Coriolanus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608. The play is based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. The tragedy is numbered as one of the last two tragedies written by Shakespeare, along with Antony and Cleopatra.
Coriolanus is the name given to a Roman general after his more than adequate military success against various uprisings challenging the government of Rome. Following this success, Coriolanus becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will. The alliances he forges along the way result in his ultimate downfall.
Most scholars date Coriolanus to the period 1605–10, with 1608–09 being considered the most likely, although the available evidence does not permit great certainty.
The earliest date for the play rests on the fact that Menenius's fable of the belly is derived from William Camden's Remains, published in 1605. The later date derives from the fact that several other texts from 1610 or thereabouts seem to allude to Coriolanus, including Ben Jonson's Epicoene, Robert Armin's Phantasma and John Fletcher's The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed.
Some scholars note evidence that may narrow down the dating to the period 1607–09. One line may be inspired by George Chapman's translation of the Iliad (late 1608). References to "the coal of fire upon the ice" (I.i) and to squabbles over ownership of channels of water (III.i) could be inspired by Thomas Dekker's description of the freezing of the Thames in 1607–08 and Hugh Myddleton's project to bring water to London by channels in 1608–09 respectively. Another possible connection with 1608 is that the surviving text of the play is divided into acts; this suggests that it could have been written for the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, at which Shakespeare's company began to perform in 1608, although the act-breaks could instead have been introduced later.
The play's themes of popular discontent with government have been connected by scholars with the Midland Revolt, a series of peasant riots in 1607 that would have affected Shakespeare as an owner of land in Stratford-upon-Avon; and the debates over the charter for the City of London, which Shakespeare would have been aware of, as it affected the legal status of the area surrounding the Blackfriars Theatre. The riots in the Midlands were caused by hunger because of the enclosure of common land. Shakespeare himself had been charged and fined several times for hoarding food stocks to sell at inflated prices.
For these reasons, R.B. Parker suggests "late 1608 ... to early 1609" as the likeliest date of composition, while Lee Bliss suggests composition by late 1608, and the first public performances in "late December 1609 or February 1610". Parker acknowledges that the evidence is "scanty ... and mostly inferential".
The play was first published in the First Folio of 1623. Elements of the text, such as the uncommonly detailed stage directions, lead some Shakespeare scholars to believe the text was prepared from a theatrical prompt book.