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Coriolanus

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“Coriolanus”, a play written by William Shakespeare, is based upon a life of a real person – an ancient Roman warrior Caius Marcus Coriolanus. The work describes a struggle between patricians and ordinary people. This was the period when Rome stopped being a monarchy and was becoming a republic. “Coriolanus” is a play of five acts which are firmly united and well-coherent. The tragedy has never been as popular or considered as outstanding as other works of the author. This might be due to the fact that it does not possess a deep hidden meaning, it is not as poetically exquisite and the characters are not that colorful. However, its obvious political meaning makes the play an object for heated discussions. Shakespeare provides strong arguments for and against authorities and democracy, describes a society in which few people are privileged and even more people are deprived of means for survival, talks about peace and war.

The play starts with the plebeians’ riot against patricians. The ordinary people are deprived of grain and may die of starvation, for which they, eventually, will blame the main hero, Caius Marcus. They meet him in the street and he talks to them in a disrespectful way. The tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, call Coriolanus a presumptuous prideful soldier who, being unable to compromise, will suffer a defeat. Although he is impeccable at a battlefield, which makes him an ideal candidate for a leading position, he obviously lacks communication skills: during his conversation with rioters, he directly states that they do not deserve the grain, “…this kind of service / did not deserve corn gratis”. Thus, he is turned into a common enemy of people surrounding him.

Since the reader knows that Coriolanus participated in the exclusion of the last king of Rome, Tarquin, it is possible to conclude that the country is now going through a period of changing from monarchy into republic. Obviously, the main hero has difficulties choosing between these two polities: he was raised to serve the king and to rule, but, at the same time, the society he lives in and which he himself helped to create is republican. Eventually, Coriolanus is exiled from Rome. Nevertheless, the most appropriate solution for him was to leave the city, for there was no place for him there any longer.

Coriolanus seeks revenge on the people who exiled him, so he goes to Aufidius, his former enemy, to become reconciled. At first, Aufidius is glad to get help from Coriolanus because he also wants to defeat Romans, but later he is afraid that his new ally will take all the credit. Anyways, their army attacks Romans and soon is about to take control of the city. When the soldiers are near the walls of Rome, Coriolanus’s friends beg him to leave the city, but he has no intention to do so. So, his beloved mother Volumnia pleads for mercy, saying that she will not let him enter the city: “thou shalt no sooner / March to assault thy country than to tread… on they mother's womb that brought thee to this world”. Coriolanus could not but listen to this woman and decides not to ruin Rome. Romans consider Volumnia to be the savior of their city. Soon after that, Coriolanus makes a peace treaty between Romans and Volcians. Meanwhile, Aufidius says that Coriolanus betrayed Antium’s Senators and accuses him of treachery. So, he organizes a conspiracy and assassinates Coriolanus.

To sum up, the tragedy demonstrates Shakespeare’s deep knowledge of both Roman history and state policy. Every event described in the play has something poetic and philosophic at the same time. “Coriolanus” is a vivid example of political issues and state affairs, and, despite the fact that it was written long ago, the problems evoked there are topical even nowadays.

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