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Coriolanus (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – July 1, 2002
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This play, written circa 1608, is the last of William Shakespeare's (1564 to 1616) eleven (some say ten) known tragedies. Even though it is known as a "Roman" or "political" play, serious readers will discover that it so much more. I found that it stayed with me long after I read it.
This play is set in ancient Rome. It is essentially the story of warrior Caius Marcius (later known as "Coriolanus") whose honor, pride, and sense of social rank essentially dominates his life and interferes with his ability to function effectively when he's not on the battlefield.
One of the great attributes of this play is that it does not have many characters and thus is easy to follow. The major characters are as follows:
(1) Coriolanus (originally Caius Marcius): a valiant warrior and patrician (nobleman) with a non-overbearing wife. "A soldier to Cato's wish" and a modest hero who "hath deserved worthily of his country" but who lacks tact and refuses to placate "the mutable, rank-scented many."
(2) Volumnia: his overbearing mother. "In anger, Juno-like."
(3) Menenius Agrippa: "a humorous patrician" and an old and true friend of Coriolanus who is trusted by the plebeians (lower class)
(4) Titus Lartius and Cominius: fellow generals with Coriolanus.
(5) Sicinius and Brutus: tribunes (representatives of the plebeians) of the common people and Coriolanus' political enemies. "A pair of strange ones."
(6) Tullus Aufidius: general of Rome's enemies and rival in glory to Coriolanus.
This book (published by Signet Classics in 2002) has some interesting material before and after the play proper. I found the introduction to the play and the six scholarly commentaries especially informative.Read more ›
But you don't often hear about them getting in trouble for being brutally honest about what they think... partly because it never happens. Yet this is what happens in "Coriolanus," Shakespeare's gritty tragedy about a great but unlikeable man who is manipulated into exile, and whose loyalties must be stoked back to Rome. The biggest problem is perhaps that NOBODY in this play is really likable.
Roman general Caius Coriolanus is leading a war against the Volscians, led by his nemesis Tullus Aufidius. After he wins a decisive victory against Aufidius, and gains the city of Corioles for Rome, he's welcomed back as a hero and given the official name of "Coriolanus." His glory-hungry mother encourages him to strike while the iron is hot, and run for consul.
Here's the problem: Coriolanus has a lot of contempt for the common people, and when his political enemies Brutus and Sicinius arrange for the crowds to be filled with... well, the sort of gullible idiots you're confronted with at every election. You know, the people who are shocked when politicians turn out to be liars, and whose convictions are so deep that one heckler can change their minds.
So when the crowds are swayed against him, Coriolanus ends up having a massive public outburst that not only kills his political career, but gets him exiled. He ends up going to the Volscians to serve under his beloved enemy Aufidius (the foe yay between these two is very textually-supported), turning the tide of the war against Rome. Is there any way to bring his old loyalties back?Read more ›