Coriolanus

Definition

Theater

  • A tragedy by Shakespeare, written c. 1605 - 08;no record of a Jacobean performance has survived.

    The plot is taken from Plutarch's Lives. When the Romangeneral Caius Marcius captures Coriol from the Volscians, led by TullusAufidius, he is dubbed Coriolanus in honour of his victory and receivesa hero's welcome in Rome. He is soon offered the consulship but hisunwillingness to court the favour of the populace (together with theplotting of the tribunes) leads instead to his banishment. Enraged,he travels to Antium, where Aufidius is living, and offers to jointhe Volscians in an attack on Rome. Coriolanus soon has the city athis mercy and only relents when his wife and mother, Volumnia, pleadfor peace. On his return to the Volscians, Aufidius accuses him oftreason and he is stabbed to death.

    One of the most acclaimed modern performances was that ofOlivier at the Old Vic in 1958. Laurence Kitchin wrote ofthe scene in which Coriolanus confronts the Roman mob, "Therewas the bizarre impression of one man lynching a crowd." Duringthis unlucky production, Edith Evans (playing Volumnia) was involvedin a car crash and Olivier missed six nights after hurting his leg.He was replaced by the young Albert Finney, who each day was fed asteak by the worried management. Olivier gave another brilliant performancein Peter Hall's 1959 Stratford production. Hall also mounteda celebrated production at the National Theatre with Ian McKellenin the title role (1984).

    With his aristocratic pride and bitter contempt for the commonherd, Coriolanus has divided opinion amongst critics and playgoers,provoking much debate about Shakespeare's own political views. BertoltBrecht gave the play a Marxist slant when he adapted it as Coriolan(1962) while John Osborne rewrote it as A Place Calling ItselfRome (1973).

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