CORIOLANUS FOR PRESIDENT?
Against his will, Coriolanus must speak of his wounds to get votes “To brag unto them ‘Thus I did, and thus!’” (II.3.148), but the populace condemn him for not showing the wounds publicly. “He should have showed us his marks of merit, wounds received for his country” (II.3.163-164). Barack Obama spoke of keeping his patriotism privately in his heart, not displaying it on his lapel, but a barrage of negative publicity caused him to wear a flag pin like all the other candidates. And rumors still dog him that he somehow has not shown enough patriotism, not followed all traditions. Coriolanus hopes to “o’erleap” custom, but the voters insist that custom be followed.
The citizens acknowledge that Caius Marcius (Coriolanus) did good service for his country, but consider him “a very dog to the commonalty” (I.1.26-7). General Wesley Clark admitted John McCain is a war hero, but said that war heroism does not mean you are qualified to be commander in chief.
In a point by point comparison, neither candidate much resembles Coriolanus, but the play raises the same questions we still grapple with four hundred years later. We no longer expect our candidates to tear off their clothes to show us their scars, but we expect them to let us see them naked in every metaphorical way; and to parade their beliefs with traditional symbols. We still debate whether failing to follow custom is a signal that a candidate despises us and our beliefs or a sign of integrity. Is it a fault or a virtue to conform to expectations when not doing so becomes offensive to the voters? Does war experience make for a better leader, or for a more belligerent one?
If four hundred years is not enough to impress you with how little politics change over time, consider this Shakespeare found these themes in his source, Plutarch [46 - 120 A.D.].
-Christine C. Mather, Dramaturg
The views and opinions of this independent dramaturg do not reflect those of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival board of directors, staff, sponsors, or affiliated contractors.