The Tragedy of Coriolanusby William Shakespeare
Taking place shortly after the expulsion of the Tarquin kings, the play opens up by focusing on the tension with the lords who have been withholding grain from the commoners. A prominent general, Marcius, sees the commoners as useless since they did not help expel the kings and when the people rise up to revolt against the new Roman government a new player gets elected to a prominent role and given the name Coriolanus. When the new lord returns home, his mother who is excited by his success convinces him to run or and win one of the consul seats but this creates quite the tension with the former allies as they seek to dethrone him.
Even as the New Kittredge Shakespeare series glances back to George Lyman Kittredge's student editions of the plays, it is very much of our current moment: the slim editions are targeted largely at high school and first-year college students who are more versed in visual than in print culture. Not only are the texts of the plays accompanied by photographs or stills from various stage and cinema performances: the editorial contributions are performance-oriented, offering surveys of contemporary film interpretations, essays on the plays as performance pieces, and an annotated filmography. Traditional editorial issues (competing versions of the text, cruxes, editorial emendation history) are for the most part excluded; the editions focus instead on clarifying the text with an eye to performing it. There is no disputing the pedagogic usefulness of the New Kittredge Shakespeare's performance-oriented approach. At times, however, it can run the risk of treating textual issues as impediments, rather than partners, to issues of performance. This is particularly the case with a textually vexed play such as Pericles: Prince of Tyre. In the introduction to the latter, Jeffrey Kahan notes the frequent unintelligibility of the play as originally published: "the chances of a reconstructed text matching what Shakespeare actually wrote are about 'nil'" (p. xiii) But his solution — to use a "traditional text" rather than one corrected as are the Oxford and Norton Pericles — obscures how this "traditional text," including its act and scene division, is itself a palimpsest produced through three centuries of editorial intervention. Nevertheless, the series does a service to its target audience with its emphasis on performance and dramaturgy. Kahan's own essay about his experiences as dramaturge for a college production of Pericles is very good indeed, particularly on the play's inability to purge the trace of incestuous desire that Pericles first encounters in Antioch. Other plays' cinematic histories: Annalisa Castaldo's edition of Henry V contrasts Laurence Oliver's and Branagh's film productions; Samuel Crowl's and James Wells's edition of (respectively) I and 2 Henry IV concentrate on Welle's Chimes at Midnight and Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho; Patricia Lennox's edition of As You Like It offers an overview of four Hollywood and British film adaptations; and John R. Ford's edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream provides a spirited survey of the play's rich film history.
The differences between, and comparative merits of, various editorial series are suggested by the three editions of The Taming of the Shrew published this year. Laury Magnus's New Kittredge Shakespeare edition is, like the other New Kittredge volumes, a workable text for high school and first year college students interested in film and theater. The introduction elaborates on one theme — Elizabethan constructions of gender — and offers a very broad performance history, focusing on Sam Taylor's and Zeffirelli's film versions as well as adaptations such as Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate About You (accompanied by a still of ten hearthtrobs Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles). The volume is determined to eradicate any confusion that a first time reader of the play might experience: the dramatis personae page explains that "Bianca Minola" is "younger daughter to Baptista, wooed by Lucentio-in-disguise (as Cambio) and then wife to him, also wooed by the elderly Gremio and Hortensio-in-disguise (as Licio)" (p.1). Other editorial notes, based on Kittredge's own, are confined mostly to explaining individual words and phrases: additional footnotes discuss interpretive choices made by film and stage productions. Throughout, the editorial emphasis is on the play less as text than as performance piece, culminating in fifteen largely performance-oriented "study questions" on topics such as disguise, misogyny, and violence.
Studies in English Literature, Tudor and Stuart Drama, Volume 51, Spring 2011, Number 2, pages 497-499.
"Professor Jeffrey Kahan’s expertise in the history of Shakespearean acting complements Kittredge’s lucid [introduction and text] to create an edition of Coriolanus that centers modern readers in the play’s performance. Kahan’s introduction to the edition both recounts historical performances and carefully details recent directorial choices—choices that reappear in the course of his footnotes providing acting choices for key scenes. These notes, together with photographs of compelling performances, fix the reader’s imagination firmly in the midst of Shakespeare’s chilling theatrical portrayal of Republican Rome. This highly accessible edition will prove invaluable for actors, students, and lovers of Shakespeare."
—Cyndia Clegg, Pepperdine University
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Read an Excerpt
ACT I. Scene I. [Rome. A street.]
Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
1. Citizen Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
All. Speak, speak!
1. Citizen You are all resolv’d rather to die than to famish?
All. Resolv’d, resolv’d!
1. Citizen First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people. 5
All. We know’t, we know’t!
1. Citizen Let us kill him, and we’ll have corn at our own price. Is’t a verdict?
All. No more talking on’t! Let it be done! Away, away!
2. Citizen One word, good citizens. 9
1. Citizen We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us. If they would yield us but the superfluity while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them. Let us revenge this with our pikes ere we become rakes; for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.
2. Citizen Would you proceed especially against Caius Martius? 15
1. Citizen Against him first. He’s a very dog to the commonalty.
2. Citizen Consider you what services he has done for his country?
1. Citizen Very well, and could be content to give him good report for’t but that he pays himself with being proud.
2. Citizen Nay, but speak not maliciously. 20
1. Citizen I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end. Though soft-conscienc’d men can be content to say it was for his country, he did it to please his mother and to be partly proud, which he is, even to the altitude of his virtue.
2. Citizen What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.
1. Citizen If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations. He hath faults (with surplus) to tire in
What shouts are these? The other side o’ th’ city is risen. Why stay we prating here? To th’ Capitol!
All. Come, come!
1. Citizen Soft! who comes here?
Meet the Author
Jeffrey Kahan is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in California. He completed his PhD at the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, England. He has published extensively on Shakespearean forgeries and parodies, has published numerous articles, notes, and reviews, and has edited many editions of Shakespeare, including the Shakespeare for Children series.
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