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TOPIC: Major themes

Major themes 10 years 7 months ago #129

  • William Shakespeare
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Class: is a crucial theme in the play; people are accorded power and respect according to their class, and the rebellion that has Coriolanus thrown out of Rome is a class-based one. Throughout the play, there are ideas that one's class determines worthiness, autonomy, or amount of intelligence. The play itself validates the patricians' ideas of class, that the people are a collective that are easily guided and deceived, and are unable to handle large amounts of responsibility or decision-making.

Pride: Coriolanus' fate is mainly steered by this trait; had he not been so governed by his pride, he would have been able to make amends with the people, and may not have even offended them in the first place. Some of Coriolanus' pride stems from his special abilities and his stature as a hero, and this pride keeps him from being a political leader and from being able to save his own career and life through compromise.

Warlike virtue vs. character virtue: Certain warrior traits, like courage, boldness, and heroism, were once held to be virtues of character in ancient Rome. However, this play examines how the two can be contradictory; an excess of warrior virtue can mean a lack of personal virtue, as seen with Coriolanus. He epitomizes courage, but at the expense of cooperativeness, modesty, and compromise. Does the virtue of a warrior-like character translate into a greater idea of virtue? Or does having warrior-like virtues preclude the having of more personal virtues?

Love and battle: Several characters in the play, Aufidius and Coriolanus being the most notable, manage to confuse love and battle in their interactions with one another. This emphasizes how much more important to them war is than their personal relationships; they are consumed by their need for war, and have nothing left over for other areas of their lives. However, this confusion of love and battle indicates a very intense relationship for the pair, and a rivalry that consumes their entire lives.

Rivalry: Displayed in Aufidius' and Coriolanus' relationship, rivalry is portrayed as a relationship exceeding all others in intensity and importance. Included in this rivalry are ideals of soldier-like honor, respect for each other, and a constant striving for improvement.

Reputation: How Coriolanus is treated depends very much on reputation; his reputation is hated, feared, and later loved by the Volscians, which determines how exactly they feel about him. Coriolanus' reputation in Rome, however, does not help him on some counts. Although the patricians and those of the noble class are well aware of Coriolanus' good reputation, the people disregard this lofty reputation when Coriolanus speaks out against him.

Appraisal of worth: The Volscians, the Roman patricians, and Coriolanus all seem to appraise worth based on military triumphs, which is a major part of their society's thinking. However, the difference between this valorizing of military strength, and the Roman people's seeming disregard for it, is a breach that will help Coriolanus' banishment become reality. When Coriolanus is judged by a standard of worth that values heroism and triumph, he is definitely worthy; but, his deeds and military worth translate into loathing from the masses.

Class privileges: A theme that is challenged by the tribunes and the people in the play. Coriolanus and the patricians believe that privileges are a natural part of class, and that the nobles are inherently more able to govern and make wise decisions. This view is confirmed by the play at large, and though the practice of conferring privileges based on social class is questioned by characters within the play, the play overall supports the nobles' privileges.

The past vs. progress: There is a tug-of-war going on at the heart of this play, between the patricians, who support the ways of the past, and the people, who want progress in their institutions. Also, this theme is embodied in Coriolanus himself, who is like a hero from Rome's past, in a time that has progressed past the political usefulness of such a man. Although Coriolanus is still a great achiever, he is out of date and in a place that does not valorize men like himself as much as it once did.

Words vs. actions: This is a distinction that often trips Coriolanus up. He, for one, uses words as if they were actions, and that by hurling as many brutal words around as he can, he might just win his arguments. Also, Coriolanus tends to do best when actions are required, with words to clarify and back them up; when he has to work with words alone, he often gets very angry, and his less pleasant emotions come through.

Gender roles and expectations: These roles constrict women like Volumnia, although she manages to be heard in spite of them; nevertheless, there are strict codes of conduct and societal expectations for the behavior of women, which Virgilia follows to the letter, although Volumnia cannot help but rebel. Coriolanus seems restricted by these same ideas‹forced to act like a hardened man, and stung when he has to admit weakness, or show any emotion.

Enemy and friend: Especially relevant and important in Aufidius and Coriolanus' relationship, and in Coriolanus' relationship to Rome. This determines who they are fighting and why; and when enemies and friends shift, as Aufidius and Coriolanus do, there is often confusion, and the threat of violence.

Fortune/ Fate: Coriolanus seems doomed from the beginning by the workings of fortune. First of all, he is a hero and a military presence who would have done well if given the autonomy and power of someone like Alexander the Great. Secondly, there are repeated notions throughout the play that Coriolanus is doomed to die no matter what he does; these are echoed by Aufidius and Menenius in the play.
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