Coriolanus, perhaps even more than Antony, is constituted by the contradiction inherent in the martial ideal: though identified in terms of an innate superiority he is in fact the ideological effect of powers antecedent to and independent of him. This becomes manifest in the encomium for Coriolanus, delivered as part of a campaign for his election to the consulship. Its language is uncompromisingly essentialist; Coriolanus is, we are told, in possession of ‘valour … the chiefest virtue’; in battle he becomes omnipotence personified: ‘Alone he ent’red … aidless came off … Now all’s his’, and so on. But this is followed immediately by the loaded remark of the nameless First Senator: ‘He cannot but with measure fit the honours/Which we devise him’ (II. ii. 80–122; my italics).
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