Coriolanus — Acts I, II, III
Yay! A tragedy!
That seems like a messed up thing to be excited about.
Maybe, but after a run of comedies including one where I completely missed the entire plot, I could use a little super-drama, which I’m hoping this is.
We open to a mob of “mutinous citizens.”
Best. Beginning. Ever!
The First Citizen (that’s his given name in the play) delivers the plays first line, “Before we proceed any further…” which I kinda love. Because like… hello, where were you before? What did I miss? Why is everyone so angry? I’ll shut up and find out.
“You are all resolved to die rather than famish?” First Citizen asks. And the crowd screams, “Resolved! Resolved!”
Now I’m not going to go line by line through the entire play but it’s already good on page 1 and I just want to point out that I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING THREE LINES IN! Bully for me! The proletariats are upset with the government, specifically Caius Marcius. OMG that guy is so awful! Am I right? Power to the people! Right on!
Ooh. They want to kill Caius Marcius. This mob is not messing around.
In walks a voice of reason, seemingly. He is Menenius and he discusses body parts with the mob (but mostly the First Citizen). He’s long-winded at describing a metaphor of how Rome’s Senate is like a belly. I guess he means that all things arrive and settle there and then are dispersed to the rest of the body, ie. the people. Sure, why not. Belly belly!
Enter Caius Marcius. Rut roh. This is the very same dude the mob wanted to kill. Better watch your back, Caius! And your front!
His entrance is hilarious by the way. Menenius greets him with “Hail, noble Marcius!” and he responds with “Thanks.”
Thanks! Precious, William baby. I don’t know if this passed as humor in your day but today and for me it’s gangbusters!
Marcius goes on to basically rip apart the rebellion before it starts. He sees no justification for everyone to be so angry. Over what? Corn prices? Ludicrous. He boasts that if the crowd won’t settle, he’ll take his sword and run them all through. This guy is badass. For a senator.
A Messenger tells Marcius that the Volsces are at arms. Eh, ok. Marcius doesn’t seem to care so I’ll wager the Volsces are insignificant. Or are they?!
Some elder Senators enter and they seem worried about revolt. Marcius calms their fears. Brutus and Sicinius hang back when everyone else leaves. They speak of Marcius perhaps getting too old or full of himself? I believe these two doubt Marcius’ ability to quell the people. We shall see.
Who, what, or where is Coriolanus? Maybe this scene will explain? Welp, it takes place somewhere called Corioli so maybe that’s a hint.
A big shot named Tullus Aufidius gets word about Marcius, his old enemy, and how the man is hated by all of Rome. A couple senators counsel Aufidius, telling him war is an option, should he want to go that route. Or something. I think these are just chess pieces that may or may not move around throughout the play. I dunno. It was a quick scene to basically show, I think, that important people outside of Rome are hip to Marcius’s ill favor in Rome, and perhaps his ever-increasingly questionable tactics.
Virgilia and Volumnia. Ok. Volumnia is Marcius’s wife. Virgilia has a man at war. And Volumnia tells her it’s fine, or something, I don’t know. I want to say Virgilia is Volumnia’s daughter. Which most likely also makes her Marcius’s daughter right?
The Lady Valeria has arrived because of course they need another V in this scene. That was not meant to be crass, I really only made a reference to the letter V. Sheesh.
Anyway, Virgilia can’t handle talk of war and blood because she fears for her husband (?). She asks to be excused but Volumnia tells her to hush up and grow a pair and sit for Valeria.
Valeria kinda sorta mocks the two of them sitting there sewing. She then tells Virgilia to come out of doors and get some fresh air for god’s sake. But Virgilia is adamant about staying indoors until her husband returns safely. Valeria says she saw Virgilia’s boy playing with a butterfly. He tried and tried to catch it and when he finally did, he tore it apart. This pleases Volumnia who says he takes after his father.
Anyway, Valeria finally comes about to telling that she has heard word that the Roman army sits outside Corioli, waiting to make “brief wars.” I guess this is a good thing because it seems to ease Virgilia’s worries. I’m not sure I understand though because if her husband is in that army, wouldn’t he be in danger? Actually, it seems to cause her more concern as she dampers their spirits even more so upon hearing the news. So ok. End scene or whatever.
The Volsces army fights Marcius’s army and draws them back. Marcius is shocked at how they keep coming. He makes an impassioned Braveheart speech and charges the gates… alone. Marcius enters through the gates leaving soldiers behind calling him “foolhardy” and imagining he will most likely be killed on the other side. But soon, Marcius returns! Bloody and fighting his way back. His army goes to his rescue and they all enter the city together now. Neat.
