The Oxford Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Coriolanus Paperback – May 17 2008
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`'Stanley Wells' OUP Complete Works of Shakespeare is now eight years old and has spawned a new Oxford Shakespeare which appears now in splendidly affordable volumes in that nonpareil of libraries of good reading The World's Classics.' The Oxford Times' English Studies Offprint from vol.77 Number 1, January 1996
About the Author
Brian Parker is Professor of English, Trinity College, University of Toronto.
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To support his existential thesis, Parker reduces the tragedy to a Freudian-Lacanian case history of abnormal psychology. Parker insists that in Coriolanus "the connection between public ethos and private tragedy is for the first time located clearly in the middle ground of family neurosis" (p. 13), and he also relies confidently on an old sociological study by Elias Canetti. When Parker finally looks to the Renaissance itself for explanations of the tragedy, his analysis is far more convincing. He reminds us, for example, that '"Choler", which contemporaries would recognize as Martius' dominant "humour" (cf. 3. 1.86, 87; 3.3.25), was believed to be the emotional source not just of strife but also of mankind's creativity and urge to self-transcendence; and that Martius's ideals of self-sacrifice for Rome and devotion to the truth, while they may be naive and doomed to fail historically, are nobler than the other characters' self-serving "policy" and readiness to lie(p. 54).
On the positive side as well, the introduction contains useful material for students on the politics of the Jacobean period when the play was written. In addition, there is an excellent section on the rhetorical conventions and thematic images employed by Shakespeare in "Coriolanus". Parker correctly notes here the prominence of antithesis in the language and in the striking contrasts onstage between tremendous noise and silence, as well as the importance of kneeling as a theatrical gesture. Although he offers no explanation for the latter, he does survey the major politically driven productions throughout theater history of this most ideologically "used" of all Shakespeare's works. In respect to the text, however, he provides no explanation of the isolation and exile of Martius/Mars from Rome during peacetime, and his discussion as a whole never really clarifies how Shakespeare dramatizes the difficult relationship between war and civilization both within and without the larger family of a city-state
I generally prefer the Oxford, in any case, and find this edition comprehensible and comprehensive, although I began with the Arden. The Arden, a reprint of its 1976 edition, does contain an excellent introduction by the University of York's Philip Brockbank, plus his notes, etc., and we can never go wrong by holding in hand too many editions for purposes of cross-pollination.
If you can afford but the one to have and to hold, however, please choose this Oxford World's Classics edition by Toronto's Brian Parker, first published in 1994 under Clarendon. For one thing it has twice the length of introduction, although with a wider focus.
For one thing it has the cooler cover, by Marco Cristofori, more expressive of the war pathology within, in which Coriolanus's own mother yearns before her less certain daughter-in-law for his bloody death in war. This image well represents such gore falsely called heroism.
This is the central mystery of this play, which Shakespeare covers so truthfully and fully. How do these pathological killers whom we train and support come home again? Can they ever come home again? Do you want your neighbor a Blackwater killer manning a gun turret on top of his suburban home trained at your garage?
How do those civilians in power receive these killers coming home, keep them under control and supporting and widening their power, while these killers despise them all the while as cowards and as weak? Can a Klingon become domesticated? Why was Zen created? To cure the warrior samurai for times of peace.
Consider carefully this play, now, and its implications for us, now, at this present juncture in our history as a warrior nation, as an Empire.
Read this book; whether in the excellent Arden or in the Oxford, it is essential that we read this book and understand how we have been deceived by the trumpets to war, how we have been held done by the call of a false patriotism, and the oppression by our own armed occupation forces. Read this book and know our own times, and come free once more, cured of the grotesque and unsustainable pathology of war.