Cabined, cribbed, confined
Am I. These four walls chatter
With gun shots and lost brides
Widowed in Corioles
Weeping in time for tea.
Something happened over there.
You don’t come back the same
And O mother, mother!
If you could see that
You have killed me mother
In sending me prematurely to
The cruel wars and filling my head
With white noise to drown out
The silence in your life.
I’m no blue-eyed Tommy Thumb,
But best beware his tommy gun
When I trot forth like a lamb
To the slaughter
Bleating out the refrains of convenient
Peace that place me in the crosshairs
Of my newfound martial coven.
Must I be mild-mannered
In the face of mealy-mouthed
Admin men who wouldn’t know a war
If it bit them from behind?
You bade me farewell from the cradle
To betrayal, cracking skulls as I go,
Left out to dry. But let it come
Down, down to the muddy ground.
Imagine my surprise to find alliance
In Volscian sighs
Foes forgetting lip-locked
Battles of yesteryear,
Looking on me with baleful eyes
And promising to seal our contract
In the blood and flame of
You shall say that
I was a monster.
Brain-washed in my devotion
To the enemy cause.
But anger’s my meat,
And as I reside
Here in this locked room
I long to flex the wings
You so carefully clipped,
Pulling me from a brother’s embrace
To come crawling back to
This nest of vipers.
My gracious silence,
It was your voice I heard
In the cries of Corioles,
You, my absent partner,
Who took forth my boy,
Declaring the final straw
When I flew away
One too many times.
Tell my laddie:
Think well on your Daddy.
Remember him by his former name
Not that title of conquest,
Imprinting upon me
Those deathly deeds,
So that the world might hear
My nothings monstered.
To be thus is nothing.
You must not follow my road.
Don’t listen to Granny,
As your mater intended.
Ralph Fiennes, who directed and starred in the 2010 film adaptation of Coriolanus, believes that a ‘grim and lonely complexity’ is responsible for the central character’s modern resonance, further positing that he ‘is simultaneously opaque and unknowable; he’s neurotic, violent, degraded, and ennobled simultaneously’. In considering the US television series, Homeland, in relation to Coriolanus, these character traits are examined within the two principals: Carrie Mathison, a bipolar federal agent haunted by the implied personal failure she feels over the events of 9/11, and Nicholas Brody, a US marine who returns home, heralded as an American war hero, after being held as a prisoner of war for eight years by al-Qaeda, where he had switched sides by both secretly converting to Islam and being recruited as a enemy agent by his captors. Arin Keeble states that ‘Brody and Carrie’s deeply divided selves reflect wider American or Western divisions, illuminated or brought to the surface by 9/11’, just as the limitations imposed upon the female characters of Coriolanus and the mutual attraction between Coriolanus and Aufidius can be seen to emphasise the division within their own Roman and Volscian societies. By thus examining how the television series explores these characters within the context of the fallen American empire, evoking the shifting fortunes of early Rome, this study of Homeland seeks to illuminate the modernity of power dynamics within Coriolanus.
Graham Holderness refers to his search of ‘contemporary culture not just for signs of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, but also for signs of the Coriolanus figure, […] active in a number of different genres, notably in narratives that deal with post-9/11 warfare, and in the popular conventions of the spy thriller’ and Homeland’s success is built upon these two narrative types. Moreover, there are clear parallels between Brody and the Coriolanus figure, as both characters are much affected in civilian life by their time as a soldier. Indeed, Coriolanus’s declaration that ‘I had rather be their servant in my way / Than sway with them in theirs’ (II. 1. 199-200) could equally have been spoken by Brody, during the early stages of his reintegration into society.
Both characters find themselves thrust into a political spotlight with which they do not feel fully at ease. The celebrity status which this confers upon Brody during the early stages of his homecoming reflects Foakes’s description of how Coriolanus is ‘what we would now call a celebrity when he returns to Rome. Brutus describes the ‘popular throngs’ who fill the streets to catch a glimpse of him after his triumph at Corioles’. Thus, ‘in making a god of him […] the people reinforce his basic isolation from them in his limited perception of the value of life as centred in war’, observed equally in a specific moment that captures the isolated Brody, suffering from post-traumatic stress and struggling to deal with reporters at his door. Seeing them gathered outside, alone in his family’s house, he experiences a memory of his early captivity in a tiny, bare room. Curling up against the wall in his bedroom, this depiction of the cowering Brody is juxtaposed with a mirror image of the scene within the corner of his cell, depicting him as a prisoner in his own home. His initial reaction to this level of attention, recreating his ordeal and retreating into the past, away from the ravening press, suggests that Brody echoes Coriolanus’s yearning to ‘have my wounds to heal again / Than to hear say how I got them’ (II. 2. 67-8).
