‘Seeking (The) Mean(s)’: Aristotle's Ethics and Shakespeare's Coriolanus

Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh
  • Cahiers Élisabéthains A Journal of English Renaissance Studies, November 2014, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.7227/ce.86.1.2

Why is it important?

By focusing equally on Coriolanus and the neglected figure of Aufidius , the essay restores the balance between them with a twofold purpose, political and aesthetic. Recognizing Aristotle's ethico-political model as a shaping force challenged by, and measured against, the Machiavellian alternative represented by Aufidius, the essay contributes fresh material towards an assessment of the play’s politics, and Shakespeare’s mobilization of constitutional theory. By summoning Aristotle on the stage, the play additionally considers the genealogy from ethics to drama and from character to character-type, via Theophrastus, Menander, Casaubon and Hall, and reflects the interest of the Jacobean stage in character sketches. The move from ethics to aesthetics stimulates the dramatist into creating a new form, the 'tragedy of humours', even as it embarrasses Martius, who uproariously resents journeying from man to player and from virtue to the acting of it on the stage where his voters expect him to rehearse his deeds to capture their votes.

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