June 26: coriolanus and macbeth; on the ridge between understanding and confusion

Coriolanus as a piece of writing feels very close to Macbeth. They were probably written within a year or so of each other; 1606; 1607; 1608? Not only are they both bound by blood, but in both there is an almost glutinous concentration of language. The words stick to each other; refuse to disadhere; as though there was a desire to arrive at inarticulacy; an impatience with exactitude and pernickitiness.

Screw your courage to the sticking place” says Lady Macbeth. Sticking place does mean something, though there is dispute about exactly what (a viol’s strings? a crossbow cord?) but Shakespeare chooses these words because it has the feel of language being battered, bludgeoned into existence. He is jamming stuff together,purposefully making it hard for us to disentangle the skein.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well

It were done quickly. If th’assassination

Could trammel up the consequence and catch

With his surcease success.” (Macbeth 1 vii)


In a rebellion,

When what’s not meet but what must be was law,

Then were they chosen. In a better hour

Let what is meet be said it must be meet

And throw their power i’ th’ dust.     (Coriolanus 3 i)

This is like Beethoven’s Great Fugue. Living on the edge of our ability to contain it. Key words colliding and ricocheting back into focus. Just about organised but pretty close to disorganised. That position on the ridge between understanding and confusion. The place where words are most thrilling.


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