Boozy Plays: Coriolanus

Hey, guys! Welcome back to the ramp-up to this year’s Stratford trip! Since Monday, we’ve decided that, yes, I would handle the first two weeks and A would take care of the second two since she’s on vacation. I’m still not sure which plays she wants to do, but I’d put serious odds on The Tempest being one of them. Your other possibilities are An Ideal Husband, The Music Man, and To Kill a Mockingbird. If we get lucky and no one takes those last two available seats for the Comedy of Errors show on the Wednesday we’re there, maybe you’ll get a write-up on that, but it’s unlikely in the extreme we’ll write about it ahead of time.

Anyway, here’s the post on the history behind Coriolanus I wrote on Monday. I put it up at a slightly odd time, so I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to experience one of my history rambles. I enjoy my history rambles. They make me happy.

But for now, let’s talk about pairing the play, which involves, as usual, talking about the plot.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (the others being, of course, Julius CaesarAntony and Cleopatra, and Titus Andronicus) and is largely based on Plutarch and, possibly, some Livy. Shakespeare, unsurprisingly for him, took a few historical liberties with the story of Caius Marcius (most especially with the order of events), who was given the cog/agnomen of Coriolanus for his role in the battle of Corioli. Traditionally, cognomen were the third name, but even by this point early in the Republic’s history (super early, actually, as we’re within a few years of the expulsion of the last Roman king), cognomen had sometimes become family designations rather than simply valor names. So agnomen, the fourth name, was sometimes used to distinguish people if they already had a family name.

*cough* Move away from the history, C. Damn.

OK. So, basically, the play is about Caius Marcius and it’s a tragedy, so… take a guess how the play ends. In essence… Caius Marcius is a self-important man who is openly contemptuous of the people of Rome because they have not served in the military. (This is especially assholey as the average Roman wasn’t even ALLOWED to serve in the army at this point in its history. It was only later that the poorest citizens could enlist.) The people are angry because they don’t have food to eat, so… they’ve got a point, you know? Can’t be all pissy at people for not serving in the military when they can’t and spit at them for being angry that they don’t have food, which you were part of withholding because they didn’t serve in the military. (There was a grain shortage. Just for the record.)

Anyway. Caius Marcius goes off to fight a war because that’s what he does. Cominius is the consul and Caius Marcius is his deputy in battle against the Volscians. Their leader, Tullus Aufidius, considers Caius Marcius a blood enemy, having fought him many times before. During the war, C.M. lays siege to the Volscian city of Corioli and takes it, earning the name Coriolanus for his efforts. He even faces Aufidius in single combat (my GOD did the Romans love winning in single combat), though the later does survive and the Volscians are not completely defeated.

Later in Rome, Coriolanus’ mother convinces him to run for consul and he does so (reluctantly, of course), winning a great deal of support from the Senate and even from among the plebs (which just goes to show how much the Romans loved them a military hero). Two tribunes, however–Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus (why yes, he is related to the Brutus who later kills Caesar… why do you ask? This one is also a fucking traitor. He is later part of the conspiracy to put Tarquin back on the throne and his own father has him executed. SUPER ROMAN, GUYS. SUPER ROMAN. This is a good moment to remind you that reading my post from Monday will give you some idea of the nature of Roman history of this time period)–lead a conspiracy against him, causing a riot against him which drives Coriolanus to denounce the whole concept of popular rule. He’s… As much as we shouldn’t really support Sicinius and Brutus because they’re scheming politicians, they might have had a point regarding Coriolanus’… suitability to rule. Anyway, they brand him a traitor and banish him from Rome.

Guys. Coriolanus shouts that he banishes Rome from him on the way out. SUCH A PETULANT LITTLE FUCK, am I right? Ugh. There are no heroes in this damn play. Seriously. Remember, Brutus ends up conspiring to put Tarquin back on the throne. The King. But he doesn’t want Coriolanus to rule. Even with the total lack of historical, uh… surety here, that is a special sort of hypocrisy. Ugh.

