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Author: Robert Ormsby

Coriolanus resonated for a Jacobean London audience through performance, assuming it actually was performed in the early seventeenth century. This book focuses on the postwar-productions of the Shakespeare's play. It deals with the Laurence Olivier's 1959 version at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, the reconfiguration of Bertolt Brecht in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the Royal Shakespeare Company's staging of the play in 1972. Alan Howard won the 1978 London Theatre critics award for Best Actor, starred in successful Coriolanus remounts at Nottingham and London in 1978. The 1984-85 National Theatre's Coriolanus reveals the Shakespeare-plus-relevance ideology under strain from the factious political climate, and Peter Hall's outburst in 1985 was the result of years of stagnant arts funding from Margaret Thatcher's government. The book discusses goulash communism that characterized the mid-1980s Hungary and the staging of Coriolanus in Budapest by Gabor Szekely, and the 1988 theatrically radical presentation at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Coriolan embodies the competing influences that help define Robert Lepage's Shakespeare production, which overlapped the highly charged political events in Canada when Quebec voters turned down a proposal to negotiate sovereignty from the country. The new Globe theatre's Coriolanus in May 2006 was the inaugural production under the theatre's new artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole. This Coriolanus appeared to be designed to fulfil a set of expectations related to a certain image of Globe performance. Ralph Fiennes's film in 2011-12 made Coriolanus a failed action hero in denying him unambiguously heroic status.

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Coriolanus from the seventeenth to the twentieth century
Robert Ormsby

Coriolanus resonated for a Jacobean London audience through performance, assuming it actually was performed in the early seventeenth century. The first known production of Coriolanus is Nahum Tate's version of the play, The Ingratitude of A Common-Wealth, staged in early 1682 at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. William Shakespeare structures Coriolanus to introduce in the first three scenes the hero's crucial relationships to the Citizens and the Tribunes, Aufidius and the Volsces, and Volumnia and his family. John Dennis's The Invader of His Country took the play in virtually the opposite direction, shaping it into Whig polemic. Although there were fewer notable American than English actor-managers who took on Coriolanus in the nineteenth century, the great American star Edwin Forrest is the performer most comparable to John Philip Kemble. Kemble's productions of Coriolanus between 1789 and 1817 are among the most significant in the play's career on stage.

in Coriolanus
Robert Ormsby

Laurence Olivier's spectacular death plunge at Stratford-upon-Avon's Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (SMT) in 1959 provides Coriolanus and postwar British theatre with one of its most striking and best-known images. Olivier was directly involved in so many of the changes to British theatre and Shakespearean performance. Olivier's supporting role in Spartacus, shot just before the 1959 SMT season and released shortly after, is more readily comparable to Coriolanus. In 1959, the SMT celebrated its one hundredth season by taking 'the stars policy' to the point of 'reductio ad absurdum'. Besides Olivier and Dame Edith Evans, the season included performances by Charles Laughton, Paul Robeson, Sam Wanamaker and Mary Ure. Michael Blakemore conjures a democratically minded Laughton not unlike the latter's populist Senator Gracchus in Spartacus, but paints an unflattering portrait of Peter Hall deferring to Olivier and ignoring actors lower on the playbill.

in Coriolanus
Robert Ormsby

This chapter traces the development of the Bertolt Brecht-related Coriolanuses from the playwright's adaptation to its later German and English productions to Gunter Grass's adaptation of the adaptation in relation to the evolving contexts. Shortly after the tremendous early successes Brecht achieved with the state-subsidized Berliner Ensemble, he began the drawn-out process of working on Coriolanus. Manfred Wekwerth and Joachim Tenschert described the 1971 Coriolanus as a compromise between Brechtian principles and a certain understanding of Shakespearean performance, though they positioned themselves closer to William Shakespeare than they had in 1965. Plebeians incorporates very little of Shakespeare's or Brecht's scripts directly. In the spring of 1971 Christopher Plummer withdrew from rehearsals as the lead in the National Theatre's Coriolanus, apparently over artistic differences with Wekwerth and Tenschert. The visual analogies were enhanced by the metatheatricality of placing the fictional Berlin performance space within the actual Aldwych Theatre.

in Coriolanus
The RSC’s Coriolanus 1972–73
Robert Ormsby

The Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) Coriolanus reveals even more about the company's institutional identity in the early 1970s than Gordon Jones's The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising does. Coriolanus played its part in the exploration by combining spectacle with reverence for a view of William Shakespeare's intentions. The 1972 Coriolanus, and its 1973 transfer to London's Aldwych Theatre, represent a culmination of the forces that shaped Brechtian Coriolanus-related productions in England between 1965 and 1971. The implicit rejection of Brechtian politics that Nicol Williamson's performance represents is, arguably, simply the logical conclusion of the trajectory of Bertolt Brecht-influenced Coriolanus productions on the British stage. The compromises that characterized Britain's social democracy were also fundamental to the existence of subsidized arts organizations like the RSC, and the RSC chose to avoid any strident political stand.

