Saturday Rick and I very much enjoyed attending a performance of Coriolanus in DC with Professor Tony Lilly and several students.
As regular readers of this blog know, Rick and I go to the theater as often as we can. In recent years, we thought we were detecting an upsurge of interest in Coriolanus (based on a very unscholarly review of our own experience!) We’ve seen RSC productions in both Ann Arbor and London, we’ve seen a production at the Stratford Festival, and of course last year there was a filmed version starring Ralph Fiennes. Now this excellent production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC. (I particularly liked the use of sound in this one, which featured drums and other percussion instruments.)
So I asked Professor Lilly and our students why they thought this particular play might have been of special interest in the last decade or so. Here are some of the ideas we batted around:
- The play starts with hunger and food riots. Perhaps in a time of growing economic inequality the question of how government should respond to movements like Occupy Wall Street seems especially relevant?
- Coriolanus hates “celebrity culture.” That is, he resents having to expose himself in what he sees as pandering for public approval. Maybe we’re beginning to wonder whether our own obsession with celebrity in politics has gone too far?
- We’ve had occasion to consider the relationship between military leadership and political leadership, arising from experience in Afghanistan as well as from personal scandals. Maybe the play speaks to those issues?
At intermission, some of the students were connecting the play to their reading of the Federalist Papers and the concept of the “mask of zeal,” talking about which characters are wearing the mask of zeal and which are actually zealous and whether there’s a difference.