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Furnivall

Coriolanus. Another Roman play from Plutarch; but how different in tone and colour from the last! An interval of 520 years separates the deaths of the two heroes (Coriolanus's was after 489 B. C.; Antony's, 30 A. D.). Antony lived in the decay of public spirit, the growth of luxury in Rome, and after his death Augustus became its first Emperor. Corio- lanus lived in Rome's early austere days, just when she'd driven the lustful Tarquin from his throne, and establisht the Republic. And it was in the great battle against Tarquin endeavouring to recover the throne, that Coriolanus won his first garland of oak. But it is rather in the heroines than the heroes that the contrast of Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus is felt. Against the shifting colours of the kaleidoscope of Cleopatra's whims and moods, against the hail and storm of her passions, the lurid glow of her lust, the fierce lightning of her wrath, rises the pure white figure of Volumnia, clad in the dignity of Honour and Patriotism, the grand- est woman in Shakspere, the embodiment of all the virtues that made the noble Roman lady. It is the heaven of Italy beside the hell of Egypt. And from mothers like Volumnia came the men who conquered the known world, and have left their mark for ever on the nations of Europe. Read her lines in their beautiful rhythmic prose, ‘When yet | he was but | tender-bodied, | and the on | ly son | of my womb. | I | was pleased | to let him | seek danger | where | he was like | to find fame. | Had I | a doz | en sons, | each in | my love | alike. | I had rather | had eleven | die nobly | for their country, | than one | volup | tuously | surfeit | out of | action.’ See her overcome her mother's righteous indignation against her townsmen's injustice to her gallant son; see her on her knees to that son, for her country's sake, pleading to him for mercy to her native land, appealing to him in words that all Shakspere's last plays echo and re-echo to us: ‘Think'st thou it honourable, for a noble man, still to remember wrongs?’ See her win her happy victory, and then return with welcome into Rome, its life; and then acknowledge that no grander, nobler woman, was ever created by Shakspere's art.

Her one fault, her son tells us of, her scorn of the common folk. And as his character was moulded on hers, this fault he shared, but he wilfully greatend it, while his pride and self-love stopt his reaching the height of his mother's patriot- ism. ‘Flower of warriors’ as he is, ‘his nature (on one side) too noble for this world,’ bravest of the brave, generous in his gifts, his pride—as well of person as of birth—flaws and ruins the jewel of his renown. Treated with ingratitude— base and outrageous though in his case it was—he cannot put his country above himself. As Hotspur would third England, so Coriolanus would destroy Rome. His grip is on her throat when his wife Virgilia, mov'd by the gods, stirs his mother to appeal to him. They are joind by Valeria—

‘The moon of Rome, chaste as the icicle
That's curded by the frost from purest snow,
And hangs on Dian's temple,’—

and they visit that Volscian camp. Coriolanus thought he was above nature, that he could hear them unmoved. But mother, wife, and boy prevail. Corio- lanus is himself again, and takes death, as he should, from the hand of his country's foe, while his dear ones, unlike Portia, Cordelia, live on in Rome. The ingratitude of the Roman citizens, the cursings of them by Coriolanus, prepare us for the bitterer curses of the next play of this Group, [Timon of Athens].

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