Coriolanus: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Shakespeare took his material from the life of Coriolanus in Plutarch. The action covers a period of about four years. The main scene is Rome; where the hungry people have revolted, and are asking for com. Menenius Agrippa, a patrician, pacifies them, but Caius Martius, a soldier, who despises the rabble, addresses them scornfully. Two tribunes are elected by the people who speak for them. Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus. The Volscians are in arms, and Caius Martius is one of the generals sent against them. Both tribunes dislike Martius and think his pride will be his undoing. Tullius Aufidius, General of the Volscians, and an old enemy of Martius, holds the City of Corioles. Martius captures it, covering himself with glory. He returns to Rome triumphant, and is given the surname Coriolanus. The Senate proposes to make him consul, but first he must show himself to the citizens in the Forum, humbly dressed, exhibit his wounds, and ask for their voices. He stirs up resentment by his haughty, overbearing manner, and reluctance to comply with this custom Sicinius and Brutus inflame me the people against him, saying that if he is elected Consul he will take away their liberty. Coriolanus, who is incapable of flattery or compromise, is finally banished. He goes to Corioles in disgust and offers his services to Aufidius, who receives him as a friend, giving him a joint command in his army. They march on Rome and sweep everything before them, but Aufidius becomes jealous of Coriolanus.

      Emissaries come to Coriolanus from Rome, begging him not to sack the city, but he is deaf to them all, even has old friend, Menenius. As a last resort his mother, Volumnia, his wife, Virgilia, and their son come, dressed in mourning. He listens to Volumnia’s entreaties and agrees to make peace between Rome and the Volscians. He returns triumphant to his Volscian city of Antium, but Aufidius has plotted his downfall. Aufidius accuses him of being a traitor, and of having made a disgraceful peace with Rome. Finally, he incites the Volscians to rise against Coriolanus, and they remembering him as a former enemy, foil upon him and kill him.

      “The play is Shakespeare’s most political been mounted at various times to reflect very different political attitudes. The play was not popular in past centuries. But modern critics and audiences have admired it greatly for its ironies and exciting story. The nature of the central character lacks the restlessness and pain of an uncertain heart, he is of politics, not of poetry. He has been described as a demented aristocrat a cheerless and unattractive snob” by Wyndham Lewis, and as an “incorrigible boy” by Granville-Barker. T.S. Eliot, however, thinks the play “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success”. (John Goodwin, A Short Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays).

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