Coriolanus: the Banishment of Rome

  • Jane Kingsley-Smith
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


Arruntius speaks like an exile. His use of the ubi sunt motif, recalling Anglo-Saxon poems such as The Wanderer, creates a sense of disorientation in Rome. The city may be profoundly familiar — Romanitas is inscribed in the history, rituals, language and architecture of the city — yet no one is Roman. It was inevitable that a dramatist already concerned with the representation of banishment and exile should have been drawn to this Roman setting. To be Roman was one of the strongest cultural identities on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage and part of its dramatic appeal was the spectacle of its disruption. Alienation was built into the Roman ‘character’: alienation from the achievements of ancestors (particularly fathers), from a glorious historical moment, from a just political system, from the possibility of greatness. Thus banishment was not only a famous punishment in Roman law and a feature of many heroic biographies; it was also a kind of unmetaphoring of the Roman condition. In Coriolanus, we find Shakespearean exile at its most political. The expulsion of a man publicly celebrated as the embodiment of Romanitas symbolizes the city’s adherence to a different value system and paves the way for future innovation while raising important questions about the integrity of Roman democracy. Shakespeare’s historical sources frequently used examples of banishment for political comment. However, in Coriolanus, we are also concerned with the Roman’s alienation within Rome and it is this public and private tragedy that Shakespeare explores through banishment.


City Wall Roman Condition Athenian Democracy True Patriot True Citizen 
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  1. 30.
    J. L. Simmons identifies pragmatic concerns as the raison d’être of the myth in Shakespeare’s Pagan World: The Roman Tragedies ( Brighton: Harvester Press, 1974 ), 19.Google Scholar
  2. 48.
    Coppélia Kahn, Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women ( London: Routledge, 1997 ), 150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 49.
    See Anna Lydia Motto and John R. Clark, ‘The Development of the Classical Tradition of Exile to Seneca’, Mosaic, 8 (1975), 109–17, 112.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jane Kingsley-Smith 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane Kingsley-Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of HullUK

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