Coriolanus on Stage and Page, 1789–1820
With its representation of grain shortages, conflicts between the populace and the patricians, and the dependence of political leaders on the approval of the people, Coriolanus was a most topical play for Romantic period audiences. This chapter compares productions by John Philip Kemble, who used the role to portray the rightness of patrician rule in a time of popular unrest, with that of Edmund Kean, who returned the scenery to the mud huts of early Rome and diminished the haughty dominance of the central character. It then evaluates Hazlitt's claim, made initially in a review of Coriolanus, that imagination is an “aristocratical faculty.” The performance history of Coriolanus, the chapter concludes, provides the crucial subtext for Hazlitt's Romantic theorization of the imagination and helps us to understand Romantic anxieties about Shakespearean performance generally.
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