Review: Coriolanus

Posted 11 July, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

A peerless general is offered the consulship of Rome after his triumph over the city of Corioles. Too proud to respect the will of the people, however, he soon finds himself despised by the mob, and speaks out passionately against popular rule. Driven from the city as a traitor, he allies himself with his old enemies and begins to plot a merciless revenge.

Indeed, this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser know plays. The reason it came to my attention was because I saw the trailer from last year’s Coriolanus, which stars, and was directed by, Ralph Fiennes. It looked brilliant and Ralph Fiennes looks like the perfect actor cast in the role; the intensity of the title character immediately piqued my interest in the play itself.

This book is part of the William Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

Like most of the other historical plays that I’ve read by Shakespeare so far, this was a very easy play to get into. Set in the last days of the Tarquin kings prior to the establishment of the Roman Republic, the story opens to a very upset Roman mob, upset at Caius Martius (Coriolanus–it is explained later that he is officially given the nickname, hence why for for the first half of the play, the character is referred to as Martius) for the lack of grain available. He later goes off to the face the Volscian army, and is initially commended for his efforts before the peoples turned against him again for his utter contempt of them. This is a very poor summary on my part because there is actually a lot more going on in this play than I initially thought, this sort of back-and-forth of politics and Coriolanus’ position amongst his friends and foes (also, kudos to whoever put together the trailer for the 2011 adaptation as it didn’t give away a lot of what happens in the latter half of the story).

Thematically I thought the play was very interesting, looking at power structures and the nature of relationships between the people and their rulers. Coriolanus, while he is a gifted and a strong soldier, is also a stubborn man who refuses to placate the very people he has sworn to protect. He’s also not meant to be a politican, and can be very blunt, refusing to hide his disdain with words and pleasantries. The Roman populace has their grievances and their right to air those grievances, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like the populace was fairly fickle (or was it the politicians that I was getting this feeling from?) and going back and forth between emotions. While the story wasn’t as psychologically intriguing a la Macbeth, I thought it was fascinating from a societal perspective.

Coriolanus was an interesting read, of one man versus the whole of society. While I didn’t really warm up to the characters or anything, the conflicts were very interesting to read. For the most part, it also felt like a rather quick read; the scenes were short but many, and the tensions and resentments run high. If you’ve enjoyed plays such as Julius Caesar (review), I think you’ll enjoy this title.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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