Friday, November 15, 2019

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare 

His nature is too noble for the world. He would not flatter Neptune for his trident, or Jove for ‘s power to thunder. ~ Menenius regarding Coriolanus

Coriolanus is a tragedy by Shakespeare, written very early 17thCentury. It is about a Roman General, Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, of the 5thCentury, B.C. 

Well…WOW! I loved this play, though it is a tragedy and doesn’t leave one feeling warm and fuzzy, but WOW!

I didn’t like it at first. I didn’t like the title character, but then it gets powerful quickly in the second act, and I admired the integrity of Coriolanus, and lamented his lack of political savviness. 

He is a general of great renown, bearing many scars on his body for Rome, though he is considered proud and aloof. As one officer describes him…
That’s a brave fellow; but he’s vengeance proud, and loves not the common people.

Coriolanus does not aspire to politics, he would rather defend Rome and win her more glory, but like many military heroes, he was urged into politics by his friends. One of them, Menenius, recognizes that Coriolanus may lack tact and diplomacy needed for politics.
His nature is too noble for the world. He would not flatter Neptune for his trident, or Jove for ‘s power to thunder.

Coriolanus himself detests the idea that he is judged by lesser men. He describes it as…
…the crows to peck the eagles.

Two rather contemptuous tribunes stir up discontent among the people towards Coriolanus – merely for his aloofness – though they spin it as more treacherous conduct. When a mob is ready to execute him by carrying him outside the city and casting him on the rock Tarpeian, Coriolanus answers…
No, I’ll die here. [draws his sword] There’s some among you have beheld me fighting: Come, try upon yourselves what you have seen me.

Coriolanus is not executed, but he is banished. He in turn banishes Rome, and makes his way to his previous enemy, the Volscians, and agrees to lead them against Rome.

The joy and beauty of Shakespeare is in the dialogue. The most thrilling speeches are usually made by main characters: Hamlet’s soliloquy, Antony’s eulogy of Caesar, or Henry V’s St Crispin’s day speech, but in this play, my favorite lines were by an unnamed guard, addressed to Menenius who has come to the Volscian camp to sue for mercy.
Guard: You are a Roman, are you?
Menenius: I am as thy general is.
Guard: Then you should hate Rome, as he does. Can you, when you have pushed out your gates the very defender of them, and, in a violent popular ignorance, given your enemy your shield, think to front his revenges with the easy groans of old women, the virginal palms of your daughters, or with the palsied intercession of such a decayed dotant as you seem to be? Can you think to blow out the intended fire your city is ready to flame in, with such weak breath as this? No, you are deceived; therefore, back to Rome, and prepare for your execution: you are condemned; our general has sworn you out of reprieve and pardon.

Or this shorter bit, when Menenius rebukes the cowering tribunes who have brought ruin upon Rome.
Why, so, – you have made good work! A pair of tribunes that have rack’d for Rome, to make coals cheap, – a noble memory!

Spoiler alert: Rome is not destroyed. I’ll spare you how it is spared, and the tragedy. 

This is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known, and less often enacted plays. But in the reading, at least, it is one of my favorites. 


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