I think I’ve written here before about my last attempt at blogging, which can be found here, and how it all started when inspired by James Franco, I decided to start reading all of Shakespeare. Well, if I had just read Shakespeare and nothing else, I’m sure I would have finished by now, but instead I have concocted a ridiculous system to determine which books I read in which order (I would explain it, but it doesn’t actually make sense unless you look at my bookshelf, and even then I’m assured by friends it doesn’t actually make sense.) So I’m finally, more than a year after beginning the project done with Coriolanus (and I’m going alphabetically people – this is going to take a while.)
I will confess that I didn’t know what about this play until the Ralph Fiennes’ movie came out, which i didn’t see because it looked bloody and it was during awards season so I had a lot on my plate.
Basically the plot revolves around a Roman general named Marcius who is really, really great at being a general, but really, really sucks at being a politician. But his really ambitious mother wants him to be consul so he subjects himself to the degrading humiliation of an election, only to win. Then two political rivals (one named Brutus – but I don’t know enough classical history to know if there is supposed to be a connection to Julius Caesar or not) turn the public against him. He gets banished and then gets his former arch-enemy to become his ally and they prepare to sack Rome, but then his mother and wife come out to stop him. The former rival/ally feels duped and kills Marcius Coriolanus really violently, onstage. Then there’s half a page of guilt for having killed someone so noble. Then the curtain falls.
The play’s real message is about the dangers of populism, the tyranny of the majority, and how easily the uneducated masses can be manipulated into working against their own self interest, but I have vowed (to myself) that this blog won’t be a political outlet so I’m going to leave that alone.
War is not my favorite topic in Shakespeare, which is odd, I actually like war plays and movies more than most pacifists. I think they show the horrors of war more effectively than the news most of the time, because they make you connect emotionally to a character and then see the horror they have to go through. (I have this experience in movies and plays that aren’t even supposed to be anti-war, I don’t think you can make a pro-war movie really – though I don’t watch Tarantino so who knows.) Anyway – I think my problem with the Bard’s take on war is just that in an attempt to show the glory of combat and the camaraderie between soldiers, he often muddles characters together, or at least the characters tend to blend together in my head. There is a lot of switching loyalties in this play, and I honestly had to read some pages like 8 times before I could figure out who was on who’s side. (I know this would probably be made simpler by the nature of the fact that on stage I would be able to distinguish which actor was speaking more easily, but still.)
I can’t really say that I enjoyed reading this play, but I did find one aspect of it fascinating. The women are simultaneously so powerful and so subjugated (sorry for the critical theory word, but I do have an English degree). I feel like there is probably a lot of discussion of Volumnia, Marcius’ mother, who is domineering and controlling and passionate and would allow a great actress to chew up so much scenery, but I’m way more intrigued by his wife Virgilia. Even just that name, I mean come on. She is on-stage all of the time that Volumnia is, but she rarely talks except to exclaim and cry out, literally in one scene all of her lines are just repeated exclamations of grief. But despite this, there somehow seems to be real affection between the married couple, or at least I definitely think you can play it that way. The right actress could really steal every scene silently standing strong in her grief next to all the ridiculous drama swirling around her. (I’m dying to see what Jessica Chastain did with the part.)
So anyway, onto Cymbeline, which was surprisingly hard to find a used copy of (another ridiculous rule I’ve imposed on myself) but mission accomplished, hopefully I’ll get to it before next year…