Scene v, vi, vii
In the street, Marcius comments on how much he hates his enemy, Aufidius. He says that though he himself is bloodied and weakened, he can still defeat the Auf. So ok, good luck to you, I guess. I don’t think we are supposed to be rooting for you though. You seem kinda like a lone wolf jerky. But maybe that’s just my hot take?
At Cominius’ camp, he learns that Marcius may have met his maker. A delayed messenger tells him such. Have we met Cominius before? I’m going out on a limb here and saying that he is Virgilia’s husband. But who the hell knows. Anyway, the Messenger heard wrong, or at least, he heard right but then didn’t get the latest news, that after Marcius was bloodied in war, he fought his way back to his army and all turned out ok for him. In fact, here he is now.
Marcius meets Cominius at his camp and lo and behold, they’re old chums. That’s nice. Marcius again declares that he wants to fight Aufidius mono y mono. Okey dokey.
Lartius makes some war moves and that’s Scene vii.
Scene viii, ix
Marcius and Aufidius fight! Well, they seem to do more talking than fighting but it’s dem fighting words that make for good character beats! They’re both tough as nails and when they eventually do get around to fighting, they saunter offstage for the next scene to take place.
Cominius is heralding Marcius’s great acts of war. Marcius enters with a bandaged arm. So I guess he killed Aufidius? Right? Willy never says so but I’ve implied it.
Cominius offers Marcius lots of spoils of war but Marcius turns them down. Everyone cheers him and it is good.
Despite turning down the spoils, Marcius is given Cominius’ horse and a garland and the grandiose title of CAIUS MARCIUS CORIOLANUS!
Ahhh there it is!
“I will go wash; And when my face is fair, you shall perceive whether I blush or no.”
Aww. Coriolanus has some humility. Damnit, am I starting to like him?
By the way, he is no longer referred to as Marcius in the play. Every time he speaks, it is CORIOLANUS. So don’t be confused.
Coriolanus asks one thing. He asks that some old poor man gets good treatment. I guess the guy helped him out when he was ailing from his fight with Aufidius or something. Anyway, it will be done. The poor old man will have some reward. Geez, it’s like as soon as he got the Coriolanus title, Marcius became a much nobler man. Interesting.
Aufidius lives! Of course he does. If Marcius had killed him in battle, no doubt it would not have happened offstage.
Here, in the final scene of Act I, Aufidius once again declares his hatred for Marcius (he hasn’t yet got the memo that he’s now called Coriolanus). He claims he will finally defeat Marcius the next time they do battle. According to him, they’ve fought five times already. So it’s looking like a pretty awesome matchup to come.
The first five minutes or so of this scene are all about Menenius straight up destroying Brutus and Sicinius. This guy hands them their asses and does not relent. It’s awesome. The sheer number of barbs and insults Menenius throws at them is only superseded by their delicious, poetic, effacing nature. Brutus and Sicinius, two senators (have to be) are either too stupid to know they are being annihilated with words or it’s all just in good fun. It’s probably a little of both. The difference between them is that the objects of Menenius’s derision have spoken in favor of Marcius (remember him?) while Menenius finds the protagonist of the story loathsome and debased. I guess he’s displacing his feelings for the newly crowned Coriolanus on these too knuckleheads. It makes for excellent reading.
Volumnia, Virgilia, and Valeria enter and I’ll be damned if I can keep these girls straight. Volumnia mentions that Marcius, her boy, is coming home. So I guess I was wrong when I named her his wife in Act I. Sorry. I suck at life.
Anywho, they all discuss Marcius’ homecoming and how he was most egregiously wounded in battle. There is some question as to how many wounds he received and where. In the end, they settle on an extraordinary amount, thereby growing his tall tale before he arrives. Apparently though, he’s right around the corner. Because here he comes now.
Marcius is weary from his travels and not into all this hoopla. Surprising. He strikes me as the kind who would love compliments and fawning, no matter how weary his bones. But no, not this time. He goes off with his mother and the other Vs after much oohing and ahhing over his incredible battle scars.
Brutus and Sicinius talk at lengths about Marcius after he’s gone. They’re concerned that the people will not keep him in their favor for long. Maybe they’re just looking out for his better interests and want to keep the Senate as a whole. Who knows? All I know is that after that homecoming, I can’t get Prince Ali out of my head.
A first officer and a second officer have a similar discussion as Brutus and Sicinius did previously. They wonder at the fickleness of the people’s devotion, when it comes to Marcius. At the end of their short discussion, the officers basically shrug it off.
Begin the senate meeting!! Let’s get ready to goverrrrn!!
