If she says your behaviour is heinous…

So, we saw the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus last week, and I feel I was actually the wrong audience for the production. Apparently when my ticket ninja friend was sorting it all out, the usual response to “Do you want to see the Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus” was not “oh yes, I really love Coriolanus.

Except I really am kind of seriously into Coriolanus. And I know this is weird. I’m just sort of fascinated, in general, by the lesser-known, Shakespeares because the concept of Shakespeare is so embedded in English culture it’s hard to get a sense of his works as … texts I suppose, in their own right. As opposed to just the weight of whatever it is Shakespeare means landing heavily on your shoulders. Maybe it’s just me but it’s hard to disentangle the big ones (usually the ones you did at school) from Shakespeareness. I mean, Romeo and Juliet isn’t actually a story about two goth kids who pointlessly suicide … it’s Shakespeare. So I find it easier, in the outliers, to get back to a story that’s being told. Even if the story is bizarre, like Timon of Athens: man overspends, gets cross when nobody will lend him money, dies in a hole, ranting about the crapness of humanity.

I don’t mean to be all Ahhh The Divine Genius Of The Almighty Bard (which I think is part of the Shakespeareness issue I mentioned above) but there is something … something inescapably compelling not about Shakespeare himself, but the interpretative scope of his work, I think. I mean people always go on about the Great Relevance of Shakespeare, and on an emotional level, I suspect that’s probably true (as a species we still fall in love and kill each other, after all) but I think it’s the combination of that closeness, with a deeper, wider sense of distance. Like there’s an extent to which a lot of the time you’re engaging with Shakespeare you’re trying to work out what the fuck it’s supposed to mean, not linguistically, but holistically. Like Timon – I mean, is he a noble, generous man torn apart by the petty greed of jackals? Or a complete wanker who has unreasonable expectations, and entirely deserves to die in a hole? So you have this astonishingly complicated and fascinating mixture of familiarity and incomprehensibility, and since what essentially performances of Shakespeare do is put forward an argument for comprehensibility (i.e. that this character was like this, or this thing meant that thing, and so and so was inherently noble, and such and such a tragic waste) … you can literally watch the same play endlessly and never get bored.

Well, you can if you’re me. I might just be weird. Although I’m kind of done with Hamlet because the Tenant/Stewart version nailed it so hard for me, I never want to see another production.

To, ahem, get even vaguely back on topic, Coriolanus is a real winner in terms of “wtf” and “oh yeah”. I have absolutely no idea what it’s trying to say, or what it means, but damn I love trying to figure it out.

So, the play is vaguely based on Plutarch’s account of the life of the Roman general Caius Marcius, and it’s set in that bit of Roman history I really don’t get, like the bit before when all the stuff we know about happens after the overthrow of Tarquin Wossname (Superbus), and Rome is a republic?  Anyway, the plebs are pissed off because, well, basically this:

Essentially, the plot goes something like this:

Plebs: We’re hungry! We deserve to eat.

Marcius: No you don’t, you suck, because you’re poor.

Nice Senator: He doesn’t mean that.

Marcius: Yes I do.

Evil Polictian: Yes he does.

Plebs: Boo!

Senate: Oh, look the Volscians are coming.

Marcius: Yay!

Senate: And they’re led by Aufidius.

Marcius: Oh wow, Aufidius is so awesome, that if I wasn’t me, I’d be him.

Marcius’s mum: I’m so happy my son is probably going to die horribly in a bloody and pointless war. Because that’s what real men do.

Marcius’s wife: Sorry, I actually only have about three lines in this play and this isn’t one of them.

Marcius’s mum: I’ve been sending my son to war since he was sixteen. Otherwise he’d have grown up effeminate and sexually deviant, and I wouldn’t have loved him anymore.

Marcius: Aufidius and Marcius sitting in a tree…

Volscians: Rarrrr!

Romans: Eeeek!

Marcius: For fuck’s sake, you noobs!

Romans: Eeeek!

