Monday, January 30, 2012

Coriolanus 101

So with the new movie out in theaters (and a certain special review on the way), I'm in a Coriolanus mood. I'll be honest, I'm just not that familiar with the play. Here's my nutshell understanding:

Caius Martius is this war hero for Rome.  He's recently given the title Coriolanus for almost single-handedly winning the battle at Corioles (reminds one of Macbeth getting his Glamis/Cawdor titles).  He's also got this really uncomfortably close relationship with his mother, and everybody knows it.  Anyway, his advisors tell him to seek a political career, even though he's a warrior not a politician. It goes bad and he ends up banished from his own city.  So he takes up with his sworn enemy and leads them in an attack on the homeland the betrayed him.  That is, until his mother comes and talks him out of it.
So, I have a couple of questions that I thought maybe people could explain to me?

* How exactly does it go so badly for Coriolanus in his political quest? How does someone go from national hero to banished traitor literally in the span of two scenes?

* How are we supposed to read his mother?  That she loves her son, or that she loves Rome (and herself) more?  The more it seems obvious that she manipulated him to get what she wanted, it just makes him look stupid for not seeing through it.  Or, is that what we're supposed to see? He's just this war machine that others manipulate for their own purposes, his own mother included?

I'm sure I'll think of others.  Feel free to add your own if you've always wondered.


Elizabeth R said...

1. Basically Coriolanus has to go talk to the ~little people~ in Rome in order to get elected - shake hands, show off his war wounds. He super doesn't want to do this because he looks down upon the Common Man. But he goes anyway, at the urgings of his mom.

Coriolanus is arrogant, but impresses people with his war stories. So he gets elected, blah blah. But then these two tribunes, Brutus and Sicinus, are like "Coriolanus is super-arrogant, also he hates you little people." So then the People decide to un-elect Coriolanus.

Then Coriolanus finds out he's been un-elected and - well, he doesn't really have a brain-to-mouth filter. So he says all sorts of things about how the common people shouldn't even have a vote. And so then Brutus and Sicinus are like "KILL HIM!" and the Senators are like "ehhh, let's banish him instead."

So, basically it's through the manipulation of Brutus & Sicinus, the lack-of-intelligence and easily-swayed opinion of the general public, and Coriolanus's own lack of decorum that does C. in.

Strange Attractor said...

I saw a wonderful production of Coriolanus starring Colm Feore at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2006.

Colm Feore said that, at heart, Coriolanus is just a little boy. That stuck in my mind.

Coriolanus comes home from the war a hero. He's happy enough with that. Other people push him into becoming a politician because that's what's expected as a next step in his career. It's not just his mother.

There's a scene where the public wants Coriolanus to strip naked to show them the wounds he took in the war. He refuses, saying that they can ask to see them in private. He doesn't want to do the public spectacle. This is part of what backfires on him. Also, he speaks his mind too much to be a successful politician. He won't pander to the crowd. He doesn't hold back. His mother and advisors beg him to hold back, and he does, a little bit, but it just goes against the grain for him.

In the production, the impression I got of his mother, played by the wonderful Martha Henry, is that she is a strong woman, and giving very good career advice. I mean, if he had done what she said, it would have worked. But he can't bring himself to do what is necessary to be a successful politician. And his mother doesn't quite realize her son's character. I think she loves her son and Rome. He loves Rome too. At the end, she's pleading for him not to destroy the city, which seems quite reasonable to me.

There's a lot in this play that can be related to how mass media works, and the types of things that are said in public. At least, it made me think about the way that politicians talk to the public and how the public and the media respond to that.

Also, there is some time in the play when Coriolanus complains about how fickle the public is. And they are fickle. But, he is too. He changes his mind and his allegiances too. And he doesn't really see the irony.

Also, the character of Aufidius is interesting. In the production I saw, I really didn't see it coming when all of a sudden he knifed Coriolanus at the end. And then immediately regretted it.

Nick Miliokas said...

Colm Feore as Coriolanus at Stratford. I remember it well.
In an interview he was quoted as saying: “It makes Hamlet look like Pinocchio in comparison."