‘More than a creeping thing’: Baiting Coriolanus
Hunting, introduced by way of a bear-hunt painted by the Flemish artist Frans Snyders, adds a further frame of reference to the interplay between stage and stake which crucially informs Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Bear-baiting constitutes the key metaphor and scenic pattern of this play, which pits the body politic against a heroic individual who is both the city’s champion and prime antagonist. The hero is presented as an animal signally unfit for the state. The notion of a transgressiveness figured as animality links this with the previous two chapters. Coriolanus’ animality is both a failing and the mark of his charismatic distinction. Although he exceeds human limitations, he does not move towards the purified spirituality of neo-Platonic idealism. The divinity ascribed to him rather points to something much more archaic: not a turning away from but a turning into the animal.
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