Marcius: Fine, I’ll siege them on my own.

General: Well, he’s dead.

Marcius: RAWRRRR!

Aufidius: He’s so dreamy.

General: Wow, you’re kind of OP, dude.

Marcius: Well, yes, but blushlol.

General: Why don’t we give you all the spoils of war?

Marcius: Oh no, I couldn’t possibly.

General: Srsly?

Marcius: Blushlol.

General: Okay, well how about we call you CORIOLANUS in honour of the way you somehow managed to siege an entire city on your lonesome?

Marcius: Cool.

Marcius’s mum: My son is all covered in sexy wounds. I kind of wish I was his wife.

Marcius’s wife: God, my husband just nearly died. And I’m slightly worried about my mother-in-law.

Senate: Yay Coriolanus, you are the best person ever. Let’s make you consul!

Marcius: Cool. But, just for the record, I hate poor people and I think they suck.

Nice senator: Well, can you pretend you don’t for like five seconds?

Marcius: No. Real men hate poor people. My mother told me.

Evil but having a point senator: Dude, this guy would make a shitty consul.

Senate: Look, just pop on the robe of humility, show the plebs your wounds, and it’ll be fine…

Marcius: Wait, what? There’s no fucking way I’m doing that.

Marcius’s mother: Don the robe of humility, dear.

Marcius: Man, I hate this robe of humility.

Plebs: So, uh, why should we approve your appointment of consul? I mean, those of us who haven’t died of starvation recently?

Marcius: Well, uh, I guess I kinda killed a bunch of people for this city

Plebs: Good point, well made. All hail Coriolanus, our new consul!

Evil but having a point senator: But, guys, as well a having literally no political skills, he clearly holds you in absolute contempt.

Plebs: Good point, well made. Fuck Coriolanus and the Volscian he rode in on!

Marcius: Fucking poor people! I fucking hate you! You all suck!

Nice senator: Uh, you’ve kind of messed this up.

Marcius: I don’t care. Did I tell you how much I hate poor people, and think they suck?

Nice senator: Yes but…

Marcius: I wasn’t raised to be a pussy.

Marcius’s mother: Caius Marcius, go out there and say you’re sorry, right now.

Marcius: No fucking way!

Marcius: Then you’re a shitty son, and you have a small penis.

Marcius: I’m sorry everybody. When I said I hated poor people and thought they sucked, I was kidding.

Plebs: Screw you!

Nice senator: Hey, he said he was sorry.

Plebs: He’s a traitor! Banish him!

Marcius: How dare you banish me! I banish you!

Plebs: Go away! You’re banished.

Marcius: Fine. If you’re going to be like that, I’m leaving.

Senate: There’s no way this is going to come back and bite us in the arse.

Aufidius: The last time Marcius conquered me in single combat was soooooo hot.

Marcius: Guess who.

Aufidius: Omg!

Marcius: The Romans threw me out.

Aufidius: That sucks, bro. I’ve just been sitting here dreaming about all the wounds we’ve inflicted on each other’s bodies.

Marcius: So either I can join up with you and we can sack Rome together, or you can penetrate me in the throatal region with your dagger. Either way, it’s a win.

Aufidius: I don’t think I want to penetrate your throat.

Marcius: Let’s do this thing.

Aufidius: On my wedding night, when I got to stick my dick in my virgin wife … this is totally better than that.

Volscians: Yay! We like Coriolanus best!

Aufidius: It’s so unfair. He’s totally leading the army when we were supposed to share, and I let him top me.

Romans: We are so fucked right now.

Senate: Send out Nice Senator, Marcius will listen to him.

Nice Senator: Marcius, don’t sack Rome, that’s just mean.

Marcius: Fuck you.

Nice Senator: Sadface

Marcius’s mother: Wtf son?

Marcius: Uh…

Marcius’s wife: Shit, I’ve got a line?

Marcius’s son: I’m just like … around.

