I saw Coriolanus last night in Washington, D.C. at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall.
|Patrick Page as Coriolanus, photo by Scott Suchman|
He was the first actor to play Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin in the Spiderman musical, directed by Julie Taymor. And as you can see for yourself, he has done a lot of Shakespeare.
As a result, I had difficulty understanding the play.
I admit that I have not studied the play very much since then, because the meaning of the play and the motivation of Coriolanus seemed to be impenetrable.
|From Left: Aaryn Kopp, Patrick Page, Diane D'Aquila and Reginald Andre Jackson|
photo by Scott Suchman
Diane D’Aquila as his mother Volumnia, Aaryn Kopp as his wife Virgilia, Robert Sicular as arguably his closest friend Menenius, Reginald Andre Jackson as his bitter rival and later his ally Aufidius, and especially Hunter Zane as his son Young Martius -- all of them were so good in their roles, but more importantly they advanced the story and made the story much more clear.
|Photo by Scott Suchman|
Shakespeare is famous for giving funny lines to minor characters to humanize the stories and give us a break from all of the high drama. I don’t think it works in Coriolanus, and it’s not the fault of the actors or the director. It's in the language.
Basically, when the drama is so high, and the humor is so low, then the jokes fall flat.
Shakespeare was a King’s Man, and he wrote these plays not only for but about King James.
So, Othello is Otho is King James.
In simple terms, Shakespeare was asking the King to disrobe himself for the public, and he was asking the public to see the King for the man he was.
The scene with Coriolanus in his "gown of humility" where he must show his wounds to the public in order to get their votes to become consul is critical, and the scene was done to perfection last night at the STC.
It should come as no surprise that Shakespeare, who found the story of Emperor Otho in Plutarch, should use Plutarch again to tell the story of Coriolanus.
It is hard to pinpoint it, but I do sense a certain exhaustion in the writing. I think Shakespeare was getting tired of saying the same things over and over again.
But I do think that he was afraid of the monarchy. He had seen it up close in a way that few others had, and he could see how powerful and potentially destructive it could be.
I think Coriolanus’s contempt for the rioters is very much like King James’s contempt for his subjects.
Finally, when Shakespeare was writing this play he was not only concerned with the dangers and abuses of power by King James himself, but of what lessons King James's children were learning from their father.
One day, King James would die and one of his children, Prince Henry most likely, would succeed him.
Shakespeare was wise enough to be worried about those future Stuart monarchs.
In the production I saw last night, the director completely understood Shakespeare on this issue, and the scenes between Coriolanus and his son were excellent, and came to a great climax.
I don't want to ruin the ending of the play as I saw it last night, but it struck exactly the right note.
I am very excited to have seen this production by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. It allowed me to enjoy the play, understand the play much better than before, and tap into what Shakespeare was saying with this play -- over 400 years ago.
David B. Schajer
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