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Production History & Trivia for Coriolanus

By Kamilah Bush, PCS Literary Manager and Dramaturg
with contributions from Mark Mezadourian, Executive Assistant at Play On Shakespeare

Coriolanus was believed to have been written sometime between 1605 and 1608, meaning this play comes late in Shakespeare’s career — with only 8 plays following its creation. It is believed that the first performance of the play came much later in 1681 and was an adaptation of the play by Nahum Tate as a protest against anti-Catholic sentiments. The next production was also created as a protest during the Jacobite rising. Shakespeare’s original text was first performed in 1754. 

Primarily based on the account of the life of Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus by Plutarch in his publication Parallel Lives, there are many arguments that the “historical” Marcius and Plutarch’s accounts are just myths but there are some scholars who cite evidence of their validity. Shakespeare may have also borrowed language from a 1605 speech from Pope Adrian IV in William Camden's Remaines of a Greater WorkeConcerning Britaine, about the “body politic” — though some scholars believe this language to have come from an actual Roman official in a plea to the plebeians who left Rome in protest. 

In 1607, England was hit with bad weather which led to a reduction in agriculture production and the rise in food costs. This, coupled with land disputes between wealthy landlords and the common people in the Midlands, led to a series of uprisings that ended with the Newton Rebellion in which thousands of protesters dug up hedges and filled in ditches. In 1614, Shakespeare himself was a part of a land dispute similar to those that led to this rebellion. It is believed that these disputes inspired several of his works, not least of which was Coriolanus.

A Timeline of Notable Modern Productions

20th Century:

  • Laurence Olivier in 1937 and 1959 
  • Alan Howard in 1977
  • Morgan Freeman with Gloria Foster (The Oracle from The Matrix) as Volumnia in 1979
  • Ian McKellen in 1984
  • Christopher Walken with Irene Worth as Volumnia in 1988
  • Kenneth Branagh with Judi Dench as Volumnia in 1992

21st Century:

  • Ralph Fiennes in 2000 (and in a film version with Vanessa Redgrave in 2011)
  • Tom Hiddleston in 2013

At Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has produced Coriolanus five times. The 2024 production. presented with Portland Center Stage in partnership upstart crow collective and Play On Shakespeare, will be number six.

  • 1953 - Richard Graham as Coriolanus, Dr. Margery Bailey as Volumina. An excellent audio recording with production photos is available on YouTube.
  • 1962 - Peter D. MacLean as Coriolanus. A full recording is available here(search Coriolanus).
  • 1980 - Denis Arndt as Coriolanus. Directed by Jerry Turner.
  • 1996 - Derrick Lee Weeden as Coriolanus. Debra Lynn Wicks as Volumnia. Directed by Tony Taccone.
  • 2008 - Danforth Comins as Coriolanus.

Additional Trivia:

  • Coriolanus is often produced in election years.
  • Traditionally, there is a progression of Shakespearean roles to which actors graduate over time: Romeo, Hamlet, Benedict, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and eventually to Prospero and Lear.
  • The poet T.S. Eliot claimed that Coriolanus was superior to Hamlet.

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