I finished Coriolanus by William Shakespeare last week – I just haven’t had a chance to review it. I actually finished another book over the weekend – Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I’ll get the review for that book up later this week.
Now I have been mulling over how to write a blog post on a play by Shakespeare. His plays are full of themes, great prose, and drama, and of course I could spend a lot of time studying Coriolanus. However, I’m just going to give my thoughts on this particular play and the connection it has with the next book in the review queue, Mockingjay.
Anyway, Coriolanus is a play based in ancient Rome and it is about a Roman general who has defeated an enemy army, only to be exiled by the politicians in his hometown. The reason for his exile is that he is too proud to hold the title of consul and he must leave before he gains any real power.
Coriolanus is proud, and also deeply aware of social status in Roman hierarchy. Arguably one of the best quotes in the play is said by Coriolanus when he is banished from Rome. He refers to the plebeians who have exiled him as “cry of curs,” a pack of dogs, therefore telling them they are sub-human:
You common cry of curs! Whose breath I hate
As reek o’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you.
As in many Shakespearean plays, the role of gender plays a significant role in the story. Coriolanus is a strong, masculine general who has lots of battle experience. But by the end, it is clear that his aggressive, proud, male ways are not the way to peace. It is his mother and his wife who secure peace through talking.
I have to say this wasn’t my favourite Shakespearean tragedy. Even though Coriolanus is the main character, he doesn’t actually speak a lot and I think he only has one soliloquy (most of the play is in verse). We don’t get to see a lot of inner turmoil, but a lot of external conflict through all the other characters. So basically we are being told by other characters what his personality is. It is completely opposite to other tragedies, especially Hamlet, where we delve into each character’s mental state.
However, the speeches at the end of the play by Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia, are excellent. She pleads with her son for peace in a very passionate, loving way. It was classic Shakespeare. Too bad the rest of the play is just characters talking in boring prose. Then again, my favourite Shakespearean play is Romeo and Juliet and it is entirely composed of prose.
Despite my meh feelings towards Coriolanus, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the latest adaptation with Ralph Fiennes. That’s mainly the reason I decided to buy Coriolanus in the bookstore (it was between Coriolanus and Henry V). I think the next Shakespearean play I read is a comedy or a history. No more tragedy!
It was a bit fortuitous that I was read Mockingjay after Coriolanus because if you’ve read the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow’s first name is mentioned only once and guess what it is? Coriolanus! So obviously Suzanne Collins is telling us that President Snow has a lot in common with the ancient Roman general. Another famous ancient Roman name she uses is Plutarch (Heavensbee), who actually wrote the history of Coriolanus way back in ancient Roman times. Weird coincidence!
*I’m testing out my own rating system. It goes like this: “Pretty bad,” “Tolerable,” “All right,” “Exciting,” and “Enthralling.”
Book 7 Out of 60