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How apply you this? Conflict and consensus in Coriolanus

Kaegi, Ann


Dr Ann Kaegi
Director of Education and Student Experience


The tense political debates that dominate the first three acts of Shakespeare's Coriolanus shed valuable light on a little understood feature of early modern political discourse that is pivotal to the tragic action. In the increasingly heated exchanges that precede the banishment of the play's titular hero political languages of custom, duty and consent are used not only to forestall violent political rupture, as we might anticipate, but also to trigger it. In so doing the play illuminates a vital paradox that has wider implications for early modern studies: the conservative, even reactionary tenor of the appeals to consensus that are a characteristic feature of political discourse in early modern England as in Coriolanus and their potentially radical effects. For in Shakespeare's last Plutarchan Roman play appeals to consensus do not just co-exist with ideological conflict, at a crucial juncture their use by common citizens transforms the aristocratic city-state into a republic with a mixed constitution. The subsequent banishment of Coriolanus as a "traitorous innovator'' further illustrates how, in a culture of consensus, defenders of a pre-existing political settlement can find themselves branded traitors should a new accord take shape to which they remain publicly opposed. It also attests to the skill with which the newly created tribunes employ a language of consensus to isolate their political adversary.


Kaegi, A. (2008). How apply you this? Conflict and consensus in Coriolanus. Shakespeare, 4(4), 362 - 378.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 1, 2008
Publication Date Dec 1, 2008
Print ISSN 1745-0918
Publisher Taylor and Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 4
Pages 362 - 378
Public URL
Publisher URL