I do not like the Junii Bruti, guys. I just don’t like them. I mean, the one dude was willing to execute his sons, but that’s not exactly likable. But I am way more into dudes with Scipio in their name. Africanus, Aemilianus, whatever. And dudes name Marcus Antonius. I love me some Mark Antony, I admit it. I am well aware of his more problematic issues, trust me. I also love Alexander Hamilton and he was mostly problems wrapped up in man form.

But back to the play. Coriolanus is being a drama general (no kings in Rome, remember?) and goes to Tullus Aufidius, telling him to kill him to spite Rome. (DRAMATIC LITTLE SHIT.) Aufidius is like… “dude. Have you considered fighting with us against Rome? You’re a good general, and we both TOTALLY HATE ROME.” And Coriolanus is like, “OMG, did we just become best friends?” And Aufidius is like, “YUP. you know as long as you actually fight for us and don’t betray us or anything ok right bye.” So they shake on it and Coriolanus prepares to lead a new assault on Rome.

Rome, justifiably, is a bit panicked. They gave the man a nickname, dammit! Only the ones who know what they’re doing get those! Cominius and Menenius Agrippa (OK, note on the name here. His name is actually Agrippa Menenius Lanatus. Agrippa isn’t a known cognomen for the gens Menenia. Which is why, of course, I made *my* Agrippa a Menenius since this is a fantasy world I’m writing in. But I, once again, digress. Sorry. I really love Rome.) both try to convince Coriolanus to stop this and give them back the basketball stop trying to attack Rome, but it doesn’t work, so they bring in the big guns:

MOM. (And wife and random chaste woman because, of course, chastity is a Roman virtue in their women and it’s symbolic and shit.)

And Mom, wife, and random symbol of Roman womanhood do manage to convince Coriolanus to stop being a little baby and trying to destroy Rome. He relents (“but Mom“) and instead conducts a peace treaty between Rome and the Volscians and YAY ROME IS THE WINNER. OR AT LEAST NOT DESTROYED BY THEIR OWN GENERAL. YAY.

YAY, indeed, except for Coriolanus… who is assassinated by Aufidius, who is (kinda justifiably) upset at the betrayal.

Fin.

OK. So… that’s a heavy play. Despite my attempt at humor, it really isn’t a funny play. It’s dark and heavy and tense because the story of Coriolanus (itself a reconstruction–again, read the blog from Monday) is a reflection of the turmoil Rome itself went through in these years. It wasn’t stable yet. It was barely a Republic. People forget that, because Rome went on to become ROME, it was an incredibly tense and difficult time for them and no one knew if it would survive. Enemies surrounded them (the Volscians were also Italian, mind. Hell, their capitol of Antium was no more than 40 miles away from Rome itself) and were within the walls (looking at you, Brutus Junius, and your older brother, Titus Brutus Junius, too). Coriolanus, like Rome, is unstable and at war with himself, but ultimately he is strengthened by family (and chastity, Roman virtue™) and he, like Rome, is restored. Of course, this is a tragedy so he has to die. Can’t just let him ride off into the sunset. But still… ROME.

Anyway. Gotta pair this thing now. I have selected a Syrah, preferably one from a colder region to bring out the spicier aromas and flavors. It’s an often heavy red, great with barbecue and spicy foods, and I think that feels very Roman. No Roman play should be paired with a white wine, anyway. Rome is red. Red like their cloaks and the brooms on their helmets and the blood they really liked to spill. But this play, in particular, is dark and heavy, and Coriolanus is spicy as fuck. Like, guys… he banishes Rome from himself.

So spicy.

If you purchase a Syrah made in the Australian-style, it’ll be called a Shiraz.

Well, that’s it for me. I’ve written a novel, anyway. I’ll be back either tomorrow or Sunday to talk to you about Tom Hiddleston, aka versions of this play you should try to track down if you can.

See y’all later! Valete!

C

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