What is a Soldiers Due?

On this Memorial Day, I’m inspired by a quote to ponder what it really means to “Support Our Troops,” living and dead. The quote comes from an epilogue written for a 1778 performance of Shakespeare’s obscure Roman Tragedy, “Coriolanus:”

The most interesting thing about the play is how modern it is. One of his few plays that deals directly with the drama of democracy. And more than that, it deals with the seemingly modern phenomenon of officials undone by public opinion. So many of Shakespeare’s characters have to answer to their God or their king, or (as Coriolanus does), his family. Only rarely, do they answer to the people.

Kyle Kallgren: “Coriolanus- Universal Soldier” (2016)

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/nt-at-home-coriolanus

Play Summary

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s strangest and most controversial plays. Its principal figure is a warrior, exemplary in his courage and single-minded dedication, who finds it difficult to adjust to life away from the battlefield. Refusing to compromise and contemptuous of anyone who does not live up to his exacting standards, Coriolanus, not long after being nominated for the high political office of consul, is cast into exile, accused of treason and ends up leading an army to invade and destroy Rome.

Warren Chernaik, Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London

What do we not owe soldiers?

Throughout the play, Coriolanus shows nothing but contempt for popular rule. This certainly suggests that he is aristocratic in his political views, but arguably he is much more militaristic. Remember that to be a Consul or any kind of high ranking position in the Senate, the senators all served in the army for a set term. Coriolanus respects the Senate more than the Assembly because the former is full of his fellow comrades in arms.

Coriolanus is first and last a soldier and he represents a society run by the war machine. For centuries, authoritarian who rule through a cult of personality have propped up Caius Martius as an ideal of a military society. After all, it was Mussoluini who organized his fascist dictatorship around the Roman Empire, and the play Coriolanus was taught in literature classes during the Third Reich. They probably looked like Starship Troopers.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/05/coriolanus-shakespeare-laurence-olivier-ralph-fiennes-ian-mckellan

So to recap, though we owe soldiers a lot for their courage and sacrifice, nobody owes them Blind obedience, because that is the roots of fascism. Look at this actual excerpt from a literary textbook about Coriolanus that was given to children in Nazi Germany.

The poet deals with the problem of the peaople and its leader, he depicts the ture nature of the leader in contrast to the aimless masses; he shows a people led in a false manner, a false democracy, whose exponents yield to the wishes of the people for egotistical reasons. Above these weaklings towers the figure of the true hero and leader, Coriolanus, who would like ot guide the deceived people to its health in the same way as, in our days, Adolf Hitler would do with our beloved German Fatherland.

Martin Brunkhorst, “Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in Deutscher Bearbeitung. Quoted from Weida

.So now that I’ve established what we don’t owe our soldiers, what do we owe them?

.

What do we owe our soldiers?

[  ] Honesty- why are you fighting? Is dying for one’s country worth it? Unlike Henry V, in which Shakespeare makes it very clear why the king is trying to conquer France, we don’t really understand why Rome wants to destroy the Volskies, and it seems somewhat arbitrary. I think one of the ways we sympathize with Coriolanus is that he never “asks the reason why; his is but to do and die,” as Tennyson puts it. He has one speech where he rallies the troops, but it just seems flat and hollow without a clear reason why the soldiers should risk their lives.


[  ] A chance to heal When he comes home to run for Consul, Coriolanus is required to show his battle scars to the people, and refuses to stay in the room when people talk about them. This could be interepreted as more arrogance where he is disgusted to be in the same room as common men, but I think there’s another aspect. I think Coriolanus has PTSD, and every time he sees or hears about his scars, his repressed memories bubble up to the surface and drown him in fear. His story is partially a story of how all soldiers need help to deal with the trauma they endure on a regular basis.


] Love for their courage and sacrifice. Whether the conflict is right or wrong men and women risked their lives for it, and that is worth compassion.
[  ] Good leaders. Coriolanus is a play where arguably nobody cares about the people. Coriolanus and the Patricians look down on them, and the tribunes see them as a means to gain power. With all this political in fighting who is really trying to make life better? Better for the starving Romans? Better for soldiers like Coriolanus? In a republican society like Rome, we owe it to our soldiers to participate in politics so men like Coriolanus aren’t sent to die on a whim. If we don’t use our voices, we are the common cry of curs that Coriolanus characterizes us as:

Compassion– in John Osborne’s version the title character goes mad from his trauma and of course, in Shakespeare’s version, he’s driven out of Rome and then killed by Aufidius. Even today, many soldiers suffer from poverty, sickness, life-altering injuries, and of course, PTSD. This Memorial Day, let’s all try to help ease the lives of the men and women who have suffered for us.

Sources:

SHAKESPEARE AND BRITISH OCCUPATION POLICY IN GERMANY, 1945-1949 by Katherine Elizabeth Weida B.A. (Washington College) 2011

https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/an-introduction-to-coriolanus

Steve Bannon’s Rap Musical Version of Coriolanus is Just as Messed-Up As It Sounds

Steve Bannon, the man I’ve described in the past as Buckingham to Trump’s Richard III, is once again in the news. He’s been charged with criminal contempt for refusing to cooperate with the Senate with the January 6th commission.

Bannon, the former head of Breitbart news, and Former President Trump’s former chief strategist, has long been a controversial figure with his extreme right wing views on immigration, race, and politics in general.

