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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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HISTORICAL/LITERARY BACKGROUND

Since Coriolanus is a history play, much of the information contained in it is factual. Caius Marcius Coriolanus was a general of the early Roman Republic. He was actually given his last name as a reward for his skill and bravery in capturing the town of Corioli from the Volscians, bitter enemies of Rome. During a famine in 491 BC, Coriolanus suggested that no grain be given to the poor unless they gave up their right to elect tribunes. The commoners became indignant over this suggestion and exiled Coriolanus. He joined the Volscians to gain revenge and led their army to the gates of Rome. He was about to capture the city when his mother and his wife persuaded him to spare Rome. The angry Volscians then killed Coriolanus for not attacking Rome.

Literary Background

Drama was the major means of public entertainment during Shakespeare’s time. Traveling actors toured around the country and were hired by those who wanted their services. London was growing as a trade center and merchants arrived from many lands. Also, the Tudor monarchy preferred to stay in the capital. These twin factors helped acting companies to prosper. They acted regularly before audiences at places which became established as drama centers for actors. Theaters like the “Globe”, the “Curtain,” and the “Fortune” were patronized by important persons, such as Lord Chamberlain, and were successful.


The “Globe” was an open-air theater where plays were staged in the afternoons, since there was no artificial lighting. The stage jutted out into the audience, the majority of which stood on the ground around the stage and became known as “groundlings.” Other spectators paid higher prices to sit in the galleries around the stage. There were three openings at the back of the stage - one in the center and one on each side - hidden by a thick curtain. The stage floor often had one or more trapdoors, useful for the speedy disappearance or re-appearance of characters, especially ghosts. Above the stage was a balcony, usually used for love scenes. There was no stage scenery though props were widely used. Black stage hangings were used for tragic plays and colorful curtains for comedies or “light” plays.

Actors on the Shakespearean stage were often young men, and boys with high pitched voices were trained from early on to take women’s parts since women were not allowed on stage.

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