Marcius’s mum: Look, I know I raised you to be a gay, machismo-obsessed killing machine with no compassion, generosity or empathy but … don’t you wuv me?

Marcius: Wah! Mother! Of course I love you, but I can’t reconcile my internal conflict.

Volscians: What do you mean, you’re cancelling the sacking?

Marcius: It’ll be fine. Rome will give you a bunch of stuff.

Aufidius: You totally betrayed me.

Marcius: Look, I’m sorry, okay?

Aufidius: And for the record, he took it up the arse, not me.

Marcius: That’s totally not true

Volscians: Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him! [ß actual line from the play]

Aufidius: Oh, now he is dead and I am sad.

Play: ends

So, yeah, it’s pretty odd really. But I do kind of dig it. I think I’ve seen four performances, and two films? And of them all, alas, Tom just wasn’t cutting it for me. I thought it was an interesting production, and something it did astonishingly well, actually, was articulate the random boatload of politicians, and give them what felt like recognisable identities. Also Mark Gatiss as Nice Senator was super nice. It was also pretty stripped back, I mean both the play itself, and the general staging. But I just didn’t quite get … much out of it. Argh. And it feels like everybody in the world and their dog is raving about, so I feel like … I must have missed something. But I guess it’s just one of those things, and sometimes things just got work for you. Also, there’s always this desperate need to somehow differentiate the Volscians from the Romans, and this normally involves silly accents for some reason. They were apparently from Yorkshire this time round. So Aufidius – who had a rather camp beard – sounded kind of weirdly like Ned Stark. And while I’ve made a bunch of jokes about the, err homoerotic under (or do I mean over) tones of Coriolanus, it’s way less fun if I have actual snogging happening. I’d much rather simmering and scar-caressing. And now it sounds like I’ve really though about this a lot. Which, honestly, no really, I haven’t, but I was it was just really odd to see Tom Hiddleston looking very serious and being groped by a camp Yorkshireman for no apparent reason. It felt almost like they were playing the whole militaristic soul-enemy thing for laughs, which is kind of sad.

For me, whatever the fuck Coriolanus is about, it’s also a play about peculiar surrogacies. I mean, again, I was sort of joking about it above, but people spend an awful lot of time kind of wishing themselves into other roles and other relationships – like Marcius half-wishing to be Aufidius, Aufidius and Marcius kind of wishing to be each other’s wives, Marcius’s mother wanting to be both Marcius himself and Marcius’s wife. And because there are very few personal relationships in the place, it’s all war and politics, it’s hard not to read these, in some way, as surrogates for the absence of the rest.  War is highly sexualised, for example, and politics is often compared to wooing, and there’s weird juxtapositions of bodies, and actions, and … performance.

They’d taken the wounds and thing pretty literally – there’s a bit where a post-war Hiddleston showers on stage, sluicing fake blood tenderly over his shiny, heaving abs. And this … y’know … fine. But I just don’t think “people think Hiddleston is sexy” on its own his enough to sell a performance, or a play.

Except, y’know, it totally was. Because everyone else leapt to their feet to applaud, and I sat grumpily in my corner. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and in places powerful, but it wasn’t standing ovation amazing.

Also, while I cannot deny Hiddleston is a charismatic fellow who moves well … it’s a rather polished, Eton-Cambridge man charisma, which I do not personally associate with … I suppose … my perception of what I imagine Shakespeare’s presentation of Caius Marcius could be. And I realise this is a slightly crap criticism because what I’m saying here is “didn’t fit my notion of how things should be” which is just about the worst criticism you can apply to any text, but it did mean I just wasn’t hugely engaged with the character, or Hiddleston’s portrayal. I mean, when he gives his speech about how all the poor people worthless measles, he just comes across as a slightly fervent Tory. What I did like, however, was his youth – there was this sense of a youngish man scrabbling for his place in the world about him, which gave an interesting of vulnerability to his absolutism, his suicidal political strategy, and his too-close, too-intense relationship with his mother.