Ok, so Menenius speaks first and he’s all for giving Marcius rightful praise for his glorious war acts in Corioli. This is the same Menenius who we just saw lambasting Brutus and Sicinius over their love for the man. Unless I got that entire scene wrong (which is entirely possible and, let’s face it, probably probable), then Menenius is a blatantly two-faced rapscallion. The plot thickens?
Cominius sings the praises of Coriolanus. Yawn. Was Marcius really that godlike in battle? I didn’t see it. Everything he did happened offstage. Maybe that’s the point?
Anyway, the senate gives him his high praises and honors so whoopadeedoo. Can we get on with the story yet?
They insist that Coriolanus address the people and there is some discussion of showing them his war wounds. Weird. Marcius seems not to like this idea much at all. But I’m guessing he’s going to have to say something to them at some point. All of Rome is abuzz over this guy. He can’t just hide in the cellar and play his XBox hoping they’ll go away!
Brutus and Sicinius have another brief talk after everyone else exeunts. Brutus is concerned that Marcius intends to “use the people.”
What are you talking about? Is he?? I didn’t read that. Unless Marcius is a master manipulator. Is he?? I don’t even know what he intends to do by using the people? Gain more power? Shrug. Maybe. He’s in the best position to do so now.
Three citizens discuss Marcius because that’s all anyone can talk about. One citizen says that if Marcius shows them his wounds they should lick them. Eww! Maybe this is all hyperbole but I’m getting the feeling that half the people (and senators) believe his story and the other half do not. I hope that’s what I’m supposed to get out of this. Am I close?
Coriolanus tried to make a hasty retreat from his duty of talking to the people but Menenius pushes him forward and he has no choice.
It seems to go well enough. He shows his wounds and four or five citizens are impressed. Yeehaw.
He greets even more citizens. They get the same treatment. Yet when Marcius leaves to go to the senate, Sicinius and Brutus stay behind to ask the people their opinions of him. At first they seem to be polling in his favor. Then, over the course of much discussion, some of them turn against him. Perhaps recalling the hatred they once had for the man.
This all feels like filler for whatever is to come. There’s lots of indecision about the nature of Coriolanus. Is he a leader or a stooge. Maybe Act III will illuminate.
Lartius tells Coriolanus that Aufidius lives and very much still hates him. Coriolanus says the feeling is mutual and wishes he could come up with a reason to go to Antium and fight his arch enemy again. Oh boys!
Sicinius and Brutus inform Coriolanus that the people are angered with him.
Well, they learned that you mocked them for being starved.
But that was before! Now I am a mighty war hero! How could they have found out? Did you guys tattle on me?
No of course not how absurd oh heavens to Betsy!
I paraphrase, clearly.
The screw turns, again. And Coriolanus begins speaking traitorous words about the senators. They don’t appreciate that and they call the citizens against him. Brutus and Sicinius go as far as to have him seized and taken to a rock to be executed! But Coriolanus draws his sword and says, “No! If I must die, let me die here!”
But he doesn’t die because this is his play. Instead, he wanders off while Menenius tries to be the voice of reason, saying Coriolanus has done nothing to deserve death. In fact, he has fought bravely for Rome.
Maybe Menenius has a point, the senators figure. They decide to go talk with Coriolanus in a (hopefully) civilized setting.
A room in Coriolanus’s house. Volumnia tries to calm him but it doesn’t work. The senators and Menenius enter. Menenius tells him he should repent and take back his words.
Cominius enters and also tries to calm Coriolanus down and get him to do the same as everyone else has.
Yup. This entire scene is just that. Eventually, Coriolanus gives in and agrees to eat poop. He will go to the marketplace and try to make amends with everyone. Good luck, bro.
Sicinius and Brutus learn that Coriolanus intends to apologize. If he does, so be it. He can live, I guess. But they are ready to take him out should he go off the rails. Some other guy named AEdile is hanging around too. He might be an executioner.
Coriolanus seems ready to do as he is bid but then Sicinius calls him a traitor to Rome for trying to seize tyrannical power.
The fires i' the lowest hell fold-in the people!
Call me their traitor! Thou injurious tribune!
Within thine eyes sat twenty thousand deaths,
In thy hand clutch'd as many millions, in
Thy lying tongue both numbers, I would say
'Thou liest' unto thee with a voice as free
As I do pray the gods.
It doesn’t take much to set this dude on fire! Haha. I love me some angry Coriolanus!
They banish him from Rome. He doesn’t seem to give a good God dang. In fact, Coriolanus goes as far as to say that he banishes them! So cool. I mean, it’s a ridiculous notion but a baller move upon his sentence!
For you, the city, thus I turn my back: There is a world elsewhere.
He leaves. And the crowd chants: “Na na na na! Na na na na! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!”
See you next time for the culmination of the play.
Can’t wait til Monday for your Shakespeare fix?
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