in Coriolanus
Robert Ormsby

The 1977-1979 Coriolanus might have reflected a change in the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) house style but reviewers had not altered their criteria of analysis. Recorded in April 1983 and broadcast one year later in Britain and the United States, Coriolanus was created during the third phase of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)-Time/ Life series, under the producer Shaun Sutton. Alan Howard shares a deep, loving bond with Joanna McCallum's Virgilia, who is from the start the epitome of chaste Roman womanhood. Elijah Moshinsky employs the battles as another pretext to pose Howard. Reaction to Moshinsky's Coriolanus was markedly similar to response to Terry Hands's production. The filming and reception of the BBC Coriolanus arguably represent a far point in the decade-long shift away from the explicitly political productions that appeared on British stages between 1965 and the early 1970s.

in Coriolanus
The 1984–85 NT Coriolanus
Robert Ormsby

The National Theatre's (NT) programme prints numerous textual and visual juxtapositions from various historical eras to suggest the timelessness of the play's political violence. The commemorative programme suggests the NT's conscious transformation of the Shakespeare-plus-relevance ideology into a more oppositional one. Although the 1984-1985 Coriolanus was very different in its ideology from the Berliner Ensemble's 1965 production, both reveal the consequences of negotiating contentious political circumstances through Shakespearean performance. Despite the markedly political nature of the staging, Peter Hall, his actors and reviewers all remained preoccupied with a reverence for William Shakespeare's verse. Hall's topicality and his public denouncements of the Arts Council may have informed Giles Gordon's defence of arts funding, but it did not necessarily cause Paul Johnson's polemic. Hall's outburst was the not unlikely result of years of stagnant arts funding from Margaret Thatcher's Tory government.

in Coriolanus
Coriolanus in Budapest in 1985
Robert Ormsby

The goulash communism that characterized mid-1980s Hungary was the result of a decades-long development of the private economic and personal spheres in the country. Reading hidden political messages became a conventional interpretative strategy for audiences of the state-controlled theatre, including audiences of William Shakespeare. Tamas Major had staged the Brechtian Coriolanus in Budapest in 1965. Gabor Szekely's Coriolanus is a decided rejection of the optimism about positive change at the social level found in Bertolt Brecht's 'Marxist' version of the play. The scenography evoked the world that Budapest audiences lived in. The indifference that the Plebeians displayed in Szekely's initial non-rebellion opened on to a world where all were tainted by the morally compromised state in which they existed. Szekely placed most of the burden of the production's anti-triumphalism upon his lead actor.

in Coriolanus
The 1988–89 NYSF Coriolanus
Robert Ormsby

Christopher Walken was the real star of the New York Shakespeare Festival (NYSF) production, and hiring him was part of Joseph Papp's long tradition of popularizing William Shakespeare by placing American screen stars in leading Shakespearean roles. The NYSF had been devoted to making Shakespeare accessible to American audiences, particularly through free performances in Central Park and elsewhere. When the NYSF launched Coriolanus in November 1988 at the 275-seat Anspacher Theater, the director Berkoff had a perfect opportunity to devise a production of political specificity. Despite the eclectic Continental influences, the 1988-1989 Coriolanus was framed as a phenomenon of contemporary American culture by both reviewers and the NYSF founding artistic director Papp. Steven Berkoff's characteristic traits were on full display before, during and after the NYSF Coriolanus. Reaction to Keith David's Aufidius sheds light on the conflicting forces at play in the NYSF Coriolanus.

in Coriolanus
Robert Lepage’s Coriolan
Robert Ormsby

Robert Lepage's 1992-94 Cycle Shakespeare tour comprises Coriolan, Macbeth and La Tempete. Quebec poet Michel Coriolan offers an especially significant illustration of why intercultural Shakespeare has become a crucial site for investigating the relationship among global performance, local identities and the playwright's traditional literary authority. The plays in the French-language Cycle were based on 'tradaptations' by the Quebec poet Michel Garneau, who ostensibly rendered each of the three dramas in a different register of Quebecois. Coriolan reveals how local identity is shaped by international performance contexts and histories of colonial subservience. It also demonstrates how globalization can spur the reinvention of the local and that such reinventions operate in global theatrical events to sustain Shakespeare's cultural prestige. The 'ideologies of home' produced by Coriolan's reception challenge the notion that Lepage's scenography is straightforwardly global, homogenous and anonymous.

in Coriolanus