Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist


Coriolanus is a thin play. Faced with the problem of making a tragic hero out of a stupid bully-boy, Shakespeare loads the dice against his man's antagonists by rendering them as characterless stereotypes of mean-spiritedness (the tribunes, Aufidius) and sheeplike inconstancy (the citizens). In his best plays, Shakespeare makes sure even the walk-on parts are worth the attention of a good actor. In Coriolanus most of the cast are cyphers. 

If Macbeth has too much imagination for politics, Coriolanus has too little. The one is soused in poetry and inwardness, the other never saw a butterfly he didn't want to mammock. This is a fast play, with no soliliquies to hold up the action.  We open on an uprising, proceed to a war and then straight into an election. I've never seen it acted, but I can imagine it's a thrill ride. 

What price honour if your fixation on it turns you into that least honoured thing- a traitor? What price patriotism when you hate the people who "are the city"? What price family values when they produce such brutes?  For all its action-packed swiftness, Coriolanus is a relentlessly bleak play.  Is there anything good to be said about these people, their institutions, their values? 

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