Significantly, once Brody becomes reintegrated into society and embraces his celebrity identity somewhat, through television interviews and public appearances, the memory of war impacts upon him in a different, more destructive, way through his increasing sense of inertia, observed predominantly in the relationship with his wife, Jess. Berry argues that, ‘so long as the war-situation exists, Coriolanus can resolve the issues of war, sex, identity’ and, as the audience similarly observes Brody in his home for the first time, absent from the war which ‘gives him a personal model, and a pursuit’, the resultant problem can be clearly seen. For instance, during one of the first season’s depictions of their sexual relationship, Brody is shown masturbating in front of his wife, whom he tells, ‘it’s better if you don’t’, when she offers to perform the act herself. This emotional and physical separation is confirmed by Brody’s subsequent inability to share the comfort of their bed, instead sleeping on the floor, imitating his incarceration, unable to escape the past, even through his wife.
Consequently, instead of being the foundation of his rehabilitation, this absence of shared understanding within Brody’s marriage leads him to seek other relationships, notably with Carrie, based on mutual empowerment and animalistic fulfilment. During the third episode of the second season, the matriarchal figure of the Vice-President’s wife tells Jess that, ‘you’re a beautiful woman, Nick is so charismatic. You’re a great American story that’s just beginning’. The destruction of this stereotypical power couple is one of the narrative elements of Homeland that evokes Coriolanus most strongly, frequently engaging in the technique of presenting individuals in ideal situations or locations that mask their discontent. This is most apparent in the relationship between Brody and Jess, the wife who, like Virgilia, ‘represents a reality which ultimately “transcends the political and personal” and at the same time becomes a point of reference from which we can judge the action’. Jess offers the broken Brody his humanity, thus fulfilling the role of his ‘gracious silence’ (I. 1. 171).
Jessica and Mike in Homeland, as played by Morena Baccarn and Diego Klattenhoff.
However, she is notably less silent and, given her affair with Brody’s best friend, Mike, when she presumes Brody to be dead, does not keep the same promise made by Virgilia to venture ‘not over the threshold til my lord returns from the wars’ (I. 3. 77-8). This may widen the fissure within their relationship but fundamentally, as in Coriolanus, this is due to Brody being unable to recognise his wife’s value to him, because of his conditioning as a soldier and his subsequent experience of warfare. Thus, ‘the intensity and passion and lyricism that belong to his loving self have already been transferred into his image of himself as a warrior’. As Brody recognises when they agree to separate, he tried ‘to deal with everything that happened. But that was beyond me. I was fucked up when I left for Iraq. We all were’. This a prime example of Homeland’s status as Shakespearean appropriation. In the ‘powerful portrayal of inner conflict in the realm of politics, domestic life and identity’, the play reflects the cultural legacy of Shakespeare’s ability to address similar complex psychological issues when public and private life collide, through the failure of both Coriolanus and Brody’s relationships with their wives and the consequent creation of alternative power couples.
In the episode ‘Representative Brody’, he is offered the opportunity to run for office as a Congressman, but Jess discourages him from doing so, in order to prioritise the stability of the family life that she wants them to rebuild, telling him that ‘we’ll never see you, it’ll be like you’re leaving us all over again’. By comparing her husband’s potential absence as a politician to the one that resulted from his military career, Jess unconsciously perpetuates her husband’s fundamental image of himself as a warrior. In contrast, having been initially wary of politics, Brody is determined to ‘make a difference’, partly due to orders from his al-Qaeda masters, but also because of his continuing sense of inertia, as seen when he tells Mike that ‘I’m either parading around like a toy soldier or doing the fucking laundry’. Brody conveys his sense of emasculation due to this double role of military poster boy and house husband, declaring that, ‘I need to be of service. I need to do something that matters’. Coriolanus similarly expresses frustration at his torpid state, whereby he is discontented to ‘idly sit / To hear my nothings monstered’ (II. 2. 74-5). Brody, the ‘marine without a mission’, can only achieve his potential, and embark upon his quest for fulfilment and identity by rejecting both his wife’s anxiety about ‘his bloody brow’ (I. 3. 39) and the ‘deeper, more sensitive level’ to him than ‘perhaps even consciously – he ever will admit’.
