Never heard of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus? You’re not alone. In Shakespeare’s day, it was never performed. Today it is rarely, if ever, staged or taught. But soon, two of Hollywood’s most respected actors, Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave, will try to rectify that situation. T. S. Eliot once called Coriolanus Shakespeare’s greatest tragic achievement, superior even, in his opinion, to Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra.
Coriolanus is set in Rome just after the fall of the Tarquin kings. The country is in turmoil; grain is being withheld from the people. In the rioting that follows, Cominius proves himself to be a courageous warrior. For his bravery, he is given the name “Coriolanus.” At the urging of his mother, Coriolanus runs for Roman Senate and handily wins. At first, it appears that he has won the hearts and loyalty of the commoners as well. However, two opponents of Coriolanus’s rule manipulate the plebeians and start a new riot. Coriolanus reacts badly. He goes into to a tirade against majority rule, saying that allowing the masses a voice is the equivalent of allowing “crows to peck at the crown.” Coriolanus is subsequently banished from Rome. He begins to plot vengeance. However, a peace treaty is eventually negotiated. Coriolanus then returns to Rome, only to be murdered for his betrayal. Ralph Fiennes, who also directed the film, calls Coriolanus “a collision between leadership and people.”
Coriolanus opens in wide release on February 14, 2012. Here is the trailer. If you go see it, please leave us a note and tell us what you think of the film. Is Eliot right? Or has the story of Coriolanus been justifiably ignored?