Of oppressors and the oppressed: Shakespeare at UCI
Xenophobia is the theme of the 2016-17 UCI Drama season, with productions that explore a variety of aspects of how “the other” is treated in society. This production of “Coriolanus” by director Paul Cook, a third-year MFA candidate at UCI, isn’t set in the age of Rome. It takes place in a dystopian landscape of indeterminate era and location to emphasize the timeless issues at stake, and some of the warrior roles written for men are played by women, according to comments in a UCI release.
No doubt the play has seen increased interest after recent events…and elections. Google “Coriolanus” and “Trump” together; the search results will review a variety of views on the relevance of the play to contemporary culture, including the odd revelation that Trump strategist Stephen Bannon once wrote a rap version set in Rodney King riot era of L.A.
To appreciate the subtext of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” we’ll look a bit further back than the 1990s. William Hazlett’s “Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays” was published in 1817, and in it the esteemed critic and author of his day wrote that “The whole dramatic moral of ‘Coriolanus’ is that those who have little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all that others have left.”
Hazlett, who also wrote much on the American and French revolutions (he was for them), continues on Shakespeare’s accomplishments in the play:
“The arguments for and against aristocracy or democracy, on the privileges of the few and the claims of the many, on liberty and slavery, power and the abuse of it, peace and war, are very ably handled, with the spirit of a poet and the acuteness of a philosopher.”
His analysis of the play’s themes is enlightening… and a tad disturbing:
“The insolence of power is stronger than the plea of necessity. The tame submission to usurped authority or even the natural resistance to it has nothing to excite or flatter the imagination: it is the assumption of a right to insult or oppress others that carries an imposing air of superiority with it.
“We had rather be the oppressor than the oppressed. The love of power in ourselves and the admiration of it in others are both natural to man: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. Wrong—dressed out in pride, pomp, and circumstance—has more attraction than abstract right.
“This is the logic of the imagination and the passions; which seek to aggrandize what excites admiration and to heap contempt on misery, to raise power into tyranny, and to make tyranny absolute; to thrust down that which is low still lower, and to make wretches desperate: to exalt magistrates into kings, kings into gods; to degrade subjects to the rank of slaves, and slaves to the condition of brutes.”
Well, alrighty then.
Hazlett’s opinions on the play make one eager to view UCI’s version to see if its themes are as relevant to our era as “Coriolanus” clearly was to Hazlett in his revolutionary age.
General Admission $15 / Seniors $14 / UCI Students & Children under 17 $11