Elizabeth Gaines in Homeland, as played by Linda Purl
Another Shakespearean archetype that informs Homeland is the influential matriarch, here the Volumnia-like figure of Elizabeth Gaines, who appears in only three episodes of the first season, but acts as a string-puller, gradually grooming Brody, first at his friend’s funeral, and then with an invitation to her dinner party, where her wish for him to run for office becomes explicit. She admits, upon his arrival that, ‘I have a plan for everyone’, and in this sense, Gaines is able to harness Brody’s potential where his wife cannot. Brody’s motivation to become a politician is complicated, and it is unclear whether he chooses to do so out of patriotism or because he is being forced by Abu Nazir, the leader of the terrorist cell which has ‘turned’ him. As a result, the character of Brody represents not only the conflict between a wife who values his safety, alongside those who prioritise the status of his masculinity, but also evokes the power struggle between America and the Middle-East, who are both trying to acquire him as an asset.
Interpreted in this way, Brody’s role as a side-switcher serves a similar function to that of Coriolanus between Rome and Volsci, demonstrating the importance of a powerful individual’s relationship with their motherland, particularly in the way in which Homeland’s post 9/11 America is depicted as a paranoid, hyper-aware state that relies upon the compliance and control of its citizens. This is not unlike Coriolanus’s Rome or, indeed Macbeth’s Scotland, where Ross laments, due to the diabolic and transgressive actions of one individual: ‘alas, poor county, / Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot / Be called our mother, but our grave’ (IV. 3. 164-6). Both Coriolanus and Brody’s relationships with their countries thus represent how, in order to understand the legacy of Shakespeare’s couples, it is important to appreciate the various definitions of what the mother figure represents within Shakespeare. Ross’s connection of his ‘poor country’ to ‘our mother’ makes that link explicit and demonstrates how the severance of this relationship, as observed in both Coriolanus and Homeland, ultimately results in the destruction of the individual. Like Volumnia and Elizabeth, the mother country endures and, as suggested by Janet Adelman, ‘enact[s] the paradox through which the son is never more the mother’s creature than when he attempts to escape her.’
Brody’s confession tape.
In the second season of Homeland, the action becomes principally linked with the emerging status of Carrie and Brody as an alternative form of power couple, supported by Keeble’s argument that ‘at the heart of Homeland is a stark and resonant conflictedness in the portrayal of the two central protagonists, who mirror and reflect each other in many ways’. The focus shifts from Brody’s reintegration into society to explore how he behaves when labelled as ‘a traitor to the people’ (III. 3. 66) by the CIA. Like Coriolanus, an outcast from Rome, offering his services to his enemy, Aufidius, when Brody is similarly rejected by his family and his country, he too seeks solace with the enemy. Thus, Carrie can be seen as analogous with the character of Aufidius.
For Brody, ‘there is a world elsewhere’ (III. 3. 136). However, in order to understand his increasing attraction towards Carrie, and why it strengthens a contemporary understanding of Coriolanus’s search for fulfilment through his relationship with Aufidius, it is important to note the point at which, during the final episode of the first season, Brody admits to his own fractured identity. In a recording, filmed as an intended suicide note, before attempting to carry out al-Qaeda’s orders to assassinate the Vice-President and other prominent members of the US administration as a suicide bomber, he states that:
‘As a Marine, I swore an oath to defend the United States against enemies both foreign and domestic. My action this day is against such domestic enemies – the Vice-President and members of his National Security team, who I know to be liars and war criminals.’
