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How does the base/superstructure and ideology or hegemony work in the play Coriolanus by Shakespeare? I mean what is the base and the superstructure? I know that the superstructure is basically the ideology that is upheld by the bourgeoisie in the base. But I can't identify the base in Coriolanus, because it seems as though they (the Plebeians) don't do any work. They just want the corn, or maybe they don't do work (go to war) because they think that the war is a ploy to get them to forget about corn/food. And then would the superstructure basically be "the rich deserve the corn, the poor do not, because that's what you're born into."

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But I can't identify the base in Coriolanus, because it seems as though they (the Plebeians) don't do any work.

Who do you think are actually tilling the soil, cutting the corn, stacking the haystacks, and feeding the horses that pull the plough? The Aristocracy, of which Corialanus is the exemplar of? Or the Plebians? The Plebians don't do any work in the drama itself, but one should use ones imagination here a little (with textual approbation). Or it might be worth looking at a history of the Roman Empire that actually goes into its economics and governance.

ACT I - SCENE I. Rome. A street.

First Citizen

11 We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good.

12 What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they

13 would yield us but the superfluity, while it were

14 wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely;

15 but they think we are too dear: the leanness that

16 afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an

17 inventory to particularise their abundance; our

18 sufferance is a gain to them Let us revenge this with

19 our pikes, ere we become rakes: for the gods know I

20 speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.

This is the main speech about the base, by a plebian - the first citizen. Note he is not given a name, being without particularity and representative of the commonality. They are poor citizens, which is a play on being poor in wealth, but also poor as citizens, that is ethically (for the patricians - the aristocracy are accounted good); and further, not citizens in the proper sense of the word, which is to direct or have influence on the polity of city. They want the superfluity, or in Marxist terms (surplus product), whilst it remains wholesome - that is of value; that would be a humane gesture - not humane as in charitable, but perhaps, as one man to another, as viewing them as ends in themselves - using Kantian terms. But they are too dear, their misery and sufferance is a gain to them - the Patricians.

MENENIUS

53 I tell you, friends, most charitable care

54 Have the patricians of you. For your wants,

55 Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well

56 Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them

57 Against the Roman state, whose course will on

58 The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs

59 Of more strong link asunder than can ever

60 Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,

61 The gods, not the patricians, make it, and

62 Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,

63 You are transported by calamity

64 Thither where more attends you, and you slander

65 The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,

66 When you curse them as enemies.

This is the first speech that identifies the superstructure, the Roman State by Menenius, who as a Patrician, has a name, a specific identity. He is not part of the mob of common plebians. He identifies the laws of heaven with that of the Roman State, whose force and strength is irresistable (cracking ten thousand curbs); the Plebians condition (the dearth) is not the making of the State, he says, but by the gods. The Patricians, are the human face of the super-structure, they care for the plebians like fathers.

The political discourse carries on through the first scene, and through the rest of the play...

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  • Could one example of hegemony in Coriolanus, be when Menenius tells the Plebeians that it is the gods' fault that they don't have any crops and the Patricians cannot be blamed for it? Except then the Plebeians seem to catch on and see through him... Or when he proceeds to tell his belly fable? Are there other examples of hegemony being utilized by the Patricians to control the Plebeians?
    – Joel
    Mar 19, 2014 at 21:18
  • I think so. What makes you think that the plebian mob has seen through Menenius? He isolates the first citizen, seeing him as one of the leaders, and mocks him as the 'big toe'; later when he meets with Caius Marcius , he tell him he has them them 'subdued'. The unrest in the citizenry is reflected in the ranks of the soldiers. Still, one ought to ask, can Marxs theory be applied here? He theorised about the industrial proletariat on the scale of countries, whereas here we just have a polis and an agrarian work-force and soldierly. Mar 20, 2014 at 0:38
  • Rome makes war on Corioli, which is a classic tactic to bring a polis together and to diffuse internal tensions, as Marcius notes, to rid themselves of a 'musty superfluity' of men; but also to get their hands on all the 'gold' in Coriolis. Mar 20, 2014 at 1:11
  • But there are other themes here - such as the effectivity of democracy - the plebians are sarcastic about their ability to come to some firm consensus. Rome, in view of their demands, awards them tribunes; Marcius is angry by the demands of custom that he must beg 'alms' from the citizens, this is the martial pride that the Roman State instills within its warrior caste,; and not simply through its men, which you might expect in a simple description of a patriarchal society like Rome; but as much through its women - though again the divisions are sharp and dramatised by Volumnia & valeria. Mar 20, 2014 at 1:21
  • "Who do you think are actually tilling the soil, cutting the corn, stacking the haystacks, and feeding the horses that pull the plough? The Aristocracy, of which Corialanus is the exemplar of? Or the Plebians?" For the most part, neither, actually. Slaves did most of the toiling. Nov 3, 2016 at 13:19

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