Shakespeare – “Coriolanus”

“Coriolanus” written 1608, Shakespeare’s last known tragedy and 1/3 of his “Roman” plays (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra)
Coriolanus the character Marcius Caius Coriolanus – starts out as a Hotspur, and must turn into a Hal. His inability to do so makes him a tragic hero.A successful Roman general, turned unsuccessful politician.He is destroyed in the end by forces that he cannot control.His relationship with his mother is important; her expectations for valor.
What was the first dynasty of Rome? The Tarquinii dynasty; a kingship.
What replaced it? The Roman Senate (“senix” – “old man,” gathering of the elders).
Roman aristocracy Senators were wealthy, local landowners.Power was still concentrated in a particular class, namely the aristocracy.Patricians vs. Plebeians
“Tribunes of the people” Introduced by aristocratic rule and also aristocrats; representatives of the plebeians to the patricians.Examples in the play: Brutus and Sicinius.This exposes a conflict between oligarchy and democracy.
How does this situation mirror the political situation in Shakespeare’s time? Elizabeth I died 1603, replaced by James I (thus began the rule of the Stuarts). He very quickly came into conflict with parliament (centralized rule vs. the people).
What occurred in 1607? widespread food riots throughout England – same as in the beginning of “Coriolanus”
Can one shift from being a soldier to a politician without problems? The play suggests that this cannot happen.
How does “Coriolanus” begin? In a revolt – plebeians against the patricians due to a famine.
Menenius’ speech to the rioters Addresses them as “countrymen” – conciliatory; but says, “whatever you want, it can’t happen.”Metaphor of the body; citizenship is not earned but inherent.Politics is all about saying “no” in a nice way.
How does Marcius see the people of Rome? He sees them as fragmented, and not part of the same body – you’re not part of it unless you’ve earned the right to be so.
Marcius as a soldier He only knows confrontation; no compromise. He has been trained to see everything as war. And not just confrontational, but also very angry.
Virgilia Coriolanus’ wife, an odd relationship
Volumnia Coriolanus’ mother; encourages his violence, her idea of many virtue (by definition means “manliness” in Latin). This is a limited idea of masculinity; she demands that he be her version of a man in return for her affection/approval.Coriolanus doesn’t seem to have a father.
Coriolanus’ 2nd mother the city of Rome- upon hearing that he hasn’t already earned office and must run for it, Coriolanus is surprised/confused
How does Coriolanus receive the approval of his mother and of the state? through fighting – he is not fully an adult; rather childlike and limited in his methods of expression
What is Coriolanus’ great failure? Failing to emancipate himself from his mother; he is completely dependent upon her.
How does Coriolanus deal with his lot in life? His life is not one that he chose for himself – this is one source of his anger.Suffers from PTSD and doesn’t want to show his scars – war is sweet to those who have never experienced it.Coriolanus tries to cope by killing all his feelings.
What is Coriolanus’ and Volumnia’s relationship based on? Performance – her love is conditional.
Coriolanus’ social life He cannot connect with people unlike him (the plebeians, etc.). He is an isolated entity; alone in his endeavors, and wants to be so.
A major theme in “Coriolanus” The effects that parents have on their children – Coriolanus’ son tearing apart the butterfly.
1.7.29 the language between soldiers
2.2.78 an important speech by Cominius – there is a crescendo built in; notice the way in which Coriolanus is addressed and what he is called in terms of objects.
What does Coriolanus want to be? Coriolanus ends up wanting to be a “thing,” because a thing does not feel.
Who in the play is very similar to Coriolanus? (2.1) Excepting that they approach power differently, Brutus and Sicinius are the same sort of person as Coriolanus.They all want power, they are all exceedingly prideful.However, Brutus and Sicinius are more cowardly when it comes to battle.
Who are the great antagonists of “Coriolanus”? Brutus and Sicinius
Coriolanus’ wounds Coriolanus has 27 wounds – notice the language surrounding them.Volumnia sees them as a passport to his future (wants him to become a consul).She lives vicariously through him to some degree.
Coriolanus’ views on becoming a consul He wouldn’t mind being one – he just doesn’t want to be elected.Coriolanus doesn’t see the people as true Romans – they ran away during battle. He feels that, by default, he has already earned the title of consul.
What do the aristocrats have that the common people don’t? names
2.3.102 – Coriolanus’ speech to the people “Your voices” – he wants them to give him their voice (he doesn’t ask for their support, per say). He does not see them as people; all they are is noise, a vote. He doesn’t want their support but he needs it.
What does a commoner mean to a politician? a voice, merely a voteAs a consul, Coriolanus will likely not represent the commoners well – all he wants is their vote.No issue of policy is touched on in his speech – it’s all about how he presented himself.
