Coriolanus (/kɒriəˈleɪnəs/ or /-ˈlɑː-/) is a tragedy by
William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1605 and
1608. The play is based on the life of the legendary Roman leader
Caius Marcius Coriolanus. The tragedy is numbered as one of the last
two tragedies written by Shakespeare, along with Antony and Cleopatra.
Coriolanus is the name given to a Roman general after his more than
adequate military success against various uprisings challenging the
government of Rome. Following this success,
Coriolanus becomes active
in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is
unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon
he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will.
The alliances he forges along the way result in his ultimate downfall.
4 Date and text
5 Analysis and criticism
6 Performance history
9 Further reading
10 External links
Caius Marcius – later surnamed Coriolanus
Menenius Agrippa – Senator of Rome
Cominius – consul and commander-in-chief of the army
Titus Lartius – Roman general
Volumnia – Coriolanus' mother (historically, Veturia)
Virgilia – Coriolanus' wife
Young Martius – Coriolanus' son
Valeria – chaste lady of Rome and friend to Coriolanus' family
Sicinius Velutus – tribune
Junius Brutus – tribune
Tullus Aufidius – general of the Volscian army
Conspirators with Aufidius
Adrian – Volscian spy
Nicanor – Roman traitor
Volscian senators and nobles
Virgilia bewailing the absence of Coriolanus" by Thomas Woolner
The play opens in Rome shortly after the expulsion of the Tarquin
kings. There are riots in progress, after stores of grain were
withheld from ordinary citizens. The rioters are particularly angry at
Caius Marcius, a brilliant Roman general whom they blame for the
loss of their grain. The rioters encounter a patrician named Menenius
Agrippa, as well as Caius Marcius himself. Menenius tries to calm the
rioters, while Marcius is openly contemptuous, and says that the
plebeians were not worthy of the grain because of their lack of
military service. Two of the tribunes of Rome, Brutus and Sicinius,
privately denounce Marcius. He leaves Rome after news arrives that a
Volscian army is in the field.
The commander of the Volscian army, Tullus Aufidius, has fought
Marcius on several occasions and considers him a blood enemy. The
Roman army is commanded by Cominius, with Marcius as his deputy. While
Cominius takes his soldiers to meet Aufidius' army, Marcius leads a
rally against the Volscian city of Corioli. The siege of Corioli is
initially unsuccessful, but Marcius is able to force open the gates of
the city, and the Romans conquer it. Even though he is exhausted from
the fighting, Marcius marches quickly to join Cominius and fight the
other Volscian force. Marcius and Aufidius meet in single combat,
which ends only when Aufidius' own soldiers drag him away from the
An 1800 painting by
Richard Westall of
Volumnia pleading with
Coriolanus not to destroy Rome.
In recognition of his great courage, Cominius gives Caius Marcius the
agnomen, or "official nickname", of Coriolanus. When they return to
Rome, Coriolanus's mother
Volumnia encourages her son to run for
Coriolanus is hesitant to do this, but he bows to his mother's
wishes. He effortlessly wins the support of the Roman Senate, and
seems at first to have won over the plebeians as well. However, Brutus
and Sicinius scheme to defeat
Coriolanus and whip up another riot in
opposition to his becoming consul. Faced with this opposition,
Coriolanus flies into a rage and rails against the concept of popular
rule. He compares allowing plebeians to have power over the patricians
to allowing "crows to peck the eagles". The two tribunes condemn
Coriolanus as a traitor for his words, and order him to be banished.
Coriolanus retorts that it is he who banishes Rome from his presence.
After being exiled from Rome,
Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius in the
Volscian capital of Antium, and offers to let Aufidius kill him to
spite the country that banished him. Moved by his plight and honoured
to fight alongside the great general, Aufidius and his superiors
embrace Coriolanus, and allow him to lead a new assault on Rome.
Rome, in its panic, tries desperately to persuade
Coriolanus to halt
his crusade for vengeance, but both Cominius and Menenius fail.
Volumnia is sent to meet her son, along with Coriolanus's
Virgilia and their child, and the chaste gentlewoman Valeria.
Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son from destroying Rome, and
Coriolanus instead concludes a peace treaty between the Volscians and
the Romans. When
Coriolanus returns to the Volscian capital,
conspirators, organised by Aufidius, kill him for his betrayal.
