Coriolanus

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1995
directed by James Symons

Dissent is brewing among the citizens of Rome. Corn is in short supply, and the hungry people blame the nobleman Caius Marcius for their situation. The commoners are further enraged by Marcius' arrogant manner and lack of concern for their plight. As angry mobs rise throughout the city, the Roman Senate agrees to grant their demands for a voice in the government. Five tribunes will be selected to speak for the people. Then word arrives that the city of Corioli has risen in revolt against Rome and the Senate sends Marcius, a proven warrior, to put down the insurrection. When Marcius learns that his long-time enemy, Tullus Aufidius, is leading the uprising, he swears to "once more strike at Tullus' face" and return to Rome victorious. When the Romans reach Corioli and engage in battle, the soldiers run away in fear. Disgusted with his troops, Marcius engages the opposition single-handedly and carries the day. Cominius, the general in command of the Roman host, bestows on the victorious warrior a noble steed, the garland of honor and a new name; Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Coriolanus returns to Rome in triumph and is put forward as a candidate for the position of consul. But before becoming consul he is required to present himself to the people and win their endorsement. Reluctantly he does so; but just as he is about to be made consul, Sicinius and Brutus, two of the newly elected tribunes, goad him into losing his temper and insulting the people. Instead of being proclaimed consul, he is proclaimed a traitor and the people demand Coriolanus be banished from Rome. Coriolanus bids a bitter farewell to his wife, his mother and his few faithful supporters and leaves Rome. He joins the army of his former enemy, Tullus Aufidius, and returns to seek revenge. His friends and supporters try to persuade Coriolanus to spare Rome but he is determined to burn the city. In the play's climax, Coriolanus' confrontations with his mother and with Aufidius resolve his fate and the fate of Rome.

Date Time
Thursday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

What many regard as the Bard's most electrifying political drama, Coriolanus follows the rise and fall of one of the early Rome's legendary heroes. An incisive tragedy, Coriolanus questions the coexistence of absolute honesty and political expediency.

Dissent is brewing among the citizens of Rome. Corn is in short supply, and the hungry people blame the nobleman Caius Marcius for their situation. The commoners are further enraged by Marcius' arrogant manner and lack of concern for their plight. As angry mobs rise throughout the city, the Roman Senate agrees to grant their demands for a voice in the government. Five tribunes will be selected to speak for the people. Then word arrives that the city of Corioli has risen in revolt against Rome and the Senate sends Marcius, a proven warrior, to put down the insurrection. When Marcius learns that his long-time enemy, Tullus Aufidius, is leading the uprising, he swears to "once more strike at Tullus' face" and return to Rome victorious. When the Romans reach Corioli and engage in battle, the soldiers run away in fear. Disgusted with his troops, Marcius engages the opposition single-handedly and carries the day. Cominius, the general in command of the Roman host, bestows on the victorious warrior a noble steed, the garland of honor and a new name; Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Coriolanus returns to Rome in triumph and is put forward as a candidate for the position of consul. But before becoming consul he is required to present himself to the people and win their endorsement. Reluctantly he does so; but just as he is about to be made consul, Sicinius and Brutus, two of the newly elected tribunes, goad him into losing his temper and insulting the people. Instead of being proclaimed consul, he is proclaimed a traitor and the people demand Coriolanus be banished from Rome. Coriolanus bids a bitter farewell to his wife, his mother and his few faithful supporters and leaves Rome. He joins the army of his former enemy, Tullus Aufidius, and returns to seek revenge. His friends and supporters try to persuade Coriolanus to spare Rome but he is determined to burn the city. In the play's climax, Coriolanus' confrontations with his mother and with Aufidius resolve his fate and the fate of Rome.

Coriolanus is the least well known of the Shakespearean plays to be produced in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 1995 season. Director James Symons and the rest of the artistic team are working to create a production which will present this complex text in a way which will engage the audience both emotionally and intellectually. The setting for Coriolanus centers around a public street in Rome. This is not the Rome of Hollywood or Julius Caesar, but an earlier Rome which is, in the words of Director Symons, "feeling its way into its destiny." The people and the rulers are working out the nature of their relationship, the concept of tribunes elected from the common people is brand new, and a certain primitiveness is still evident. The bulk of the play's action occurs in public places, and Coriolanus does not, himself, indulge in quiet introspection. Instead, the focus is on the interaction between the citizenry and the leaders, a motif which will be emphasized in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival production. Scene Designer Randy McMullen has centered his design around a public street leading to a large city gate. Here, in the public arena, Coriolanus will unfold. In addition, McMullen and Symons have elected to border the acting area with a raised "gallery" where actors will, themselves, watch the action in progress. In this way the actors will function as both performers and audience, watching the story unfold while at times participating in it. The performance style which Symons plans to adopt in Coriolanus is a presentational one which allows the audience to engage emotionally with the play while continuing to analyze intellectually the implications of the story. Coriolanus is a man who finds himself in a situation where his accustomed role in society is no longer politically correct. As he tries to find a way to adapt to this situation, his every action is seen by the public, embodied by actors both on stage and observing from the side-lines. Thus, audience members will not only be watching a play, they will watch people watch a play. Finally, the over-riding goal of this production is to tell the story of Coriolanus . It is here, in the telling of the story, that the issues raised come to life. Was Coriolanus a hero who was unappreciated or a man too arrogant to succeed? Are the qualities that make for a great military leader incompatible with the qualities required of a politician? How much must a leader cater to the whims and tastes of the public? These are among the questions raised in this 388-year-old play, based on events which occurred nearly 2500 years ago, and they are questions which our production aims to resonate in this summer of 1995.