The people’s reaction In favor of Coriolanus at first.However, Brutus and Sicinius easily convince the people that Coriolanus didn’t as them nicely enough – he didn’t show them his wounds.The people are fickle. It’s all about performance to them.And so, the commoners switch their collective opinion in the matter of a page.
Act 3 – Coriolanus is told that he will not be consul He responds as one might expect – with a fighting stance. He completely disavows the people; invites the war outside of Rome into the city itself. He always resorts to rage and confrontation.
Menenius’ relationship to Coriolanus Menenius is constantly on the defensive for Coriolanus – he knows that the winds have changed.
How have things changed in Act 3? Brutus and Sicinius are now calling the shots; their language has changed to commands – “you shall.” Of course, Coriolanus is completely unaware of these subtleties.
What is Coriolanus accused of being at this point? a traitor
What defines Rome? Is Rome the people?
3.2 – Volumnia’s request She asks her son to be what he is not. (He was never allowed to be moderate before he was asked to be consul.)”Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck’dst it from me, But owe thy pride thyself.”
Coriolanus’ inner battle “I must do it, I can’t do it.” (His view of who he is is completely contradictory to what the outside world now demands of him.)
Coriolanus is nothing if not… predictable.
What happens when Coriolanus tries to restrain himself? His sentences become clipped; but he flips again when they call him a traitor (not angry when they call him a tyrant). Coriolanus doesn’t know how to handle anger or indignation at something.
How is Coriolanus’ fate decided by those present? They are convinced that he must die, but since he is a war hero, they banish him instead.
Coriolanus has lost what? both wars – external and internal
End of Act 3, Line 124 – Coriolanus’ great speech He reconstructs his pride – “I banish you!” – tries to take the power back and completely denounces Rome.
Act 4 (“Coriolanus”) Here, Coriolanus seems completely different, strangely calm and confident in the future.
Volumnia’s reaction to Coriolanus’ banishment She is worried about him all of a sudden.Calls him “my first son” instead of “good soldier” as before.(Various platitudes of family affection in this farewell.)
The audience is left with these questions: Is this Coriolanus’ emancipation at long last? Will he find out who he really is? Can he be his own person?
Act 4, Scenes 4-5 – Aufidius’ house Coriolanus goes to the one person that he admires; enemies can become friends fairly quickly (and vice versa).
4.5.52 Aufidius asking for his name – Coriolanus is only now a name (refer to his long speech).
Homoeroticism in “Coriolanus” Aufidius embraces him with fairly erotic speech and language – why?Because these people have very limited ways of expressing themselves.4.5.193
How does Coriolanus change from Act 4 to Act 5? He seems not to get angry any longer.Act 4 —> people think he’s no longer human; almost like a god (4.6.97).As he moves toward Rome, he becomes less and less human (more supernatural or inanimate). “A kind of nothing”
What is the reason for this change? Coriolanus doesn’t want to feel things, or see the people that make him feel things.Why does he want to become a “thing”? So that he cannot be hurt.Every time he cared about something, it hurt him. His family ultimately sides with Rome instead of him. (Nobody is truly on his side – he claims to be fine with standing alone, but the audience has to feel for him.)
How do the common people react to Coriolanus’ banishment? Upon hearing that he marches against Rome, the people immediately state that they shouldn’t have banished him in the first place; sudden regret (predictably fickle).
5.1.63 – Menenius He appeals to Coriolanus as he would a son; Menenius referenced as his father several times. (But the appeal of a friend makes no effect.)
The audience asks… Will Coriolanus still be his own man in the face of his family?
Volumnia’s 4 arguments for Coriolanus’ surrender: 1. An emotional appeal.2. If he fights Rome, his honor/reputation will be ruined.3. A guilt-trip – “you never loved me,” “you never gave anything back for all I gave you”. 4. Completely disavows him – “You thought you had a family? You don’t – your family is now the Volscians.”
Which argument eventually gets to Coriolanus? The fourth one – complete disavowal. It’s just too painful for him.
What does Coriolanus’ giving in reveal? Again, he has no one on his side.
How does Coriolanus express his regret? He repeatedly reiterates his close relationship to Volumnia and Virgilia.
5.6 – A twist in the story Coriolanus is now a liability to Aufidius; the Volscians are ready to turn on him. They call him a traitor (but, unlike previously, this doesn’t seem to phase him).
What finally sets Coriolanus off this time? Being called a “boy” – because it’s true.
What is Coriolanus’ fate? The Volscians stab him to death, and then regret it afterwards.
An overarching theme in “Coriolanus” The impact that parents have on their children – exists in many, if not all, of Shakespeare’s plays.The shadow that the previous generation casts on the next one.
Another theme in “Coriolanus” Adaptability – Coriolanus’ inability to change with the circumstances.He is only ever a soldier, he is only ever a boy.
The final theme The difference between the battlefield and government – are those skills at all transferable?