Ferretbrain Presents: The Complete Works of Shakespeare Episode 10 - Coriolanus

by Wardog

With Special Guests!
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(MP3, 66:46, 128 kbps, 60.08 MB)
The usual crew & Special Guests discuss another of Shakespeare's tragedies about people who are basically arseholes.

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Comments (go to latest)
Sonia Mitchell at 23:40 on 2013-01-16
Yay, I'm special. I've been looking for an occasion to wear my Gown of Humility.
Cheriola at 14:30 on 2013-02-16
Please pardon me for posting before I've listened, but I'm trying to do these properly by first listening to some scholarly lectures, then watching the play (of which I'm going to understand maybe half, hence needing pointers what to look out for first) and then listening to your commentary. And this time around, it's slow going getting through the play, because dear god this protagonist is unlikeable.

Anyway, what I wanted to relay to you guys was an interesting point one of the lecturers made. Apparently Shakespeare was trying to make a point about how even extraodinary people can't live without their community, and how trying to isolate oneself out of pride and superiority complex (not just because one is a natural loner) will turn especially the heroes into something like a lonely god - which is described as a monstrous, machine-like and kind of animal-like or sociopathic state of being. Less than human, instead of more.

What was the quote...
"This Marcius is grown from man to dragon: he has
wings; he's more than a creeping thing."
"He loved his mother dearly."
"So did he me; and he no more remem-
bers his mother now than an eight-year-old
horse. The tartness of his face sours ripe
grapes: when he walks, he moves like an engine,
and the ground shrinks before his treading: he
is able to pierce a corslet with his eye; talks like
a knell, and his hum is a battery. He sits in his
state, as a thing made for Alexander. What
he bids be done is finished with his bidding. He
wants nothing of a god but eternity and a
heaven to throne in."

What I find interesting about this is, nowadays, Doctor Who would act like being a "lonely god" is something to cheer for or some kind of woobiefication. And judging by tumblr, most fans think it's badass. You could argue that RTD was going for something similar like Shakespeare - the Tenth Doctor certainly displayed some sociopathic tendencies and the show pointed this out at least in some cases - but on the other hand, the show did put him up like some kind of Christ figure as well, and glorified his cruelty with bloodless fairytale imagery. Mixed messages, if ever I saw any.
Wardog at 16:28 on 2013-02-16
Wow, that's dedication. Our sole piece of scholarly input is the, err, introduction of each play in the version the Complete Works I happened to have lying around. To be honest, I quite like engaging with Shakespeare without having to worry about secondary criticism - it feels weirdly liberating to be allowed to think of them 'just' as texts again - something you might enjoy or not enjoy.

I agree that Cori is a profoundly unlikeable dude - I think this particular production emphasises it as well, what with all the drawling and sneering. As Sonia says in the cast, I suspect it would be possible to portray him more sympathetically without straining the fabric of the text too much.

And I genuinely found his complete breakdown at the end, when he tries to reconcile, as you say, the isolation of the "super-man" with being part of a community and can't do it, deeply tragic and moving.

Actual tears were shed over here.

But, yes, that makes a lot of sense as an interpretation, and it's certainly interesting, especially with reference to pop culture larger-than-life heroes (like Dr Who and Superheroes in general). Though since I'm not a Who-ite or whatever the technical term for people who like Dr Who is, somebody else is going to have to step in on this one :)
Cheriola at 18:22 on 2013-02-16
To be honest, I quite like engaging with Shakespeare without having to worry about secondary criticism - it feels weirdly liberating to be allowed to think of them 'just' as texts again - something you might enjoy or not enjoy.

Well, I'm not a literary science or theatre-going person at all - the last time I engaged with actual literature was in highschool and I've been concentrating solely on the natural sciences since then. So I really don't have the mental tools to do much analysing on my own. Plus, as I said, I don't really understand all of the text due to the language barrier, even with subtitles. And I find I get more out of texts if someone explains the historical context to me. (In this case, there were bad harvests and food riots in England at the time Shakespeare was writing this.) I tried to watch the first few plays 'cold' first and then getting someone else's interpretation, but it's just not working for me. I miss all the important bits. I could go back and watch the play again afterwards, of course, but so far they've just not been that interesting to me to sit through twice.

I'm only putting the effort in because I thought "Well, if I put in the time to sit through all of Shakespeare's lesser known and frankly not that great plays, then I want to do it properly, so it'll benefit my general education."

Plus, in the end, it's all research for my fanfic. ;)

Though since I'm not a Who-ite or whatever the technical term for people who like Dr Who is

Whovian. :)
Jamie Johnston at 15:07 on 2013-04-27
Sorry I'm late! Yeah, showing your wounds was an actual thing in electoral campaigns. There's a story about one time when a candidate was doing it and had a toga malfunction that he then turned to his advantage by making an inspiring speech along the lines of 'okay I didn't mean to show you my cock but since we're here, yeah, I've actually got some wounds round here too, check them out, this is how hardcore I am in my fighting for Rome, vote for me'. Which they did, though lack of opinion polls make it difficult to know whether they liked the speech or the cock.

Coriolanus sticks pretty close to the Roman sources, plot-wise. Of course the Roman sources themselves were written so long after the supposed events that they have more to do with the times they were written than the time when Coriolanus existed, if he did. The thing about his wife and mother is definitely in the sources but interestingly would have resonated with a lot of Roman men. Men tended to be much older than their wives, and also spent a lot of time at war, so a lot of children grew up with young mothers and older / distant / absent / dead fathers. Which in turn brings up interesting stuff about how far Roman masculinity was actually constructed by women. The story is also interesting in the context of self-fulfilling Roman anxieties about mobs and extreme individualism and excessively successful soldiers and stuff. But I don't know how relevant those are to the Shakespeare play because no doubt the anxieties of Jacobean England were very different.

Arthur is right about consuls. At the relevant time they had genuine power and did stuff. They were directly elected but by a fairly elaborate system that had various in-built biases in favour of the social elite.

I'd be interested to see the Fiennes film because I saw the stage production that I think it's based on but was badly distracted by the fact that Fiennes seemed to be playing Leonard Rossiter playing Coriolanus.
Arthur B at 16:45 on 2013-04-27
Having seen the movie I think you can see a Rossiter vibe if you really squint but that might just be suggestion - I didn't get one when I saw it.

I think it helps making it a movie because the idea of relocating the warfare to some fictional Balkan states lends itself to being something you watch on a screen, which is the way an awful lot of us outside the region itself experienced the various not-Yugoslavia-any-more conflicts - the TV news drop-ins, for instance, work much better that way.
Jamie Johnston at 18:22 on 2013-04-27
Yes, I'd heard it was less Rossiterean, so hopefully less distracting. It was very noticeable on stage.
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