Coriolanus by William Shakespeare


In 2020 I didn’t read many books from my Classics Club list (2), in fact it was only the spin books that I read, so this year I thought I would start to chip away at the fewer than 20 that I have left to read from my second list of 50 classic books. So I decided to read Coriolanus by William Shakespeare which I knew nothing about. I picked it up a few hours after watching the insurgents live on CNN as they beat their way into the US Capitol building and it felt just a wee bit spooky with
Act First Scene 1 Rome. A street. Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs and other weapons.Then they proceeded to march on The Capitol!

Those plebeians – the common people – were revolting over a lack of affordable grain, people were starving while others hoarded grain and made huge profits.

Caius Marcius (Martius) is a top officer in the army and he is absolutely full of himself, according to him he has saved Rome countless times over the years. His mother Volumnia is ambitious for her son and wants him to become a consul, but Marcius really despises the ordinary Romans and doesn’t hide the fact so he’s very unpopular with the citizens. Marcius tells the rioters that they don’t deserve any bread as they’ve never given any service in the army. He’s incensed when two of the rioters are rewarded with seats in the Senate.

News of a war having broken out with the neighbouring Volscians means that Marcius leaves to lead the Roman army in battle. When Marcius wins the war and news comes of his many brave deeds he’s given the title of Coriolanus after the town of Corioloni.

When back in Rome Coriolanus is encouraged to become a consul, but he needs to curry favour with the people which means he has to feign humility, he tries but his real character asserts itself and the upshot is that he is banished from Rome altogether.

In his fury Coriolanus teams up with his old enemy Tullus Aufidius of the Volscians and together they march on Rome. While Coriolanus and Aufidius are camped outside the city walls the Romans are in a panic, as is the army, and two of Coriolanus’s old friends go outside the walls to plead for mercy – to no avail. But when his mother Volumnia pleads with him to make peace he relents. This treachery infuriates Aufidius and Coriolanus can’t stop himself, he’s still bragging about how many people he has killed, which isn’t at all sensible as he’s in the company of a lot of Volscians – the relatives of the people he had killed. It doesn’t end well for Coriolanus!

And so another Shakespeare play bites the dust in these strange times, and there were some even stranger parallels between the two Capitols of Rome and Washington. The boasting and arrogant character of Coriolanus is very reminiscent of Trump, but that’s as far as the similarities go as Trump could never be called brave and at bottom he seems to have despised people who didn’t dodge the army which is the opposite of Coriolanus’s attitude.

My copy of this book is a very old leather bound one with no publication date, but it is inscribed, May N Haxton 25/12/06, so presumably it was a Christmas gift in 1906.

I read this one for the Classics Club and Back to the Classics.

12 thoughts on “Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

  1. There is a wonderful film of Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes that you might enjoy. We discovered it by accident while having an at home Shakespeare on film festival for ourselves a couple of years ago. I was sure I was not going to enjoy it at all, but I was so wrong.

  2. I didn’t know what this one was about either, but it sounds as though you picked a very appropriate time to read it! I haven’t put any of Shakespeare’s plays on my Classics Club list, but maybe I should have done as there are so many I still haven’t read.

  3. At university, we had a reading period after classes but before exams where we were supposed to catch up on assignments and papers, and the semester I took Shakespeare we were supposed to read Coriolanus. I don’t know why I didn’t get to it but I was spending a lot of time sighing over some guy and writing in my diary, so I suppose that was it. Imagine my horror when there was an entire essay on the exam! I was about to start hyperventilating and run screaming from the room when I remembered a Madeleine L’Engle book called The Young Unicorn which mentioned Coriolanus and that I had read several times. So I wrote the essay and saved myself from disaster.

    • Constance,
      Quick thinking. I’m sure if that had happened to me my brain would have resembled scrambled eggs as I’d be in such a panic. That was a good lesson that some guys can be dangerous – and diaries I suppose!

  4. I don’t have any plays on my Classics Club list, I’ll have to add some next time around. I also have less than 20 on my list and am struggling to read them — they’ve been hanging around so long I’m kind of annoyed just looking at them — it sort of feels like homework. (And I have epically failed at my own spin selection).

    I have read woefully little Shakespeare and should really remedy that. Coriolanus sounds very timely, in an eerie way. But I’m glad you enjoyed it and I will add it to my list. And thanks for participating in the Back to the Classics!

    • Karen K,
      I’m wondering which Shakespeare play to tackle next. This year I really must get stuck into the classics on both lists as last year was such a write off, apart from the spin books.

  5. My husband and son both love Shakespeare, but I have a hard time with the plays, the films of plays, and reading Shakespeare. Which is why I put what I hope is an easy Shakespeare play on my Classics List, Much Ado About Nothing. I have not even heard of Corolanius.

    • tracybham,
      When I was wee I read Charles and Mary Lamb’s retelling of Shakespeare and that made them a lot more understandable when I got around to reading the actual plays. Coriolanus is his least well known play I think – so don’t feel bad about it.

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