Noble Hero or Arrogant Boy? 
by Rebecca Gauss Over the centuries there has been considerable scholarly attention given to the nature of this, the last of Shakespeare's tragedies. The play has at times been characterized as a political struggle between the patricians and the plebians, the haves and the have-nots, and, indeed, this conflict is central to the play. In opposition to this view, however, is the opinion that the political conflict is merely background for a study of the character of Coriolanus; a great man warped and ruined from childhood by a dominating mother. Neither of these extreme views is satisfactory when the play is considered as a part of the entire canon. It then becomes clear that in Coriolanus, as in his other plays, Shakespeare is more interested in personal journeys than in ideas, and the person whose journey is most engaging is Coriolanus, himself. But what is the nature of this man, Coriolanus? Here Shakespeare leaves many clues but no clear answers. In many instances he epitomizes the sin of pride, yet in others he shrinks from praise and leaves the room rather than hear stories of his own valor. Coriolanus does not suffer fools gladly, and is often blunt and impatient. He verbally abuses the plebians of Rome, insulting and ridiculing them. He heaps scorn on his frightened soldiers saying, "You souls of geese, that bear the shapes of men, how have you run from slaves that apes would beat!" Yet, as harsh as he seems, he does not ask his men to do more than he does himself. His fault lies in his expectation that every man's defiance of death should equal his own. At times Coriolanus behaves like an intemperate adolescent who has yet to reach emotional adulthood. He is manipulated by his mother, Volumnia, who, after many years of practice, can say just the right thing to make him comply with her wishes. She begs him to be more temperate in his speech with the plebians and to seek their forgiveness in order to become consul. He argues that he cannot compromise his beliefs and be false to his own nature. His integrity, however, is perceived as stubborn willfulness. Volumnia vehemently argues with him, then treats him like a disobedient child, turning coldly away, saying, "At thy choice then. To beg of thee, it is my more dishonour than thou of them." Coriolanus immediately submits to her will. He approaches the marketplace, determined to be ruled by sense and not by anger, but the tribunes know his weaknesses better than he does, himself. Soon they have roused him into angry insults again, all thoughts of political pacification gone. But it would be inaccurate to say that the character of Coriolanus can be described simply as a case of arrested development. In many instances he shows great courage and strength. He is motivated by strong rules of personal chivalry. He is too honest to be a good politician, unable to lie to the masses in order to curry favor. While circumstances decide loyalties for Coriolanus, as long as those circumstances are constant, so is his loyalty. An important turning point in the character of Coriolanus occurs off-stage. After his banishment from Rome, Coriolanus appears at the home of Tullus and offers to lead the revolt against the capitol. What happened in the intervening time is unknown, but it is clear that a change has taken place. The man has become a machine, filled with inhuman resolve to exact his revenge. During the time since he was expelled from Rome, Coriolanus has come to believe that he was betrayed, not by the plebians alone but but the patricians as well. Now the whole city has failed him and his fierce pride will exact a terrible retribution. He joins the fight against Rome and this time the Volscian soldiers follow him as a god. Coriolanus's revenge on Rome is not, however, simply a childish tantrum in extremis. His personal sense of honor makes it impossible for him to forgive what he perceives as betrayal and treachery. To do so would contradict the strict code of conduct which has been his strength in the past. He can only do so when his mother, once again, manipulates him in the way that only she can. It wounds him greatly that both in Rome and in Antium he is renounced as a traitor. In the final speech of the play, Aufidius speaks of the noble memory the people will hold of Coriolanus, and truly there is something noble about a person who selflessly and uncompromisingly adheres to a code of conduct, however misguided it is. Coriolanus seeks glory, not power, and so inspires many to follow. It can be said that the story of Coriolanus is a classical example of the unforgivable sin of hubris. In this case, however, it was not the gods but the people whom he offended.