He was also the most vulnerable Coriolanus I think I’ve seen, from the seriousness of the wounds bedecking Hiddleston’s much appreciated body, to slightly teary moments with his mother throughout. And weirdly I think this kind of diminished the impact of the final scene, where the apparently irreconcilable nature of honour and mercy, compassion, and masculinity, love and war, basically make him explode and die an onstage soul death, before Aufidius finishes him off in the next scene. I mean, for a play about a horrible person, who does horrible things, and essentially brings about his own downfall … it’s fucking tragic. And the sudden switch from broadly political to excruciatingly personal is like having a bone broken in the middle a theatre. The first time I saw it, it was such … an intense emotional shock – a moment of pure catharsis – to see this man, who has spent the entire play both embodying and enslaved to these rigid concepts of honour, pride and manhood  suddenly fall to his knees, weeping… that I think I actually cried too. Pity and empathy, and a strange sense of relief.  Before last year, I could actually count the number of occasional in my life I’d cried so … yeah … it was pretty big deal. But I think – and this isn’t necessarily a criticism – because Hiddleston’s Marcius is more human throughout, it feels like the end of a journey, rather than this moment of … savage, unbearable breaking.

So I was basically sitting there being all like whatevs.

musing

26 Responses to If she says your behaviour is heinous…

  1. Karen says:

    Sometimes the issue with a really big production is that the focus is too much on the actor, and the desire to make a version of a play their own, sometimes this works (Ben Whisaw’s Hamlet for me ) and sometimes the brouhaha isn’t warrantied.

    My first experience with Coriolanus was seeing the Olivier version on film at school, and I totally didn’t get it because I associated Oliver as a matinee idol then. Saw Charles Dance at the Barbican in 1990 and it blew my mind – I was still extremely naive I think because I saw the play being about a man with no balance in his life- his whole focus was maternal (mother + Rome) and his ultimate rejection of her, and Romes rejection of him.

    A man with no dad will focus on his mum, and also look for a role model in other men, and yes its homoerotic, martial relationships are consistently expressed through marital imagery – and there is reference to Run CMC (not my original idea), being a phallic symbol ‘O, me alone! Make you a sword of me?” But is it our modernity that makes us look for sub text ?

    I loved the precis maybe you should a Shakespeare a month?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      KJ Charles has also mentioned the Charles Dance Coriolanus, and I am duly sick with envy that I missed it. Whishaw’s Hamlet, though, omg, that was the first time I saw him – and fell so very much in love with him. Errr, and the play was good too. But I’m faintly obsessed with Whishaw,and his fragile ferocity.

      I think that’s an entirely reasonable reading of the play – I mean, readings can always be less or more complex, and I have no pretensions to be a particularly sophisticated audience. I mean, “unbalanced and mother dominated” has quite a lot more going for it than my “wanker sits in hole” interpretation of Timon of Athens 🙂

      I don’t fret too much about the modern lens through which we view, well, everything – unless there’s specifically spurious attempts to make Shakespeare “relevant” in which case I tend to get eye-rolly. I think whatever makes it interesting and meaningful is fair game 🙂

  2. Aija says:

    Aww, sorry to hear you didn’t fully enjoy the play! But I guess that’s just the way things are – once you’ve had the best nothing else is good enough.. And if something *isn’t* good enough you’ll keep looking for it till you find it. 🙂 Sorry for the corny Yoda part (what’s scary, I could go on and on about this topic) 😉

    P.S. Omg, your rendition of Coriolanus is precious beyond words, I laughed so much!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I was perfectly happy and grateful to be there, believe me. It was well produced, well acted & etc. – it wasn’t like it sucked. It just wasn’t quite the transcendent experience I’d be sort of led to believe I’d be getting. But it might just because I’m funny about Coriolanus, and have probably read it / seen it more than any sane human.

