Running through Coriolanus are images of animals. When Aufidius calls him ‘‘boy,’’ Coriolanus responds that he, Aufidius, is a false hound and that he, Coriolanus, has been like an eagle who has attacked the Volscians as if they were doves in a dovecote. The Roman tribunes compare Coriolanus to a wolf and the people to the lambs the wolf loves to devour. The rage that drives Coriolanus is shown in his son as aggression against butterflies. Tigers, wolves, lambs, osprey, fish, horses, dogs, sheep, geese, butterflies, lions, hares, curs, foxes all appear as metaphors for human attributes in the play. The people are called hares rather than lions, geese rather than foxes. Animal imagery suggests an undercurrent of brutality and the dominant pattern of prey and predator subverts the apparent humanity of the characters. In the midst of humanity, the play suggests, bestiality is still at work.
In a play in which the opposition of brutality and vulnerability is so strong a theme, the recurrent use of body imagery keeps that theme in the forefront of the reader’s awareness. References to belly, lungs, arms, tongue, eyes, legs, heart, head, chin, forehead, anus, bloody gashes and blood-covered men, maternal breasts, wounds suffered and wounds healing, teeth set in rage or teeth that want cleaning, big toes, a mother’s womb, a fair or blushing face, a soldier’s beard, the buttocks, the bowels, the loins, and the knees are all woven into the text. Besides suggesting the material reality and vulnerability, the nobility and filthiness of the individual, body references suggest another thematic element in Coriolanus. The political question regarding how closely related the body politic is to the human body is of chief concern in the play and, with it, the problem of where the highest authority in the government of a state ought to reside. The tribunes’ model of a state separates the plebeians from the patricians, giving them independent governing rights. Menenius sees the classes as diverse organs united in one body and suggests the patricians must therefore rule over the plebeians.
Crowd Scenes and Military Spectacle
In a play concerned with the conflict between a single figure and great masses of the population, it is appropriate that there be crowd scenes. Most of the pivotal scenes in Coriolanus, save for the climactic encounter between Coriolanus and his mother, are crowd scenes pitting Coriolanus against either the Roman plebeians or the Volscian army. Thus the stage is often filled with crowds in domestic or martial conflict with Coriolanus, and the domestic crowd scenes at times take on similarities to battle when scuffles breakout between the plebeians and the patricians. Even the scenes of combat or verbal encounter between Coriolanus and his nemesis, Aufidius, which ought to be scenes between two individuals, become crowd scenes, whether in the first battle against the Volscians when Marcius wins the addition Coriolanus or in the last scene, when Aufidius indicts him for treason. In the first instance, Aufidius does not fight alone but with a group of soldiers backing him up. Even so supported, he cannot defeat Marcius. In the second, it is a group of Aufidius’s conspirators who rush at Coriolanus and kill him.
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007