Sunday, March 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #239- William Shakespeare: Coriolanus (up to Act 1, Scene 2)

Ever heard of this play? I hadn't, and that's primarily my reason for picking it. In my ongoing attempt to read all of Shakespeare's plays and the Bible, I needed something to liven it up a little.

I loved the opening scene. If an angry mob doesn't pull you in, what does? For as much as we go on about higher ideals, psychology and philosophy in Shakespeare's plays, he was just as much about cheap thrills. His knack was being able to do both; entertain and enlighten. The opening scene does just that.

The rioters are angry, hungry citizens of Rome. They want to go after Caius Marcius (the title character- his named is changed later on) because, as a general in the Roman army, they blame him for hording grain from the people. A debate ensuing between two citizens reveals one of the predominate themes in the play: pride. The second citizen, who seems less sure of the mob's actions, asks "Consider you what services he has done for his country?" and the first citizen replies, "Very well; and could be content to give him good report for't; but that he pays himself with being proud."
It immediately got me to thinking. Is this a case of an ends justifying a means? Or rather an ends justifying a purpose? In other words, would pride matter if the end result was (usually) something good for the people? And anyways, is there such thing as a truly selfless act? I called Oprah to get her two cents worth, but she told me that I need to respect the restraining order and to F--- Off.

But more important than the answers to those questions, is the fact that they are raised it all. It could have been a simple mob sequence, but Shakespeare brilliantly intertwined such thought-provoking dialogue with the action.

I read a synopses of this play in Wikipedia, primarily to see why it was one of the bard's lesser known plays. Of the more critical comments, it is suggested that "The play maintains a serious tone throughout, without any of the familiar comic scenes, fools, or other stock devices commonly used by Shakespeare to lighten his tragedies." And while I'm only two scenes in, I think there is humour present. Not as obvious as in his other works, I think the comedy in this play is subject to the reader (or audience). I'm sure not everyone would see the humour in Caius Marcius's entrance, but I thought the way he single handedly destroyed Menenius Agrippa's defence of his (Marcius's) character to the mob, was tragically funny. Menenius almost has the rioters convinced that Marcius's actions were necessary, and then Marcius shows up. Immediately he starts lambasting the crowd with sheer contempt. The irony of his actions, when he was about to be saved, is pretty funny in itself, but the contempt for the commoners is even more precious; "What's the matter, you dissentious rogues, That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, make yourselves scabs?" Mr. Burns himself would be proud.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have never heard of this play either. I wonder if Oprah has. I wonder if she's putting it on her list now that you've set her straight.

Now I'm curious as to how many other plays he wrote that we never hear about. Maybe I'll have to wiki Will.

John Mutford said...

Barbara, There are a few more I hadn't heard of, or at the very least had very little knowledge of. I'm reading from a Complete Works collection.

Thanks to Allison for the latest blog write-up about my quest to be on Canada Reads 2008.

Anonymous said...

They did this play at Stratford this past summer. I hadn't heard of it until then.

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, Did you see it and if so, did you like it?

The Humanity Critic said...

That's definitely something that I'm going to have to check out, it seems interesting..

John Mutford said...

Humanity Critic,
So far it's pretty good. I've heard that some say it's pretty violent. While there are a lot of battle scenes, so far it's nothing like Titus. Now that's violent.

Allison said...

I have heard of this play, and think I read it when I was younger, clearly it didn't stick, but I might have to give it another read.

I was born in Stratford and its mandatory we know all things Shakespeare (and his sister of course), my public school was afterall called, Hamlet. I was so upset when my parents moved us right around junior high, I could have gone to King Lear next.

John Mutford said...

Allison, Thanks a lot. Now I have "Stay" stuck in my head.

King Lear was my least favourite so far. To read that is. I've never actually seen any Shakespeare performed live. For shame.

"You'd better hope and pray..."

Anonymous said...

I didn't see it, but I remember hearing about it because a friend was going to Stratford to see a play, and it was going to be that one or something else (and she went with the something else). The other reason I remember it was because Colm Feore was in it, and I've seen him in a number of Stratford Shakespeare productions (Taming of the Shrew - many, many years ago - Romeo and Juliet, and MacBeth).

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, I haven't seen a lot of plays in general. The price to pay for growing up in a small town I guess. Ah well, small towns have other perks, I guess.