General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on
Comments by Bob Corbett
I don’t think this is one of the better Shakespearean plays, nor did I find the writing to have significantly great quotable lines. Nonetheless, I loved the character of Coriolanus, one of the most intriguing of Shakespeare’s characters.
I also had great doubts about staging the play. Early scenes are of active war and I puzzled over those. After Coriolanus’ victory -- seemingly a nearly one man show, -- the staging would have been more typical of the history plays, but toward the end when Coriolanus moves to fight for the enemies of Rome, the battle scenes again seemed to me to create significant challenges to choreography.
Caius Martius, whose nom-de-guerre is Coriolanus, is a capable and proud man. A bit braggadocios, tremendously confident and successful in nearly everything he does. He is stern in his work for the city state of Rome, but he is fair and honest, even with a concern for the average citizen. Nonetheless, he’s one of those people who you’d have a hard liking; it wouldn’t hurt if he were taken down just a notch or two.
He makes it known that he wishes to be elected to be a consul of Rome.
However, he has enemies among the consuls and they play on his reputation as arrogant and disdainful of the masses, wishing to rule as he sees fit. Coriolanus, as he is now known, doesn’t deny that he does not have much love for the common folk, he expects them to recognize his power, knowledge and ability and appreciate that he would serve them well as consul.
FOURTH CITIZEN You have been a scourge to her
enemies; you have been a rod to her friends. You have not
indeed loved the common people.
CORIOLANUS You should account me the more virtuous
that I have not been common in my love. I will, sir,
flatter my sworn brother, the people, to earn a dearer
estimation of them. 'Tis a condition they account
gentle; and since the wisdom of their choice is rather to
have my hat than my heart, I will practice the insinuating
nod and be off to them most counterfeitly. That is,
sir, I will counterfeit the bewitchment of some popular
man and give it bountiful to the desirers. Therefore,
beseech you, I may be consul.
Coriolanus reminds me of George Patton: competent, honest, hard-nosed, but arrogant and not wishing or expecting to be told what to do or how to behave.
One of his enemies among the consuls, Brutus, taunts him into a political blunder or telling the people his attitudes toward them. The common folks know the character of Coriolanus and in the main aren’t troubled, perhaps even believing their own ineptitude to participate in running the city. But, the few consuls who oppose him continue to stir up popular dissent.
Before the election we read:
Now, as I live, I will.
My nobler friends, I crave their pardons.
For the mutable, rank-scented meiny,
Let them regard me as I do not flatter,
And therein behold themselves. I say again,
In soothing them we nourish 'gainst our Senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition,
Which we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and scattered
By mingling them with us, the honored number,
Who lack not virtue, no, nor power, but that
Which they have given to beggars.
Later on he lets Brutus prod him into this admission
Though there the people had more absolute power -
I say they nourished disobedience, fed
The ruin of the state.
BRUTUS Why, shall the people give
One that speaks thus their voice?
CORIOLANUS I'll give my reasons,
More worthier than their voices. They know the corn
Was not our recompense, resting well assured
They ne'er did service for't. Being pressed to th' war,
Even when the navel of the state was touched,
They would not thread the gates. This kind of service
Did not deserve corn gratis. Being i’ th' war,
Their mutinies and revolts, wherein they showed
Most valor, spoke not for them. Th' accusation
Which they have often made against the Senate,
All cause unborn, could never be the native
Of our so frank donation. Well, what then?
How shall this bosom multiplied digest
The Senate's courtesy? Let deeds express
What's like to be their words: "We did request it;
We are the greater poll, and in true fear
They gave us our demands." Thus we debase
The nature of our seats, and make the rabble
Call our cares fears; which will in time
Break ope the locks o’ th' Senate, and bring in
The crows to peck the eagles.
Finally, before the election many of the common folks become convinced and what carries the day is his attitude: Speaking of Coriolanus, the people say:
“That’s a brave fellow.”
“But he is proud, and loves not the common people.”
Certainly he isn’t a very nice fellow, but it is also quite interesting to compare him with the modern politicians who pander after voters with no conscience at all, and no care of how damaging or idiotic the popular views are to the nation’s well-being.
In any case the conspirators win and Coriolanus is not only not elected, but banished. He shocks all by going over to the forces of Rome’s enemy and marching on Rome, which cannot stop him.
In the end the consuls manage to lure him to talks and assassinate him.
I loved the story (though not necessarily the outcome), but did not fine it a particularly winning piece of literary theater.Bob Corbett email@example.com
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