The first page of The Life of Caius Martius
Coriolanus from Thomas
North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Lives of the noble Grecians and
Coriolanus is largely based on the "Life of Coriolanus" in Thomas
North's translation of Plutarch's The Lives of the Noble Grecians and
Romans (1579). The wording of Menenius's speech about the body politic
is derived from William Camden's Remaines of a Greater Worke
Concerning Britaine (1605), where
Pope Adrian IV
Pope Adrian IV compares a
well-run government to a body in which "all parts performed their
functions, only the stomach lay idle and consumed all;" the fable is
also alluded to in John of Salisbury's
Policraticus (Camden's source)
and William Averell's A Marvailous Combat of Contrarieties (1588).
Other sources have been suggested, but are less certain. Shakespeare
might also have drawn on Livy's Ab Urbe condita, as translated by
Philemon Holland, and possibly a digest of
Livy by Lucius Annaeus
Florus; both of these were commonly used texts in Elizabethan schools.
Machiavelli's Discourses on
Livy were available in manuscript
translations, and could also have been used by Shakespeare. He
might also have made use of "Plutarch's original source, the Roman
Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, as well as on his own
grammar-school knowledge of Roman custom and law".
Date and text
The first page of The
Coriolanus from the
First Folio of
Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623
Most scholars date
Coriolanus to the period 1605–10, with 1608–09
being considered the most likely, although the available evidence does
not permit great certainty.
The earliest date for the play rests on the fact that Menenius's fable
of the belly is derived from William Camden's Remaines, published in
1605. The later date derives from the fact that several other texts
from 1610 or thereabouts seem to allude to Coriolanus, including Ben
Jonson's Epicoene, Robert Armin's Phantasma and John Fletcher's The
Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed.
Some scholars note evidence that may narrow down the dating to the
period 1607–09. One line may be inspired by George Chapman's
translation of the
Iliad (late 1608). References to "the coal of
fire upon the ice" (I.i) and to squabbles over ownership of channels
of water (III.i) could be inspired by Thomas Dekker's description of
the freezing of the
Thames in 1607–08 and Hugh Myddleton's project
to bring water to London by channels in 1608–09 respectively.
Another possible connection with 1608 is that the surviving text of
the play is divided into acts; this suggests that it could have been
written for the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, at which Shakespeare's
company began to perform in 1608, although the act-breaks could
instead have been introduced later.
The play's themes of popular discontent with government have been
connected by scholars with the Midland Revolt, a series of peasant
riots in 1607 that would have affected Shakespeare as an owner of land
in Stratford-upon-Avon; and the debates over the charter for the City
of London, which Shakespeare would have been aware of, as it affected
the legal status of the area surrounding the Blackfriars Theatre.
The riots in the Midlands were caused by hunger because of the
enclosure of common land. Shakespeare himself had been charged and
fined several times for hoarding food stocks to sell at inflated
For these reasons, R.B. Parker suggests "late 1608 ... to early 1609"
as the likeliest date of composition, while Lee Bliss suggests
composition by late 1608, and the first public performances in "late
December 1609 or February 1610". Parker acknowledges that the evidence
is "scanty ... and mostly inferential".
The play was first published in the
First Folio of 1623. Elements of
the text, such as the uncommonly detailed stage directions, lead some
Shakespeare scholars to believe the text was prepared from a
theatrical prompt book.
Analysis and criticism
A. C. Bradley
A. C. Bradley described this play as "built on the grand scale,"
King Lear and Macbeth, but it differs from those two masterpieces
in an important way. The warrior
Coriolanus is perhaps the most opaque
of Shakespeare's tragic heroes, rarely pausing to soliloquise or
reveal the motives behind his proud isolation from Roman society. In
this way, he is less like the effervescent and reflective
Shakespearean heroes/heroines such as Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear and
Cleopatra, and more like figures from ancient classical literature
such as Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas—or, to turn to literary
creations from Shakespeare's time, the Marlovian conqueror
Tamburlaine, whose militaristic pride finds its parallel in
Coriolanus. Readers and playgoers have often found him an
unsympathetic character, perhaps mildly autistic, as his caustic pride
is strangely, almost delicately balanced at times by a reluctance to
be praised by his compatriots and an unwillingness to exploit and
slander for political gain. His dislike of being praised might be seen
as an expression of his pride; all he cares about is his own
self-image, whereas acceptance of praise might imply that his value is
affected by others' opinion of him. The play is less frequently
produced than the other tragedies of the later period, and is not so
universally regarded as great. (Bradley, for instance, declined to
number it among his famous four in the landmark critical work
Shakespearean Tragedy.) In his book Shakespeare's Language, Frank
Coriolanus as "probably the most fiercely and
ingeniously planned and expressed of all the tragedies".
