Aug. 13th, 2010

lareinenoire: (Elizabeth)
Day #22: An underrated play - Coriolanus

I could very easily list any of the Henry VIs here because they never get enough love, but I talked at length about their utter brilliance on Day 10. Then I was tempted by Henry IV, Part II, but I actually know quite a few people who love that play, so I decided to go with something completely different.

Namely, Coriolanus.

I only read this play recently, on the repeated suggestion of [livejournal.com profile] gileonnen, and it is absolutely fascinating. I knew absolutely nothing about the actual Coriolanus -- a far cry from reading Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra with all their accompanying cultural baggage. And Coriolanus himself is just a very different kind of tragic hero. He's exactly the right man for the military aspects of his job, but he can't handle the politics. Or, perhaps more accurately, he refuses to be a political animal. I suppose if Hamlet is driven by his brain and Othello by his heart, Coriolanus follows...his gut? His first instinct?

[livejournal.com profile] gileonnen makes the point that what makes Coriolanus interesting is its rejection of heroic tropes -- it's not about love or revenge or patriotism, but about how Coriolanus' actions are constantly misread as being something greater than they are. Actually, just read her entire post. She's got far more cogent thoughts on it than I do.

I'm not sure why this play isn't more popular. Possibly it is because it gets overshadowed by the better-known Roman plays, or maybe because the different levels of conflict are a bit hard to parse on first glance (Romans v. Volscians, plebes v. patricians, Coriolanus v. everybody, etc). Or possibly it's just not performed enough, though I expect that will change with the upcoming film version.

Also, Volumnia is BRILLIANT. She's got incredible power over her son and is completely unashamed of it, and powerful women in Shakespeare always make me happy.

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