Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

CORIOLANUS

This play contains many elements familiar from other tragedies and histories of Shakespeare. The subject is politics, and at its center is the mob, an uglier group than the one portrayed in Julius Caesar or Henry VI, Part 2. One prominent theme is how the struggle for political power gives rise to an inner conflict: responsibility to the state versus fidelity to one's integrity. This struggle is undergone by Brutus in Julius Caesar, Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, and several figures from the histories. The title character grows in self-awareness but is destroyed by a world in which he can no longer function. That predicament is shared by Brutus and Hamlet, among others. We are also conscious of the relationship between the welfare of a ruler and the health of the state, a theme at the heart of Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and all the history plays.

But this play is unique, for it is more cynical than the other tragedies. Although the hero is young, the tone that dominates is that of angry old age. Whether Shakespeare the man was as unhappy is impossible to determine. Nonetheless, the play's bitterness is not tempered by any of the hope or regeneration that is part of other tragic plays.

The primary source is the volume that served Shakespeare for his other works about Rome: Plutarch Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, as translated by Sir Thomas North. The fable of the belly (I, i) was apparently borrowed from William Camden Remains of a Greater Worke Concerning Britain ( 1605). Shakespeare followed Plutarch's presentation closely, but made a few significant changes. Plutarch's Coriolanus has been raised by his mother, Volumnia, and as a result suffers primarily from a poor education. Shakespeare's Coriolanus has been totally dominated by his mother, and her indoctrination and continued influence are at the core of his personality. Shakespeare also develops minor characters more fully, in particular Menenius and Aufidius, both of whom become intriguing counterpoints to Coriolanus.

The events of the play are set in approximately 490 B.C. At the start, the mob is swarming about, grumbling in discontent. The cause of their unhappiness is

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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