T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot famously proclaimed
Coriolanus superior to
Hamlet in The
Sacred Wood, in which he calls the former play, along with Antony and
Cleopatra, the Bard's greatest tragic achievement. Eliot wrote a
two-part poem about Coriolanus, "Coriolan" (an alternative spelling of
Coriolanus); he also alluded to
Coriolanus in a passage from his own
The Waste Land
The Waste Land when he wrote, "Revive for a moment a broken
Coriolanus has the distinction of being among the few Shakespeare
plays banned in a democracy in modern times. It was briefly
suppressed in France in the late 1930s because of its use by the
fascist element, and
Slavoj Žižek noted its prohibition in Post-War
Germany due to its intense militarism.
Coriolanus has fewer familiar characters than either Troilus and
Cressida or Antony and Cleopatra, yet it shares thematic interests
with these plays.
Like some of Shakespeare's other plays (All's Well That Ends Well;
Timon of Athens), there is no recorded performance of
to the Restoration. After 1660, however, its themes made it a natural
choice for times of political turmoil. The first known performance was
Nahum Tate's bloody 1682 adaptation at Drury Lane. Seemingly
undeterred by the earlier suppression of his Richard II, Tate offered
Coriolanus that was faithful to Shakespeare through four acts before
becoming a Websterian bloodbath in the fifth act. A later adaptation,
John Dennis's The Invader of His Country, or The Fatal Resentment, was
booed off the stage after three performances in 1719. The title and
date indicate Dennis's intent, a vitriolic attack on the Jacobite
'Fifteen. (Similar intentions motivated James Thomson's 1745 version,
though this bears only a very slight resemblance to Shakespeare's
play. Its principal connection to Shakespeare is indirect; Thomas
Sheridan's 1752 production at Smock Alley used some passages of
David Garrick returned to Shakespeare's text in a 1754
Drury Lane production.
Laurence Olivier first played the part at
The Old Vic
The Old Vic in 1937 and
again at the
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1959. In that production,
he performed Coriolanus's death scene by dropping backwards from a
high platform and being suspended upside-down without the aid of
In 1971 the play returned to the Old Vic in a National Theatre
production directed by
Manfred Wekwerth and Joachim Tenschert with
stage design by Karl von Appen.
Anthony Hopkins played Coriolanus,
Constance Cummings as
Anna Carteret as Virgilia.
Other performances of
Coriolanus include Alan Howard, Paul Scofield,
Ian McKellen, Ian Richardson, Toby Stephens, Robert Ryan, Christopher
Walken, Morgan Freeman, Colm Feore,
Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hiddleston.
In 2004, the
Hudson Shakespeare Company
Hudson Shakespeare Company of New Jersey presented
Coriolanus as part of its annual Shakespeare in the Parks series.
Director King Rich Warren placed the action in a fascist 1930s setting
that mirrored depression era America. Other notable features of the
production centered on having the character of Coriolanus' mother
Volumnia played much younger than usually portrayed and having the
tribunes that drive Coriolanus' exile as social crusading women.
National Theatre Wales produced a composite of Shakespeare's
Coriolanus with Bertolt Brecht's Coriolan, entitled Coriolan/us, in a
disused hangar at MOD St Athan. Directed by Mike Brookes and Mike
Pearson, the production used
Silent disco headsets to permit the text
to be heard while the dramatic action moved throughout the large
space. The production was well received by critics.
In December 2013,
Donmar Warehouse opened their new production. It was
directed by Josie Rourke, starring
Tom Hiddleston in the title role,
along with Mark Gatiss, Deborah Findlay, Hadley Fraser, and Birgitte
Hjort Sørensen. The production received very strong reviews.
