Coriolanus. ancient / modern / politics / warfare

So our virtues
Lie in the interpretation of the time:
And power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair
To extol what it hath done.

Tullus Aufidius – Coriolanus, Act IV, Scene 7

I saw Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus this afternoon and just, wow.  I was expecting it to be pretty good and to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so powerful and fascinating – I’m a little bit blown away to be honest. 

I didn’t know the play at all, but I know the story of Coriolanus from my Plutarch (interestingly he is barely in Livy – which is a shame for me, because I know much more about Livy and am much better able to interpret his politics and historiography).  I had no idea Shakespeare was such an astute reader of his ancient writers (though I’m not hugely surprised), and I’m completely fascinated by the presentation of the relationship between politics and the mililtary, the importance and the inflexibility of integrity, the dangers of populism and the importance of the popular voice, and the nature of betrayal in the film – the way that Shakespeare does it, for Ancient Rome, and the way that Fiennes does it, which feels very reflective of contemporary politics.  

It hits so many fabulous notes – like the way Coriolanus shoves the tribune Sicinius while he is railing against the people, when the person of the tribune was sacrosanct (which becomes more beautifully complex through Coriolanus’ warning that pandering to the people will create divisions in the political elite – which is part of what happened in the first century, and through the fact that Caesar took the ‘abuse’ of the tribunes as a justification for kick-starting the civil war in 49, making Coriolanus’ intrangigence as complicit as the tribunes in the strife that follows).  

I also love Coriolanus’ chair, at the end when Volumnia comes to plead with him (and, btw, OMG VANESSA REDGRAVE, how is she not nominated for all the awards, or is this something I get mad about next year?) – and the way that it stands as a throne, with monarchy being the anathema of the Roman Republic, making Coriolanus’ pride reflect the last king of Rome – Tarquinius Superbus (i.e. the proud). 

I’m not sure what I want to do with all of this yet – but this is all by way of saying that I’m going away to read some stuff and think some coherent thoughts.  And that you should go and see Coriolanus, because it is truly something quite special. 

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