This year Shakespeare Theatre Company made the interesting choice to pair two military plays simultaneously --- Coriolanus and Wallenstein (Friedrich Schiller). My season tickets are so that I saw Coriolanus now and Wallenstein in a couple of weeks. Some of the casts overlap, which must be difficult.
I like this production of Coriolanus significantly less than the movie version released last year, primarily because Patrick Page's performance did not work as well as Ralph Fiennes in the movie. (I have learned not to automatically favor the Brits in any Shakespearean production, but in this case the Brit is better.) Coriolanus is hard to play --- not a character to easily inspire sympathy, perhaps even more unlikable to female and/or American audience.
The play makes me wonder whether Shakespeare favored democracy. Of course democracy is not a modern phenomenon, but in Shakespeare's time it was hardly the absolute ideal it is regarded today. He made "the people" and their "liberty" seem so stupid and frivolous that today's audience is bound to be disturbed. I wonder whether Coriolanus appeared more heroic and less troubling to audience living in monarchy.
It's about 1) machismo (not in the way Greek mythology does it but in an ironic way), 2) democracy and politics, and 3) family.
Ah, family. Shakespeare is always about family, about parent-child relationships. Is there one relationship in his plays that even approaches the ideal father like Ned Stark? I can't name one. Not that I know of. Each of Willie's parent-child relationship is pain and suffering, so real and so common. Volumnia and Casius Matius are a more typical study of the Oedipus complex than Hamlet.
Even early in Act 1, Shakespeare has a character observe "[He] did it for his mother." A similar point was repeated at the end. If I were the director, I would have Coriolanus deliver the climactic passage "O mother, mother!" in a whisper, with a sob and a sigh, instead of hysterical crying out in both productions. I think it should be done with a kind of resignation and exhaustion, after a lifetime of making sacrifices to Volumnia's wishes. Whom do you think his scars are for?
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