Michael Billington with
The Guardian wrote "A fast, witty, intelligent
production that, in Tom Hiddleston, boasts a fine Coriolanus." He
Mark Gatiss as excellent as Menenius, the "humorous
patrician". Writer for Variety, David Benedict wrote that Deborah
Findlay in her commanding maternal pride, held beautifully in
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Coriolanus's wife
Virgilia. Helen Lewis, in her review of Coriolanus, along with two
other concurrently running sold-out Shakespeare productions with
celebrity leads — David Tennant's Richard II and Jude Law's Henry V
— concludes "if you can beg, borrow or plunder a ticket to one of
these plays, let it be Coriolanus." The play was broadcast in
cinemas in the U.K. and internationally on 30 January 2014 as part of
National Theatre Live programme.
In July 2016,
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presented a production
directed by Brian B. Crowe. Broadway World called the production
"Extraordinary" and noted "Brian Crowe's excellent direction, exciting
staging, and the stellar cast make
outstanding...a must-see theatrical event."
In September 2017, the
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company will be staging
Coriolanus on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The play will open the
Rome Season, and will be directed by Angus Jackson.
Bertolt Brecht adapted Shakespeare's play in 1952–55, as Coriolan
for the Berliner Ensemble. He intended to make it a tragedy of the
workers, not the individual, and introduce the alienation effect; his
journal notes showing that he found many of his own effects already in
the text, he considered staging the play with only minimal changes.
The adaptation was unfinished at Brecht's death in 1956; it was
Manfred Wekwerth and Joachim Tenschert and staged in
Frankfurt in 1962.
In 1963 the BBC included
Coriolanus in The Spread of the Eagle.
Ján Cikker adapted the play into an opera which
premiered in 1974 in Prague.
In 1983, the
BBC Television Shakespeare
BBC Television Shakespeare series produced a version of
the play. It starred
Alan Howard and was directed by Elijah Moshinsky.
In 2003 the
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Company performed a new staging of
Coriolanus, along with two other plays, at the University of Michigan.
The director, David Farr, saw the play as depicting the modernization
of an ancient ritualized culture, and drew on samurai influences to
illustrate that view. He described it as “in essence, a modern
production. The play is basically about the birth of democracy.”
Ralph Fiennes directed and starred as
Coriolanus with Gerard
Butler as Aufidius and
Vanessa Redgrave as
Volumnia in a modern-day
film adaptation Coriolanus. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in May,
2012. It has a 93% rating on the film review site Rottentomatoes.com,
giving it a Certified Fresh award.
Slavoj Žižek argued that
unlike preceding adaptations, Fiennes' film portrayed Coriolanus
without trying to rationalize his behavior, as a raw figure for the
"radical left", a figure who represents contempt for a decadent
liberal democracy and the willingness to use violence to counter its
latent imperialism in alliance with the oppressed, someone he compares
to Che Guevara (who justified himself as a revolutionary killing
While the title character's name's pronunciation in classical Latin
has the a pronounced "[aː]" in the IPA, in English the a is usually
prononunced "[eɪ]." Ken Ludwig's
Moon Over Buffalo contains a joke
dependent upon this pronunciation, and the parody The Complete Wrks of
Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) refers to it as "the anus play". Shakespeare
pronunciation guides list both pronunciations as acceptable.
Cole Porter's song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from the musical Kiss
Me, Kate includes the lines: "If she says your behavior is
heinous,/Kick her right in the Coriolanus."
Based on Coriolanus, and written in blank verse, "Complots of
Mischief" is a satirical critique of those who dismiss conspiracy
theories. Written by philosopher Charles Pigden, it was published in
Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate (Ashgate 2006).
^ Jones, Daniel (2003) . Roach, Peter; Hartmann, James; Setter,
Jane, eds. English Pronouncing Dictionary. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 3-12-539683-2.
^ Spelled Martius in the 1623 Folio, otherwise known as Marcius, i.e.,
a member of the gens Marcia.
^ R.B. Parker, ed.
Coriolanus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994),
^  Furness, Horace Howard, The Tragedie of Coriolanus
(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1928), p. 596.
^ a b University of Michigan, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Michigan
Residency, 2003 Retrieved 15 March 2013.
^ Parker, 18–19
^ Parker, 18
^ Lee Bliss, ed.
Coriolanus (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp.
1–2; R.B. Parker,
Coriolanus (Oxford University Press, 1994), 2–3.