      But, yes, I’ve yet to find my ideal production. But at least I have an exciting quest to be on 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed my desecration of Shakespeare 🙂

  3. willaful says:

    I feel like this so often when trying to participate in popular culture… I think it’s because I expect movies, plays etc. to feed my soul, and so often things are popular for completely different reasons — OMG the visuals! — that do very little for me. This sounds like it’s made for the “let’s watch Tom Hiddleston be homo-erotic!” crowd.

    The Tennant Hamlet was amazing, though of course I’ve only seen it on film. I guess I haven’t seen “Hamlet” performed since I was young, but I’d never realized it was full of jokes!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m honestly pretty shallow, so sometimes I’m actually reasonably satisfied with shiny lights and loud noises. I suppose it’s that Barthesian distinction between texts of pleasure and texts of bliss. Generally I’m quite happy with texts of pleasure but if I’m expecting a text of bliss and I get blood-sluiced abs instead, I’m going to feel slightly cheated. Or rather I’d like my more bliss from my blood-sluiced abs… as well as the … you know I might just stop this sentence, because it’s officially the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. I’m not trying to say it was as a bad production, and it really wasn’t, it’s just I felt it coasted a bit on omg!Hiddleston.

      I love that production of Hamlet – I’ve got the film version as well, because I was so infatuated with it. For me, while Tennant is excellent, I very much felt it was Patrick Stewart’s Hamlet. He was … an amazing, urbane, plausible Claudius and I loved the fact he and Gertrude seemed to be genuinely in love with each other, so he wasn’t just this pointless Machievel. Basically, I was on his side, all the way through 🙂

  4. syleegurl says:

    Please summarize all of Shakespeare’s works for me. I’d be forever grateful. This is an honest request. 🙂

    Also, randomly saw this: http://insult.dream40.org/?fb_action_ids=593557497397973&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B462094360531575%5D&action_type_map=%5B%22og.likes%22%5D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

    …and thought of this post…and you…and Shakespeare…and stuff…

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Haha, I used to do such summaries when I was working with excluded students – I probably have my Romeo and Juliet somewhere 🙂

      Oh, speaking of spectacular insults, there’s a fine one in Cori – something like “more of your conversation would infect my brain.”

  5. Kaetrin says:

    Did you see the Ralph (call me Rafe) Fiennes/Gerard Butler film version? I haven’t seen it because up until I read your post I didn’t have a clue what it was about. Apparently it’s set in modern times but is done in the old language. And there’s grappling.

    Also I have never read or seen Hamlet. Or Macbeth. Or Othello.

    *slinks away*

    • KJ Charles says:

      Oh, I want to see the Gerard Butler film too, someone answer. Also, that it the best Cliff’s Notes of Coriolanus ever.

      • Alexis Hall says:

        As the local Coriolanus obsessive, I’ve seen it. I really like it actually. It’s very very stripped down – so I think anybody seriously invested in The Words of Shakespeare might get pissy because lots of those have been removed to make way for fighting and scenery but … I’m totally fine with that because … shallow. Also as I was saying, performances are an interpretative argument so part of that is choosing the bits you want to use, and how.

        Stylewise, it’s incredibly naturalistic in the way people speak and engage with each other, which is wonderful. You can get a really intimacy of language, I think, from filmed Shakespeare. They’ve set it in a kind of generic Middle East, so it’s all combats and machine guns and dust, which makes the whole personal warrior bond code thing a bit silly (they bonded over their heavy artillery) but, actually, the setting really worked for me. The word relevance makes me die inside but it kind of spun the text into a context that was slightly more accessible than post-Tarquin Rome without actually straining the themes and characters of the play. Also the kind of blending some of the scenes into news footage works surprisingly well. Or, worked for me anyhow.

        Some incredibly awesome performances, as well – Fiennes, especially, is more my notion of Coriolanus than Hiddleston. He has a kind of savage charisma to him edged by this weird … sense of lostness somehow. But his mother is brilliant, too, and Meneninus.

        • CD says:

          Hey there!

