Last night I went to see the National Theatre’s Live broadcast of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, starring the wondrous Tom Hiddleston in the title role. My initial impression was speechlessness; the scenery was so simple, only a ladder and a few chairs, yet the experience was so immersive- I felt like I was in ancient Rome as the story unfolded.
Said unfolding story is the tale of Caius Martius Coriolanus, a proud soldier of Rome who helps to defeat Tullus Aufidius, head of the Volscians, and capture the city of Corioles, earning him the last name Coriolanus; he returns to Rome to hero’s welcome, the Senate offering him the role of Consul. However, to become Consul, Coriolanus must gain the votes of plebians, the people, a task that he undertakes reluctantly; soon after he gains these votes, two clever tribunes, by the names of Brutus and Sicinius, convince the people that Coriolanus is an enemy to them, holding on to his fury-fuelled words against the very idea of popular rule, and name him a traitor to the city of Rome and drive him into exile.
Desiring revenge against Rome, Coriolanus goes to make peace with Aufidius who is planning a campaign against Rome, and Aufidius welcomes Coriolanus’s assistance, but soon feels overshadowed by his new ally; their army proceeds to march on Rome, throwing the city into panic and chaos as the Roman armies cannot stop the advance. However, once Aufidius and Coriolanus have camped outside the city walls, Coriolanus’s mother, Volumnia, begs him to make peace, and he relents; Volumnia is hailed as the saviour of the city, and the Volscians return to Antium, where the residents hail Coriolanus as a hero. Aufidius, feeling slighted, declares Corionalus’s failure to capture Rome an act of treachery, and in the ensuing argument two of his men assassinate Coriolanus.
In short, Coriolanus is a tragedy, the tragedy of a man who is unable to make the transition from proud soldier to the people’s politician. The National Theatre’s adaptation, directed by the marvellous Josie Rourke, blew me away, I’ve never seen anything like it. The last scene, where Coriolanus is assassinated, particularly caused words to escape me; it was brutal and sinister and tragic all at the same time, the blood dripping from Coriolanus’s chest wound onto Aufidius’s face being particularly gruesome, yet conveying the tragedies of the play as a whole: death, betrayal and fatal changes of heart (although I believe that, even if they’d taken Rome, Aufidius would have killed Coriolanus out of jealousy anyway).
So. With that in mind, I have a request for you all: do read Coriolanus. If you can find it, watch the Donmar Warehouse’s adaptation online, and here’s the trailer to give you a little taste of the experience I had last night.
Enjoy, and adieu!