Sunday, May 13, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 43
Title: Coriolanus
Author: Shakespeare
Genre: Drama
Date Completed: 5-13
Pages: 156

I recently saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Coriolanus at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Consequently, I set aside my other reading to peruse this Shakespearean tragedy for the first time.

It seems an apt tale for today (and I see in the play’s program notes that it is most commonly performed in times of social unrest) for it is the story of a proud and arrogant patrician who disdains the common people. All of these qualities combine to deny him high political office and result in his exile from Rome. The people are fickle; they fear Coriolanus because of his success in war, yet rely on that same success to keep them safe from Rome’s enemies.

After his exile, Coriolanus aligns with the Volscians and threatens to overthrow Rome. He is swayed to abandon this goal near the play’s conclusion by his mother, wife and child. But the decision to spare Rome is Coriolanus’ final undoing. He is slain by the Volscians.

Shakespeare always rewards the patient reader and Coriolanus is no exception. But I continue to believe that Shakespeare is best when watched rather than read. His work truly comes alive in the hands of a knowledgeable director and an able cast.

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