          I just started reading your blog and it’s loads of fun – sorry I hadn’t stopped by earlier…

          Anyway, I’ve only seen CORIOLANUS twice – once on stage and once on screen but both times with Ralph Fiennes in the main role. And I agree that Tom Hiddleston seems terribly miscast as Coriolanus: I have no objection to seeing the guy shower naked [fans self] but he doesn’t have that self-destructive gravitas to the point of machismo that Fiennes brings to the role. I have to say that the last screen version was amazingly good and really brought the whole politics of it all into the modern day – I was really impressed at how relevant the whole thing felt.

          However, if it’s still on by the time I come back to London, I might try to see it for the sake of Hiddleston’s sexy wounds…

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Nice to see you here 🙂 My blog is … completely silly but it is what it is 🙂

            Wow, that’s a real commitment to Fiennes. I did really like on him on screen actually. He’s a very compelling actor, actually, so his Coriolanus had this kind of slightly awful (in the traditional sense of the word) charisma as you say. Whereas Hiddleston’s charisma is more of the “fans self” variety which isn’t exactly what you want from a psycho, macho war leader. I did appreciate the slighter softer performance in some respects, and his youth made his general acts of stupid kind of interesting, but … overall … not for me. Showering aside.

            I do really like the film though – I thought the middle eastern setting was weirdly inspired, actually.

            I actually got tickets to this thing purely by accident so I’m not sure if they’re still available – but if they are, enjoy 🙂 They were filming it the night we were there (awkward) so it’s probably around somewhere. Probably on PBS actually which seems to be where British theatre goes to die 😉

          • CD says:

            Well, I saw Fiennes on stage at the Almeida over ten years ago – and I have to confess I knew nothing about the play and just wanted to see sexy post-ENGLISH PATIENT Fiennes. I loved the politics of it all but I mostly remember the scorching chemistry between him and Linus Roache as Aufidius. Hey, I was a teenager – what would you expect ;-)? I saw the film version of CORIOLANUS at the London Film Festival and, undistracted by the (very unfortunate lack of) chemistry between Fiennes and Butler, the politics of it really came through. I think they were aiming more for the Balkans than the Middle East but it did have that universal lack of specificity as to the geography.

            I just googled it and it looks like it’s over. No Hiddleston sexy wounds for me… Still, I think the National filmed it so might be able to catch it somewhere. But yes, Hiddleston’s brand of sexiness is the floopy-haired public schoolboy type of sexiness. But give him another 10-15 years – he might grow into it.

  6. PeggyL says:

    I think it all boils down to expectations. When you’re familiar with or have *deep* knowledge of a certain thing (be it a play, a song, a country, or even pasta), you have strong feelings; and when the outcome/experience doesn’t match/meet with what you expect, there enters disappointment. Thus, sometimes I prefer flying blind, or try to embrace surprises thrown my way. Riding a roller coaster is another business, though.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Yes, you’re probably right. I didn’t think I *had* expectations, really? (although blatantly I did). I mean, I’ve often seen very different productions of Shakespeare and not been troubled by the diversity But I guess there was just something about this particular production of this particular play… Though that ‘flying blind’ is precisely why I tend to look out for lesser-known Shakespeare plays 🙂

  7. KJ Charles says:

    Also, I meant to award you a million points for the Kiss Me Kate reference.

  8. Pam says:

    Based on this, still not sure if I will ever read/watch this play (though I rule nothing out), but I love reading your perspectives on things. And oh my gosh, your condensed version of the plot was completely hysterical XD You are just too darn entertaining sometimes 😉

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I … Coriolanus is an acquired taste, shall we say 🙂 Although I can see why Tom Hiddleston might make it more worth acquiring for some people 😉

      And thank you. I enjoy perpetrating literary violence on Shakespeare … for some reason 😉

  9. Megan says:

    This was amazing to read! I am sitting at my desk at work trying not to snort with laughter. I wish I understood the language better when I see Shakespeare, because more than half the time I’m trying to figure out what they’re saying, and losing the impact (and then I feel exceptionally dumb).

