BB: Coriolanus, Act III

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

After a break, the brawlers return and dive into the third act of the Tragedy of Coriolanus.

Listen to the podcast here.

Over the past two shows the Brawlers have brought up T.S. Eliot a number of times. He rather famously claimed that Coriolanus, and not Hamlet (as is commonly thought), is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. This Slate article looks at T.S. Eliot’s claim. There’s a link to Eliot’s original essay “Hamlet and His Problems” in the article, if you’re curious to read it first hand.

For those of you who won’t read the article (shame on you!), here’s a little synopsis of Eliot’s position: he argues that Hamlet is a bad play with a defective plot that barely holds together. He considers it an unfinished work, barely cobbled together. According to Eliot, the only reason Hamlet’s so popular is because others (Coleridge, notably) have written in a whole psychology and depth to the character which Eliot thinks was never there to begin with. Coriolanus, on the other hand, is all action and (according to Eliot) is one of Shakespeare’s best plotted plays. (As in, the plot and the timeline sort of makes as is.)

While I’m not sure I can agree that a better plot makes for a better tragedy, he wouldn’t be the first to argue that. Here’s a short outline of Aristotle’s theory of tragedy from the Poetics: you’ll note that plot is the most important thing to him. Maybe that’s why it’s so important to Eliot. Don’t know if Shakespeare would really agree or not. He didn’t seem to pay much attention to what Aristotle thought.

Which is more important: plot or character – Coriolanus or Hamlet?

Tell us what you think! (And read the article already!)

Bard Brawlers for Act III of Coriolanus are Benny Hedley, Jay Reid, Eric Jean, Miki Laval, David Wheaton and Daniel J. Rowe

We promised you an action-packed act this week and Coriolanus doesn’t disappoint!

Coriolanus’ appointment to the consulship was practically a done deal before the tribunes turned the people against him once again. Act III, Scene 1, start with Coriolanus hearing that his enemy, Tullus Aufidius, has returned to Antium after his defeat at Corioles. The common people of Rome have been swayed by the tribunes to revoke their support of Coriolanus’ election to the consulship. They have taken to the streets to protest his repeated mocking of them. The tribunes provoke Coriolanus who makes many fiery and hateful speeches targeting the common people of Rome. Seizing on their opportunity, the tribunes accuse Coriolanus of being a traitor to Rome and seeking to make himself king. (Side note: Even during the period of the Roman Empire, it was illegal for anyone to call themselves King of Rome.) The tribunes order their aediles to take Coriolanus into custody to answer the charge but he draws his sword and tries to resist. Menenius talks him down and sends him home to avoid a riot. He agrees to convince Coriolanus to answer to the people’s accusations.

I think every Brawler had their own pronunciation this week. Just to set the record straight:

ae·dile:  noun \ˈē-ˌdī(-ə)l, ˈē-dəl\: an official in ancient Rome in charge of public works and games, police, and the grain supply.

Act III, Scene 2 takes place in Coriolanus’ house. The patricians and his mother try to convince him to return to the people of Rome and make a show of begging their forgiveness. Coriolanus is incensed that she would suggest he abase himself  by bothering to lie to the commoners to gain their votes. She suggests that once he’s consul he’ll no longer have to do that but that he shouldn’t piss them off while they still have the power to deny him the honours he deserves. Menenius adds his own counsel to Volumnia’s and Coriolanus, despite himself, agrees to do as they suggest.

As Coriolanus prepares to return to the forum in Act III, Scene 3, the tribunes are busy preparing the crowd for his arrival. They instruct them to support whatever decision the tribunes will make. The tribunes agree on their strategy which is to provoke Coriolanus so he loses his temper then they’ll have free rein, and the support of the mob, to guarantee the outcome they want: getting rid of Coriolanus. Coriolanus tries to appease the crowd and Menenius reminds them that Coriolanus’ rough words should be considered as those of a soldier untrained in politics and flattery. He asks the people plainly why they’ve refused him the consulship which he feels he has deserved. At that, the tribunes waste no time and immediately accuse him of having tried to seize power and declare him a traitor to Rome. Coriolanus will have none of this and flies into a rage. As the tribunes banish Coriolanus from Rome, he turns his back on commoner and patrician alike and in one of the most dramatic stage exist in Shakespeare, declares that “there is a world elsewhere.”

You’ll need to download the next episode to find out where he finds that other world. I guarantee you it will be worth tuning in. You won’t want to miss it!

If you’ve missed any of the previous episodes, they’re just waiting to be downloaded! Better yet, subscribe on iTunes for your (mostly) weekly dose of Bard!

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