Here we see behind the scenes of a recent version of Coriolanus made for film – the write up that I took the image from promises that ‘there will be blood!’ (and there certainly was). But was there on Shakespeare’s stage?
You may think that blood was likely to be like the horses and the night time – you just have to imagine them, but in fact stage blood was probably a reality of Tudor theatre. In fact Tudor stage blood was likely to be more real than today’s. I am told by my sources that modern stage blood at least at the RST is a mixture of golden syrup and food colouring. It shines under the lights and tastes ok too.
Scholars differ about how much blood might have been used on Shakespeare’s stage. On the one hand animal blood would have been easy enough to come by … on the other hand blood is hard to wash off costumes and Tudor washing was not the most efficient anyway (Urine being the best bleach they had). Coriolanus is a fairly bloody play – blood is mentioned lots of times in the language. It is possible to stage it bloodlessly of course – we are used to understanding that an actor is dead or injured without having to see copious amounts of blood. But I think in this case it seems likely that some blood was used – confined where possible to the hands and face etc and not in too much contact with more valuable costumes. Sheep or Ox blood could easily be obtained but it does not congeal in the same way as human blood, however with many butchers and even surgeons in the centre of London – blood of many types including human could not have been very hard to obtain!