    Good to know about the Butler/Fiennes film, we have that on our queue.

    We just saw Ran, which is Kurosawa’s King Lear, and that was amazing. I like seeing things based on Shakespeare, because I understand the themes, just not the specific language (see exceptionally dumb, above). When I took classes in Shakespeare, I understood it all a lot better because I was able to read it, and back then, I’d have to say the Tempest is my favorite play, but Macbeth has been weaseling its way into my heart also, not quite sure why, but I like what it says about ambition and such.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Slow replier is slow 🙁 I’m so sorry.

      Actually, I’m pretty much the same with Shakespeare’s language. So either you’re not dumb or we’re both dumb 🙂 I think if you sit down with a play and read it really slowly you can get into it in a deep way, but that’s the most boring way ever to engage with a play. But in weird way I think it’s like opera – the more you stress about what you SHOULD be taking away, the LESS you get. And if you relax into it, and don’t worry about the random stuff you miss, then it kind of makes a holistic sense you can unpick later, and deepen with general familiarity with the play.

      That’s kind of way I find filmed Shakespeare easier in some ways – because filmed-acting is very different to stage acting, you often get more opportunity to engage with the words, since they don’t have to be spoken in a way that reaches the cheap seats at the back 🙂

      Have you seen The Hollow Crown? There’s lots of really well-spoken stuff in there.

      Hmmm..I’m not sure what my favourite Shakespeare, I quite like the weird ones, so Coriolanus, obviously,but Timon and … oh … Troilus and Cressida is made of weird. From the, err, more traditional canon I really like Hamlet, and Othello, and Richard II. I confess I’m not mad keen on Macbeth or Lear but I haven’t see any really stunning performances. Well, I saw Patrick Stewart as Lear but … I was just an odd interpretation all round.

      • willaful says:

        To quote “The Big Chill,” sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you. That was part of what was so wonderful about the Tennant Hamlet, I actually understood it. 🙂

  10. Noelle says:

    HILARIOUS review. Here I am commenting ages later. I stopped reading Coriolanus a few years ago because I was confused and really annoyed by the Caius Martius guy. Then I realized he was OUR HERO. I was like ughhhh I’ll just watch it sometime. After seeing a recorded version of the Donmar production and the Fiennes film, I’m finally reading the play.

    I am a huge Shakespeare nut, so I enjoy reading and watching Shakespeare. (Your comment about the sheer ambiguity of his plays describes one of the reasons for my obsession.) However, the more historical and political plays often leave me lost on the page, especially when I can’t tell anyone apart. (I had to watch Richard III because everyone had the same name.)

    As someone who wasn’t acquainted with Coriolanus, I liked the Donmar production–but did see some of your points, even without having read the play. Like you said, it’s a matter of personal taste. But I concluded that it must be a very difficult play to perform because WTF? Coriolanus himself is a jerk, then he’s humble, then he’s dropping truth bombs, then he’s a bloodthirsty killer, then he’s a mama’s boy (OK, that’s all the time), then he’s planning revenge on his entire CITY. He’s reviled and worshiped. He’s like a little boy but he’s a super macho man. How on earth is this to be played?!

    I disagree about Tom Hiddleston’s sexiness being too front and center. The shower scene was heartbreaking as we saw Coriolanus in a rare moment of vulnerability, showing the very real physical effects of war. He brings a fire and sympathy to many of his roles. In this case, I agree that he was TOO pitiable, a little too nice.

    I also don’t agree about the homoeroticism being more fun under the surface. 😀 That may come from seeing this production first. I guess I expected the words themselves to be way less sexual than they actually were. There are many queer readings of Shakespeare, but this is pretty much right there, to be played up or down, as you like it. As you noted, there was so much about the body, so much connection between sexuality and violence, that Aufidius and Coriolanus’s S&M relationship seemed pretty much overt. I didn’t find the kissing out of place since they were so damned obsessed with one another.

