Shakespeare’s Citizens and the 99%: Accommodating the Occupy Movement in Productions of Coriolanus

Kate Wilkinson


Written c.1608, Coriolanus, despite its setting in ancient Rome, can be read as Shakespeare's discussion of contemporary food riots taking place in the Midlands because of shortages of corn.  Consequently, the play can be read as an engagement with social and political events of the early seventeenth century, making it a play for Shakespeare's today.  However, the play has also been used successfully in recent years to comment on or seek to understand political movements that are rooted in the current moment.  In 2011 there were a number of protests around the world under the banner of Occupy.  In 2012 a flurry of theatre productions of Coriolanus in the United States of America referenced the Occupy movement as a focal point of their interpretation of the play, using Occupy to shed light on Coriolanus and using Coriolanus to begin to understand what was happening on the streets.  In this article I seek to elucidate the parallels between the Occupy movement and Coriolanus, and will show that, although the play can be seen as current, it has to be constantly updated for new contexts, both political and spatial, and that location - in terms both of geography and performance space - is crucial to creating present meaning.  In this article I look at productions of the play by the Seattle Shakespeare Company and The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot and, in order to address the various points of comparison and divergence between American and UK interpretations, I conclude with a discussion of the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus in London in the winter of 2013/2014


Shakespeare; Coriolanus; Roman plays; Occupy; Protest; Performance; Review

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