False to my Nature?: Coriolanus and the Art of Supposition College

In a play largely about politics, class struggles, and the right of rhetoric versus the will to action, what remains most interesting about Coriolanus is its titular character: a relatively laconic soldier thrust into an unchosen world. Whereas the plebeians in the play long only for a democratic voice, Coriolanus, the chief guardian of the people, remains hesitant to herald such liberty, for to him, sovereignty in mind and body must be earned. His rigid moral code not only ostracizes others from his world, but also showcases his narcissism; additionally, his discourteous way of living allows the narcissism of the plebeians to flourish. The characters’ shallow accusations and descriptions of Coriolanus serve little purpose in understanding the titular character; rather, these suppositions showcase the extent to which they, the other characters in the play, are willing to go to fill in the blanks of an imagined Coriolanus.

Before the character of Coriolanus is shown on-stage, the audience is given extreme suppositions about his character. The Tragedy of Coriolanus opens in the streets of Rome, where “mutinous citizens with staves, clubs, and other weapons” (stage directions; 1.1) are accusing Caius Martius, later to become...

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