    Yes, I am also very interested in the strange ironies and swapping of identities! Coriolanus talks about being Aufidius, Volumnia lives through her son and daughter in law, etc. On top of that, there are so many instances of “betrayal,” including people betraying their own words. It’s very puzzling. For example, Coriolanus says that if he were on Aufidius’s side, he’d switch teams (er) to fight only him. Then he does join Aufidius and basically fights alongside him. Aufidius says he’d kill Coriolanus in his home. Coriolanus shows up at his house (again, very unlikely), and Aufidius doesn’t kill him then and there.

    So this is a very long post. Basically your review is hilarious and I am now obsessed with Coriolanus, so I’m jumping on that bandwagon. Also, I did see Patrick Stewart/David Tennant’s Hamlet in person!! It was gorgeous. I also loved Penny Downie et. all. It’s one of the only versions where I felt all the characters had almost as many complexities and private journeys as Hamlet. That fractured sense applied not only to Hamlet, but to everyone.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for the comment – and don’t worry about being late to the Coriolanus party, for – like of Gatsby’s – it never ends 😉

      And I’m just the same about … a lot of Shakespeare’s plays actually. I don’t really see The Point TM of reading plays at all – I mean, yes, obviously to study them, or to experience the, if you’re not currently in a position to see them performed, but so much of what of what a play is seems to me to be the whole experience. And the written words are only sort of the core of the idea of what the play might be. And with Shakespeare, especially – for lots of reasons, but particularly the one you mention, all the Essexs and Sussexs, who are difficult to tell apart 🙂

      And, yes, Coriolanus seems – in many ways – completely impossible. I think that’s partly why I like it so much: because the interpretative space is noticeably vast, there’s a lot of scope for individual productions to really make each iteration of the play very different, and very unique. It’s also one of those plays that seems to lack “canon” interpretations. I mean, with something like Othello or Lear are a bunch of established themes, and couple of widely accepted interpretations, and most productions I’ve seen – no matter how wonderfully done – usually end up going one way or the other. But I’ve seen three Coriolanuses (Coriolani?) now, and they’ve all been markedly different, and I’ve had come out with wildly varying, and exciting, feelz as a consequence.

      For the record, I did like the Donmar production, it just was the least successful *for me* of the ones I’ve seen. And probably Hiddleston’s sexiness being too in your face, is my problem, not necessarily the productions 😉 While I can see, in principle, why the shower scene could conceivably be a heartbreaking moment of vulnerability, it would only have worked for me had he been less vulnerable at other times. And, also, I guess because I didn’t really at any point really see Caius Marcius there on stage … I kind of saw Tom Hiddleston. So that scene, while I was watching it, wasn’t a young warrior literally embodying the violence of war … it was a hot English actor washing fake blood off his half-naked self. But, again, that’s … my issue.

      I agree that Shakespeare is pretty queer in many plays, in many ways … but I guess (again, for me, not as a general principle of what is right and proper 😉 ) … I think there’s a more interesting space between sexualised and literally sexual. Their relationship is intense, and the language of violence throughout the play, and in the wound-caressing scene especially does become wildly eroticised, but having it end in an out of place, semi-comedic gay kiss that you see Hiddleston’s Marcius visibly flinch away from … just felt pretty cheap to me. If you bring it to a kiss then essentially what you’re saying pretty explicitly is “lol, this is a gay thing” … when it’s not really a gay thing at all, it’s about the fact that these are men are so absolutely consumed by the idea that the only acceptable expression of masculinity is through violence … that the only space of intimacy, vulnerability, connection left to them, in this weird, broken, twisted way, is each other.

      That’s way hotter than a half-arsed snog 😉

      And, oh gosh, you’re absolutely right about the reversals – that’s fascinating. Especially because the most ostensible major conflict is Marcius’s refusal to “bend” his principles – thus leading to his exile.

      And I, too, am obsessed with Coriolanus *hi-five* 😉

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