Coriolanus : Act Five
PLOT UPDATE: Banished from Rome, Coriolanus heads straight for the Volscian city of Antium and meets with his nemesis, Tullus Aufidius. Angry at the citizens of Rome, he offers to team up with Aufidius to help the Volscians conquer Rome. News of this alliance reaches Rome, where everyone immediately panics.
"No, Cominius! Don't make us go talk to his mother! Anything but that!"
Poor old Menenius. He gets all puffed up blustering past the Volscian watchman, only to have all the air let out of his metaphorical balloon by the implacable Coriolanus. It's really very sad.
Volumnia, Virgilia and Valeria - the 3 Vs - are the only female characters in the play, and they get trotted out one more time here in a last-ditch attempt to stop Coriolanus. Valeria doesn't even get any lines in this scene. She just stands there, looking grieved and noble, representing all the other women of Rome who don't appear in this play.
Volumnia throws the kitchen sink at Coriolanus here. "If you destroy Rome, all the honour you have won will be effaced by your treachery!" Honour - check. "Look at your little boy! Look at your wife!" Appeal to family values - check. "After all I've done for you, you've never done anything nice for me." Emotional blackmail - check. She's relentless.
"I was moved withal" is one of those great lines that has so much more going on under the surface. The following video starts with a segment of John Barton's Playing Shakespeare series, in which he examines the irony and hidden meaning of the line, which is then superbly demonstrated by Ben Kingsley. I have also tacked on clips from the BBC Shakespeare production and the Ralph Fiennes movie, but you don't get better than Kingsley in this case.
Incidentally, if you haven't watched Playing Shakespeare, you need to go buy it or borrow it from a library right now, because it's wonderful.
0:00 - Playing Shakespeare, 1982, Mike Gwilym & Ben Kingsley
2:20 - BBC Shakespeare, 1984, Alan Howard & Mike Gwilym
4:17 - Coriolanus, 2013, Ralph Fiennes & Gerard Butler
"There is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger" is one of those great lines that just sums up everything.
Note that the people have completed their cycle of fickleness. First they didn't like Coriolanus. Then they banished Coriolanus. Then they were all "Oooh, we didn't really mean to banish him". And now they're ready to lynch one of their own representatives for banishing him.
Coriolanus has been staged as both pro-democracy and pro-fascist, and both interpretations (and a host of other interpretations along the political spectrum) are valid and can work. However, if you look purely at the text, the people do come off looking like idiots.
Another candidate for "shortest scene in Shakespeare". What's interesting here is Volumnia's reaction to receiving the accolades of Rome. She isn't given any lines in this scene, so we don't know how she reacts. Is she happy about saving Rome and getting the glory that she has previously only received vicariously through her son? Is she sad because she knows her son is probably doomed? Is she angry at the fickleness of the population? All of the above?
"Kill kill kill kill kill him!" is a direct quote. Shakespeare sure has a way with words, no?
In the text, Aufidius is not one of the people who actually kills Coriolanus; the conspirators do all the dirty work. However, in just about every performance I have seen, Aufidius most certainly gets his hands dirty.
And that's the end of Coriolanus! It's all over... apart from the obligatory death/marriage totals and one-page summary on the next page.
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