The orchard and the street: the political mirror of the tragic in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus

Author/Creator ORCID




Towson University. Department of English


Citation of Original Publication

Hahn, H. George. "The orchard and the street: The political mirror of the tragic in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus." CLA Journal, vol. 27, no. 2, 1983, pp. 169-186.



[From article]: It is perhaps no coincidence that in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus Shakespeare demonstrates his most “Roman” virtues: political concern, sobriety of language, tonal reserve, dignity of mood, spare and functional structure, singleness of direction, and proud nobility in his heroes. Yet if these plays exhibit these outward classical virtues, there is at least one kind of common inner virtue that may be branded “Roman,” and that is their taciturnity, or perhaps laconism, for within each is a highly suggestive scene, insignificant at first glance, whose implications provide a scaled-down version of the issues of the entire play. In another sense, this kind of scene functions, to borrow a term from the classical oration, as a highly charged exordium which informs the audience of the means and end of some issues of the dramatic discourse, and to see this is to recognize a technique of construction that is a miniature of the raw, central issues of each play. The orchard (II.i) of Julius Caesar and the street (I.i) of Coriolanus are such emblematic scenes. Both are placed early in their dramatic actions as if by their prime locations they call attention to themselves and, as we shall see, to the dual concerns of each play as a whole. They yield as much meaning about the tragic concern as they do about the more apparent political one, and by fusing these concerns they aid their plays in carrying a greater impact and significance. More is at stake, for example, than the personal fortunes of Brutus and Coriolanus; indeed, the very columns of Roman government are being swayed in terms of them. An understanding of this fusion of the personal and political is essential to an understanding of the play, so it is in two well-placed scenes that Shakespeare illustrates this fusion by means of two constants, one ethical, one poetic: the political rationale of the hero and the dominant image patterns.