"Coriolanus", Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


This Roman play is one of Shakespeare's last tragedies, best known for its political and military themes.

Its hero, Coriolanus, is a proud General who does not hesitate to show his arrogant and outspoken contempt of the Roman rabble.

The Tribunes banish him and he raises an army to take his revenge on Rome.

He finally concedes to the pleas of his mother to spare the city and leaves only to be publicly killed by his former allies. Peter Holland is a former Director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford upon Avon and President of the Shakespeare Association of America.

He is a pre-eminent international scholar. His comprehensive Introduction and commentary notes open up the language, themes and ideas in this complex yet richly rewarding play for the student and teacher.

The play is discussed in its historical and critical contexts and its theatrical history is analysed too.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, 20 illustrations in introduction
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Shakespeare plays
  • ISBN: 9781904271284

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Several years ago I read this play as part of a class at the University of Chicago. It was a revelation that entranced me with its drama. Even so, the warrior Coriolanus is perhaps the most opaque of Shakespeare's tragic heroes, rarely pausing to soliloquise or reveal the motives behind his prideful isolation from Roman society. Instead, the play demonstrates his character through his actions and his relationships. The relationship with his mother, Volumnia, is the most important of these. The tension of her love for him reaches heights that are only exceeded by those of Coriolanus fame as a warrior for Rome.This is not the Rome of the Caesars but that of the early days when the republic was in its formative stages. It was a city concerned with warring neighbors like the Volscians who are an ever-present enemy. While Caius Martius' success in battles with this enemy lead him to military honors and earn him the name Coriolanus, he does not have the temperamental qualities that would allow him use these accolades for political purposes. He is held back by his own nature and his situation leads to banishment by the crowds who once cheered him. His speech to them as he leaves Rome is memorable:"You common cry of curs! whose breath I hateAs reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prizeAs the dead carcasses of unburied menThat do corrupt my air, I banish you;And here remain with your uncertainty!Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,Fan you into despair! Have the power stillTo banish your defenders; till at length Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,Making not reservation of yourselves,Still your own foes, deliver you as mostAbated captives to some nationThat won you without blows! Despising, For you, the city, thus I turn my back:There is a world elsewhere."(Act III, Scene iii) It is, for me, the best of the lesser-known of his plays and stands tall by the side of the other two great Roman history plays, Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. In particular, the psychological depth of the character of Coriolanus, his relationships with his mother and subject Romans, and the dramatic action make this play a delight to read.

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