10 of Swords - Coriolanus
Dramatis Personae: Coriolanus, née Caius Marcius.
Text & Context: Coriolanus is seen here, at the moment he is reduced to a piece of meat and butchered. He is naked, like Lear, both baby and god. The Colosseum which rings him - Rome's civilized allocation of violence - stands in stark mockery; a stage on which virility is devoured like scraps of cheap meat by the horde.
Like Brutus, he is a man who straddles 2 Romes; both men trapped in the past from the newly wrought, to their peril. Coriolanus himself has precipitated Rome's transition, from warlike country town to republic capitol, but he cannot himself make the transition. "A kind of nothing" Cominius calls him; the child of nothing, Volumnia. Coriolanus has been reared on shame-culture [cf. E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational], where "virtue" derives as it does etymologically from virility, manliness. He is requisite for Rome in time of war, a deficit once war is thwarted. He is an "engine" as Menenius deems him, a god in the former stage; in "civilized" Rome he is a toddler, arrested in what Freud coined the anal stage. As the Swords suit began with Volumnia, we shall see it ring around in Coriolanus, to annul itself.
Volumnia likens herself to Juno, and with the wounds he bears [but refuses to bare] and role he plays in the founding of Rome - "he had forged himself a name o' the fire of burning Rome" - Coriolanus resembles Vulcan, patron of metallurgy, armaments-maker to the gods.
Coriolanus the play shares many similarities with Timon of Athens, Troilus & Cressida, and King Lear. All partake of a symbolic lexicon: feast, beast, disease. Timon, a man of culture and grace and hence Coriolanus' inverse, nonetheless facilitates retribution on that culture through the play's concomitant banished man of war, Alcibiades. Achilles is the apex of the shame-culture hero, who would as easily iterate Coriolanus' godlike and infantile riposte to banishment: "I banish you!", as sulk in his tent, skulk away like the high-minded Ulysses, or embrace the sworn enemy like Cressid. Lear mistakes in himself the epaulets for the man, until they are torn from him one by one and he stands stripped, where he may or may not see the madness of his madness. Coriolanus, thought without thought, heir to air, is barred from such vision.
Intertext: Swords 2 Volumnia