.
7 Some readers will be familiar with this illustration from the cover of the collection, Material London, ca. 1600.
8 Although the jurisdiction of the Verge was of particular importance to medieval and Renaissance England, modern scholarship has paid it little attention. For two of the only article-length discussions it, see Greene and Jones. In studies of Shakespeare, the phenomenon practically lacks any mention whatsoever. For the only example I know of, see Mahood 218.
9 On the dialectical nature of the sovereign and the subject, see Montrose 16. On the king's half- pace and Renaissance theater, see Dillon 60-61 and Orgel 9-10.
10 Agamben is subtler than am I in his unfolding of this paradox of etymology, saying that "the exception is truly, according to its etymological root, taken outside (ex-capere), and not simply excluded" (18) ["l'eccezione è veramente, secondo l'etimo, presa fuori (ex- capere) e non semplicemente esclusa" (22)].
11 "Il paradosso della sovranità" (19). For a description of the mutually constituting nature of the body of the sovereign and "the least body of the condemned man," see Foucault, Discipline 28-29. See also the related figure in Coriolanus where one of the starving Plebeians complains of the nobility that "The leanness that afflicts us . . . is as an inventory to particularize their abundance" (1.1.16-17). A longer version of this essay includes a description of how the Plebeians function as a low, oppositional double to the hero of the play who cannot comprehend, until it is too late, the paradoxical and mutually informing relationship between the highest and the lowest, the greatest and the least. For a different interpretation of the Agambenian aspects of the play (one that blames the Plebeians for their willingness to take part in deliberative politics and praises Caius Martius for his willingness to expose himself to the violence of the battlefield in order to "erode the borders of his social and bodily self" ), see Kuzner 188-99.
12 On the advent of editorial scene designation, see Bentley 53-63, Dessen 84-104, and Turner 165-166. On the movement from place to space in Shakespeare's theater, see Turner 180-185 and Menzer, passim.
13 Ong famously argues for a general change in Western epistemology, from one based on verbal dialogue to a "hypertrophy of the visual imagination" that "crowds spatial models, and nothing but spatial models, into the universe of the mind." It is, he tells us, "the evolution in human thought processes which is simultaneously producing the Newtonian revolution, with its stress on visually controlled observation and mathematics, and its curiously silent, nonrhetorical universe" (318). For similar interpretations of the changing ideological geography in the West, see Foucault, Discipline and Punish 187-194 and The Order of Things 17-30. See also, Toulmin 45-87.
14 I refer to the hero of this play not by his honorific name, "Coriolanus," but by the name with which he begins the play, "Caius Martius." The problem with calling him Coriolanus is one of anachronism, because at first he has yet to be given that name and, later on, he gives it up. It is true that in his march on Rome we are told that he has given up all names and that he exists as "a kind of a nothing, titleless, / Till he forged himself a name o' th' fire / Of burning Rome. (5.1.8-15). Terming him any single name risks anachronism, since at one point he has none. Still, given the choice between referring to him by different names (or none) as the context requires, or referring to him by the one which is applicable at most times, I have chosen the latter.
15 See also Parker's assessment of Caius Martius' "'driven' syntax" as the "rhetorical equivalent of his conduct on the battlefield" (75). During the Renaissance, the the violence of rhetoric and the violence of the battlefield were often imagined as related. No less authority than Agricola shared the Renaissance commonplace opinion that argument "produces belief in the auditor--just as if one were waging a military campaign" (Rebhorn, Debates 46). See also Hobbes, who in his On the Citizen states that "the war of the sword and the war of the pens is perpetual" (5).
16 Insultare, meaning "to spring or leap at or upon a thing" comes from a combination of the preposition in-, "on," and the verb salire, "to leap, spring, bound, jump" (Lewis and Short). On insultatio, see Day 89 and Puttenham 294. Puttenham, who also calls it "the Reproachful or Scorner," alludes to its martial roots, saying that insultatio is "when with proud and insolent words we do upbraid a man, or ride him, as we term it." See also Chapman, whose Homer often notes when a character uses this figure. One marginal note reads, for instance, "Hector's insultation over Patroclus, being wounded under him" (c. 16.762) A later note reads, "Hector, wounded to death. Achilles'insultation" (c. 22.285).
17 Etymologically, then, he has "placed together" the city-states, for "compound" comes from the Latin pono (and whose fourth principal part, positum, gives us the English word "position"), meaning to place.
18 We might also note that Shakespeare's source, Plutarch, has Caius Martius return there, and, as the capitol, it is quite reasonably the place where one would return to deliver and celebrate a newly agreed upon treaty.
19 On the sovereignty of an ambassador's mobile place, see Behrens 623-624.
20 On Caius Martius as a Renaissance plain-speaker, see Graham 168-189.
21 See Christensen, who interprets the commoners, rather than the conspirators, as those who kill the hero: "The 'puny battle' waged by the Volscians against Marcius at the end appears as a nightmare return of the repressed. It is after all the widows and orphans--the fragments of family--of Antium who dismember Marcius at last. The rabble's wrath originates in these 'broken homes.'".
22 On doubleness and the rhetor, see Rebhorn 133-196.
23 "entre ces théâtres," "catalogue" "pur tableau des choses" (143).
24 The actual makeup and use of the places of the stage is a vexed and complicated issue in Shakespeare studies. On the one hand are those who argue that while the Renaissance stage was different from its medieval predecessor, it retained explicit places (locus and platea, for instance) for explicit presentational and representational purposes. On the other hand are those who argue that the Renaissance stage was completely different from its predecessor, and was therefore "placeless." On the former position, see Dillon 4-16, Hattaway 38-39, and Wickham 8-10; on the latter, see Bevington 8-15 and Beckerman 157-213.
25 "nouer les parentés, les ressemblances et les affinités . . . où s'entrecroisaient sans fin le langage et les choses" (68).
Figure 1. From Charles de Bouelles. Que hoc volumine continuentur; Liber de intellectu; Liber de sensu; Liber de Nichilo; Ars oppositorum; Liber de generatione; Liber de sapiente; Liber de duodecim numeris; Epistole complures. Paris, 1510. 26. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda Maryland.
Figure 2. From Charles de Bouelles. Que hoc volumine continuentur; Liber de intellectu; Liber de sensu; Liber de Nichilo; Ars oppositorum; Liber de generatione; Liber de sapiente; Liber de duodecim numeris; Epistole complures. Paris, 1510. 119v. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda Maryland.
Figure 3. Anonymous. A Table of the Cheifest Cities and Towns in England. London: 1600. Courtesy of Society of Antiquaries of London.
Figure 4. Detail from figure 3.
Figure 5. from Achille Bocchi. Symbolicarum Quaestionum. Bologna, 1574. Book 2, symbol 43. Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
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© 2010-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).