Brody perceives that America will interpret his action of betrayal as one of personal weakness, whereby ‘people will say that I was broken’. This echoes Coriolanus’s mediation upon ‘the slippery turns’ (IV. 4. 12) of his world, whereby ‘friends now fast sworn […] shall within this hour / On the dissension of a doit, break out / To bitterest enmity’ (IV. 4. 16-8). Whilst this recording shows Brody declaring that ‘People will say that I was turned into a terrorist, taught to hate my country. I love my country’, the fact that he juxtaposes this with the domestic threat that his country faces, in order to justify his actions of terrorism, is a further reflection of Coriolanus’s paradoxical assertion that ‘my love’s upon / this enemy town’ (IV. 4. 23-4).
Brody has no love for the political establishment that attempts to recruit him as its candidate. Like Coriolanus, he idealises his purer role within the military and believes in a cause above the machinations of government, who disgust him still further by engaging in drone strikes, a remote type of warfare which he looks down on as an unworthy, indirect form of combat. This conflict between martial loyalty and domestic honesty also signifies Brody’s moments of acute discomfort within the series. His wounds, the most private part of his suffering, are frequently fetishised by observers and looked upon with mingled awe and horror. A principal example of this emerges during a poolside exchange between Brody and a group of political donors, one of whom tells his wife that ‘they didn’t just hold him, Buttercup, they broke his bones’, before she insensitively asks ‘what else did they do?’ As Brody departs, stripping off his shirt to climb into the pool with his son, he sees her staring at his scars and swiftly replaces the shirt. As with Coriolanus, where individuals ‘think / upon the wounds his body bears, which show / Like graves i’th’ holy churchyard’ (III. 3. 47-9), in a similar way, this increases Brody’s resentment towards the people, a sentiment he shares with Coriolanus on the latter’s return from Volsci, when he is much requested to show off his wounds and is regarded as ‘a thing of blood’ (II. 2. 107).
Significantly, Carrie treats these wounds in a more loving manner, caressing and kissing the marks of his torture when they share one of their first intimate encounters. This is perhaps a deeper level of fetishisation, but it is one within which Brody participates and feels himself to be an equal partner. Consequently, Brody and Carrie share the bond of experience, drawn together by their mutual attraction to danger and, as Carrie puts it, the ‘heightened’ moments of life. As Holderness suggests of Coriolanus and Aufidius, ‘clearly the wish to be the enemy when circumstances dictate is very strong for both parties. Each would rather be the other than accept the common lot of his own society’. This same connection, regardless of allegiance, find its legacy within Brody and Carrie, in a bond that ends as tragically as many of Shakespeare’s most iconic couples, when Brody is hanged in front of her at the end of the third season. Beforehand, Carrie and Brody’s status as star-crossed lovers is confirmed when she tells him that ‘I happen to believe one of the reasons I was put on this earth was for our paths to cross’. However, in my opinion, it is their early encounters that provide the strongest examples of instances where their specific attraction of opposites echoes Coriolanus and Aufidius’s relationship, most significantly because of the shared experience of war:
Where was it you said you served again? Baghdad?
How come it’s so hard to talk about with people who weren’t there?
I have a better question. How come it’s so hard to talk with anyone who wasn’t there about anything at all?
‘Aufidius is Martius’s true bride of battle, and his desire is only for him’ and, similarly, Brody’s desire to repair his own fractured identity leads to his perverse attraction towards Carrie. However, the relationship is not based solely upon equality and there are further echoes of Aufidius in Carrie’s continuing suspicion of Brody, although he disregards this to the extent that he confesses ‘I do feel used, and played, and lied to, but I also feel good’. In the finale of the second season, ‘The Choice’, Brody calls Carrie ‘my wounded warrior’, and this scene, contained within the idyll of her countryside cabin, represents an unusual moment of contentment for Brody. However, his intense attraction to this woman in whom he has placed his trust, and with whom he has found fulfilment in reconciling his private and public identities, is destroyed by her calculated choice between their relationship and her role at the CIA, who are pursuing Brody. With Hamlet-like pathos, he recognises that ‘there’s the rub’, as Carrie fails to reciprocate, choosing instead her loyalty to her work. Holderness describes how ‘Coriolanus’s desire for Aufidius is perverse but pure. Aufidius feels the same intense attachment, but it is contaminated by the will to win by any means. The latter is as pragmatic as the former is absolute. And their collision generates a modern tragedy’, words that could equally apply to Carrie and Brody’s ultimate failure as a power couple.