The Rumbling Belly Politic: Metaphorical Location and Metaphorical Government in Coriolanus
Early Modern Literary Studies 13.1 (May, 2007)
That the rioting plebians in Coriolanus found their inspiration in the Midlands Insurrection has, over the past fifty years, become a textbook orthodoxy which has not only been used to date the play’s composition to 1607/1608, but to frame the terms of its understood political conflicts. But the play’s setting, along with other elements, suggests that its opening scene may recall elements of London’s 1595 Tower Hill riot. Although this does not necessarily suggest an earlier date of composition or performance, it does reframe various of the opening scene’s social and political concerns. First among these is the play’s awareness of London’s increasingly visible bureaucratic and administrative civic structures, which played an important role in relieving the dearth of 1593-97, and more closely parallel Shakespeare’s republican Rome than do the increasingly enclosed yet practically feudal Midlands. The critical implications of re-reading this opening scene are briefly explicated in a comparative reading of its famous body politic, in which that body’s rearticulation as a system of distribution by the belly, rather than a system of governance by the head, reflects the increasing visibility of London’s administrative structures during the Great Dearth.