By William Shakespeare


A.C. Bradley claimed in 1912 that Coriolanus was a play seldom acted and seldom read outside the academic's study. During the twentieth century, one of intense class conflict, the popularity of the play grew considerably. Written towards the end of Shakespeare's career, some critics have underestimated the extent of dexterity involved in the composition of Coriolanus in fitting with ideas about the development of the playwright's maturity; hence the play was for long placed in the period of so- called 'decline'.

Coriolanus was first performed in London in circa 1608. Following the great tragedies, it forms part of Shakespeare's series of Roman plays. On several occasions Shakespeare chose to write about ancient Rome. The historical institutions, figures and events of republican and imperial Rome were kept alive to Shakespeare's time through the writings of Suetonius, Plutarch et al, and were of great interest to Elizabethan and Jacobean politicians, intellectuals, educated nobles and the play-going public. Fundamentally, contemporaries believed that from the example of ancient Rome and Romans great moral and political lessons could be learned. It was from this environment that Coriolanus originated.

Shakespeare was by no means innovative in choosing ancient Rome as the subject matter for drama. However, unlike Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, the story of Caius Martius Coriolanus was not well known in Shakespeare's time. Furthermore, though there was a large body of dramatic precedent for plays based on Julius Caesar or Cleopatra, hitherto the theme of Coriolanus had not been dramatised in any of the major modern European languages.