^ Parker, 4–5; Bliss, 6–7.
^ Parker, 5–6; Bliss,3–4.
^ Bliss, 4–7.
^ Parker, 6–7.
^ "Shakespeare was a tax-evading food hoarder, study claims".
Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ Parker, 7, 2; Bliss, 7
^ Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy
^ Kermode, Frank (2001). Shakespeare's Language. London: Penguin
Books. p. 254. ISBN 0-14-028592-X.
^ Eliot, T. S. (1963). Collected Poems. Orlando: Harcourt.
pp. 125–129, 69.
^ Maurois, Andre (1948). The Miracle of France. Henri Lorin Binsse
(trans.). New York: Harpers. p. 432.
^ Parker 123
William Shakespeare and Lee Bliss, Cambridge University
Press, 2000, pg. 32.
^ F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964, Baltimore,
Penguin, 1964; p. 116.
^ RSC.org.uk Archived 15 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
Accessed 13 October 2008.
^ Rosero, Jessica (July 4, 2004). "
Hudson Shakespeare Company
Hudson Shakespeare Company brings
the bard to Union City". The Union City Reporter.
^ Dickson, Andrew (30 July 2012). "National Theatre Wales's
Coriolan/us: ready for take-off". Guardian. UK.
^ Billington, Michael (10 August 2012). "Coriolan/us – review".
^ Moore, Dylan (10 August 2012). "Coriolan/us, National Theatre Wales,
RAF St Athan, review". Daily Telegraph. UK.
Coriolanus 06 December 2013 – 13 February 2014". Donmar
Warehouse. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
^ "Further casting for Donmar Warehouse's Coriolanus". London Theatre.
11 October 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
^ a b Billington, Michael (17 December 2013). "
Coriolanus – review".
The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
^ Benedict, David. "London Theater Review: 'Coriolanus' Starring Tom
Hiddleston". Variety. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
^ Lewis, Helen. "We three kings: David Tennant,
Jude Law and Tom
Hiddleston take on Shakespeare". New Statesman. Retrieved
Coriolanus – Donmar Warehouse". Donmar Warehouse. Retrieved 1
^ "English theatre: Coriolanus". Savoy Kino Hamburg. Archived from the
original on 23 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
^ "The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey". Shakespearenj.org.
^ Kennedy, Marina. "BWW Review: Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS at STNJ is
Extraordinary". Broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
^ "About the play -
Coriolanus - Royal Shakespeare Company".
Rsc.org.uk. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ Brown, Langdon, ed. (1986). Shakespeare Around the Globe: A Guide to
Notable Postwar Revivals. New York: Greenwood Press. p. 82.
^ Nesbit, Joanne (2003-01-20). "U-M hosts Royal Shakespeare Company's
U.S. premiere of "Midnight's Children"". The University Record Online.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Archived from the original on
2007-11-26. Retrieved 2017-08-03. Headlined by the U.S. premiere of
the stage adaptation of Salman Rushdie's award-winning novel
"Midnight's Children," the 16-day residency also offers new stagings
of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and
^ "Coriolanus". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ Wahnich, Sophie (January 1, 2001). "Foreword". In Defence of the
Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution. Verso Books.
pp. xxiii–xxix. ISBN 9781844678624.
^ Shakespeare, W. (1968). Coriolanus:
Special Illustrated Edition.
Starbooks Classics. Retrieved from books.google.com. Accessed 11 April
^ "Complots of Mischief:
Coriolanus and conspiracy". Odt.co.nz. 21
November 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
Lunberry, Clark (2002). "In the Name of Coriolanus: The Prompter
(Prompted)". Comparative Literature. 54 (3): 229–241.
doi:10.1215/-54-3-229. JSTOR 4125436.
Text of the play by Shakespeare:
– Full text of Shakespeare's play
The Tragedie of
Coriolanus – HTML version of this title.
William Shakespeare – text from Project Gutenberg.
Coriolanus at the British Library
Coriolanus public domain audiobook at LibriVox
Coriolanus – Scene-indexed and searchable version of the play.
Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus :
Plutarch's Life of
Coriolanus – 17th century English translation by
Plutarch's Life of
Coriolanus – 19th century English translation by
Aubrey Stewart and George Long
Coriolanus on IMDb
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