by Alexandra Guhde, PsyD
CORIOLANUS AND BODY POLITICS FOR OUR TIME
When--if--you think of going to a National Theater Live Shakespeare production this season, you will probably think of Hamlet, directed by Lyndsey Turner and starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s best, best-known tragedies, and Cumberbatch is one of today’s best, best-loved thespian stars. Go see it. But see Coriolanustoo, now, while you have the chance. (The NTL 2014 version is on screens this week in the East Bay and Sebastopol.)
The play has a stiff frame--like proud, unbending Coriolanus himself--a fair bit of blood, and--in comparison to Hamlet--a dearth of soliloquies. So, for those of us accustomed to having the toing and froing of internal life set to words, Coriolanus is a tough guy to get to know. But, director Josie Rourke’s spare, ardent production, with the excellent Tom Hiddleston in the title role, makes it easy to feel with him.
Rourke makes the most of the abundance of wombs, bellies, bowels, and bodily fluids. There are blushes that can’t be seen because faces are bathed in blood; flesh wounds expose broken souls; and “the heart” of the action takes place inside a blood-red square painted on the floor of the stage. A ladder leads up into the darkness--the better for an archetypal warrior to ascend into nightmarish killing fields--and its wooden shadow makes cage bars on the ground. “Man and his symbols” are trapped inside the play’s structure, and the effect is poignant.
As for Caius Martius Coriolanus the man--the patrician Roman General (cognomen bestowed after leading the Romans to victory over the Volscian city of Corioles)--“His heart is his mouth!” Which is not to say Coriolanus is a great sharer of his personal truths, but that he refuses to betray his body--hisframe--with pandering lies. For this refusal, his throat is ultimately cut. Heart and mouth are severed.
Coriolanus doesn’t so much explore the psyche-soma interface as charge full bore into the collateral damage caused when body and soul collide. It’s watching a vehicle for the symbolic crash into a concrete pylon. But it’s also a sophisticated, politically relevant, cautionary tale: dichotomy (and patriarchy) lead to tragedy, and being an archetypal warrior is no fun. This particular retelling of the story, however, is.
I’m going to see it again.