One thing many people might not know about Bannon though, is that before he was a publisher and a politician, he was an aspiring writer in Hollywood, and in the late 1990s, Bannon wrote, “The Thing I Am,” a rap-musical version of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy “Coriolanus.”

What Is Coriolanus?

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s most obscure tragedies, but arguably, one of his most fascinating ones. It’s the only play set in republican Rome, so it’s the only Shakespeare play that deals with issues of democracy. The play starts with a riot where poor Romans are complaining about grain shortages, loudly condemning rich landowners who are hoarding grain while they starve. Ironically, Shakespeare wrote this at the same time when he himself was guilty of hoarding grain during a shortage, and tensions were so high that some farmers called for people like him to be “hanged on their own gibbit.”

The play has been called fascist, communist, democratic, republican, and monarchist. It’s main character is a Roman general who wants to be consul, (a high governmental position in the Senate), despite the fact that he hates the common people. Like Julius Caesar, it raises interesting questions about who should be in charge of our society, without prescribing an answer, (which would have been impossible for Shakespeare living in Jacobean England). In the play’s most famous scene, Coriolanus finally bursts out and rails against the commoners for their ignorance and their distrust of other would-be millitary dictators:

A review of Bannon’s Show:

Bannon updated the text and set it in Los Angelos during the riots of 1992, which if you remember, were protests to the earlier police brutality trial over the death of Rodney King.

The show was never produced, though a staged reading of the text was held in 2016. I was unable to find it on Youtube, but I did find a link to a video on Facebook under Now This Politics. The full reading is here:

https://nowthisnews.com/steve-bannon-hip-hop-rap-musical

https://nowthisnews.com/steve-bannon-hip-hop-rap-musical?fbclid=IwAR1PAvOo4q-xZTw1SemDEz33fRM44kvJuw0Mabw7rLaI6MVEspfSVi8z1U4

Quotes:

They say! F#$% they! They hang out shooting pool and think they know what’s going down – who’s up, who’s out, who bounds, and if there’s crack enough. If I had my way, I’d make a quarry of these slaves.”

Whoever deserves greatness, wants their hate. Peep game, boy. To count on them for favors is to swim with fins of lead.”

“So f#$% you! Trust you? Ha! With each passing minute, you change your common mind. You call him noble that was once your enemy, then dis your king. You cry against the “other” – crackers, Blood, Crip, popo, Pol, the rich – it don’t matter, n!@$; awe keeps you feeding each another.”

I never knew the ‘racist Steve’ that’s being reported now,” Jones told The Daily Beast last year. “I never heard him make any racist jokes, and his best friend was an African-American who went to [college] with him… I never saw even a hint of racism.

“But I did see this elitism… He would always look down on poor people of any color. At one point, he told me that only people who own property should vote. -Julia Jones (Bannon’s Co writer)

The Cast included Rob Corddrey, Kate Berlant, Jordan Black, and Cedric Yarborough.

My Thoughts:

The subject matter is poorly handled and the way it treats the LA riots is at best, a historically inaccurate attempt for Bannon to play ‘white savior’ to a group he considers inferior, and at worst, a call to action for racists to imprison and oppress the black residents of LA.

The riots were not a war, they were a result of a protest. Instead of addressing the Rodney King trial which was the cause of the riots, Bannon focuses on the ‘war’ between the Crips and the Bloods, saying the riot was a result of this war.

If you read Breitbarts article about the riot, (and I don’t recommend it), it is described like a war. It’s the same war conservative pundits are continually trying to convince us is coming- a race war between ‘gangs’, ‘immigrants,’ and the politicians who enable them, who don’t want you to defend yourself.

The opinion piece I read found it ironic that Bannon makes Coriolanus the leader of the Crips, but if you look at his politics, It’s clear why- Bannon is attracted to masculine violence and his base of violent, predominantly white males see modern life as a culture war between them and the rest of the world. His Coriolanus is a BAMF who defends himself with his gun . A politician or a policeman ‍♂️ would have someone to answer to (more like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,) but Bannon’s Martus has no restaint and can indulge his violent tendencies in the lawless hellscape of LA.

It should be noted that Bannon is clearly not speaking from experience or research, merely his ugly stereotypes of black gang members that he got from reading his biased Brietbart articles. Though the hero is black, the dog whistle racism is still there- these people are out to get you, and even though they have guts, they are a threat to “civilization.”

References/ Other Reviews:

  1. New York Times Steve Bannon’s Hip Hop Shakespeare: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/17/opinion/sunday/steve-bannon-hip-hop-shakespeare-rewrite-coriolanus.html
  2. Refinery 29: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2017/05/152427/steve-bannon-rap-musical-the-thing-i-am
  3. Rolling Stone: He Approaches the Baby Gangster. Steve Bannon’s Rap Musical: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/he-approaches-the-baby-gangsta-watch-steve-bannons-rap-musical-115694/
  4. Hooton, Christopher. Watch a script read of Steve Bannon’s rap musical: ‘If I had my way, I’d make a quarry of these slaves.’ The Independent. Retrieved online from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/steve-bannon-musical-rap-film-script-screenwriter-shakespeare-coriolanus-compton-table-script-read-a7712736.html%3famp