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ceeded in his principal object, which was to exhibit the characters of the drama to the spectators of his days precisely as they appeared to those of their own.' The plan was scholastic, but it was not judicious. The difference between the dramatis persona and the spectators was too wide; and the very accuracy to which he aspired would seem to take away much of the power of pleasing. Had he drawn men instead of Romans, his success might have been more assured." ."* We presume to think that there is here a slight confusion of terms. If Jonson had succeeded in his principal object, and had exhibited his characters precisely as they appeared in their own days, his representation would have been the truth. But he has drawn, according to this intelligent critic, Romans instead of men, and therefore his success was not perfectly assured. Not drawing men, he did not draw his characters as they appeared in their own days: but as he pieced out their supposed appearance from incidental descriptions or formal characterizations-from party historians or prejudiced rhetoricians. If he had drawn Romans as they were, he would have drawn men as they were. They were not the less men because they were Romans. He failed to draw the men, principally on account of the limited range of his imaginative power; he copied instead of created. He repeated, says Gifford, "the ideas, the language, the allusions," which "could only be readily caught by the contemporaries of Augustus and Tiberius." He gave us, partly on this account also, shadows of life, instead of the "living features of an age so distant from our own," as his biographer yet thinks he gave. Shakspere worked upon different principles, and certainly with a different
The leading idea of 'Coriolanus'-the pivot upon which all the action turns-the key to the bitterness of factious hatred which runs through the whole drama-is the contest for power between the patricians and plebeians. This is a broad principle, assuming various modifications in various states of society, but very slightly varied in *Memoirs of Jonson,' p. ccxx.-Works, 9 vols.
its foundations and its results. He that truly works out the exhibition of this principle must paint men, let the scene be the Rome of the first Tribunes, or the Venice of the last Doges. With the very slightest changes of accessaries, the principle stands for the contests between aristocracy and democracy, in any country or in any age— under a republic or a monarchy. The historical truth, and the philosophical principle, which Shakspere has embodied in 'Coriolanus' are universal. But suppose he had possessed the means of treating the subject with what some would call historical accuracy; had learnt that Plutarch, in the story of Coriolanus,' was probably dealing only with a legend; that, if the story is to be received as true, it belongs to a later period; that in this later period there were very nice shades of difference between the classes composing the population of Rome; that the balance of power was a much more complex thing than he found in the narrative of Plutarch: further suppose that, proud of this learning, he had made the universal principle of the plebeian and patrician hostility subsidiary to an exact display of it, according to the conjectures which modern industry and, acuteness have brought to bear on the subject. It is evident, we think, that he would have been betrayed into a false principle of art, and would necessarily have drawn Roman shadows instead of vital and enduring men. As it is, he has drawn men so vividly-under such permanent relations to each other-with such universal manifestations of character, that some persons of strong political feelings have been ready to complain, according to their several creeds, either that his plebeians are too brutal, or his patricians too haughty. A polite democracy, a humane oligarchy, would be better. Jonson somewhat rejoices in the amusing exhibition of "plebeian malignity and tribunitian insolence." Hazlitt, who is more than half angry on the other side of the question, says -"The whole dramatic moral of' Coriolanus' is that those who have little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all that others have left." Let us see.
With his accustomed consummate judgment in his opening scenes, Shakspere throws us at once into the centre of the contending classes of early Rome. We have no description of the nature of the factions; we behold them :
With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance."
Till Caius Marcius has become Coriolanus, and we see that the popular violence is under the direction of demagogues-the same
"1 Cit. You are all resolved rather to die never-varying result of the same circumthan to famish.
Cit. Resolved, resolved!
stances we feel no love for him. It is under oppression and ingratitude that his But he has pre
1 Cit. First, you know, Caius Marcius is chief pride becomes sublime. enemy to the people.
Cit. We know 't, we know 't.
1 Cit. Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price.
Cit. No more talking on 't: let it be done." The foundation of the violence is misery; its great stimulant is ignorance. The people are famishing for want of corn;-they will kill one man, and that will give them corn at their own price: the murder will turn scarcity into plenty. Hazlitt says that Shakspere "spared no occasion of baiting the rabble." If to show that misery acting upon ignorance produces the same effects in all ages be "baiting the rabble,” he has baited them. But he has not painted the "mutinous citizens" with an undiscriminating contempt. One that displays a higher power than his fellows of reasoning or remonstrance, and yet is zealous enough to resist what he thinks injustice, says of Caius Marcius,
"Consider you what services he has done for his country."
The people are sometimes ungrateful; but Shakspere chose to show that some amongst them could be just. The people have their favourites. "Worthy Menenius Agrippa" has the good word of the mutinous citizens. Shakspere gave them no unworthy favourite. His rough humour, his true kindliness, his noble constancy, form a character that the people have always loved, even whilst they are rebuked and chastened. But, if the poet has exhibited the democratic ignorance in pretty strong colours, has he shrunk from presenting us a full-length portrait of patrician haughtiness? Caius Marcius in the first scene claims no sympathies::"Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, I'd make a quarry
viously deserved our homage, and in some sort our affection. The poet gradually wins us to an admiration of the hero, by the most skilful management. First, through his mother. What a glorious picture of an antique matron, from whom her son equally derived his pride and his heroism, is presented in the exquisite scene where Volumnia and Valeria talk of him they loved, according to their several natures! Who but Shakspere could have seized upon the spirit of a Roman woman of the highest courage and mental power bursting out in words such as these ?— His bloody brow
With his mail'd hand then wiping, forth he
Like to a harvest-man, that's task'd to mow Or all, or lose his hire.
Vir. His bloody brow! Oh, Jupiter, no blood!
Vol. Away, you fool! it more becomes a
Than gilt his trophy: The breasts of Hecuba, When she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier
Than Hector's forehead, when it spit forth blood
At Grecian swords' contending. This is a noble preparation for the scenic exhibition of the deeds of Caius Marcius. Amidst the physical strength, and the mental energy, that make the triumphant warrior, the poet, by a few of his magical touches, has shown us the ever-present loftiness of mind that denotes qualities far beyond those which belong to mere animal courage. His contempt of the Romans who are "beaten back," and the "Romans with spoils," is equally withering. It is not sufficient for him to win one battle. The force of character through which he thinks that nothing
is done whilst anything remains to do, shows | It puts the individual for the species, the that Shakspere understood the stuff of which one above the infinite many, might before a great general is made. His remonstrance right." Now we apprehend that Shakspere to Cominiushas not treated the subject of Coriolanus
Where is the enemy? Are you lords o' the after this right royal fashion of poetry. He
If not, why cease you till you are so?"
is not in Plutarch. It is supplied to us by a higher authority, by the instinct by which Shakspere knew the great secret of success in every enterprise-the determination to be successful. One example more of the skill with which Shakspere makes Caius Marcius gradually obtain the uncontrolled homage of our hearts. The proud conqueror who rejects all gifts and honours, who has said, "I have some wounds upon me, and they smart To hear themselves remember'd,"
asks a gift of his superior officer :—
"Cor. I sometime lay, here in Corioli, At a poor man's house; he used me kindly: He cried to me; I saw him prisoner; But then Aufidius was within my view, And wrath o'erwhelm'd my pity: I request
has dealt fairly with the vices as well as the virtues of his hero. The scene in the second act, in which Coriolanus stands for the consulship, is amongst the most remarkable examples of Shakspere's insight into character. In Plutarch he found a simple fact related without any comment: "Now, Marcius, following this custom, showed many wounds and cuts upon his body, which he had received in seventeen years' service at the wars, and in many sundry battles, being
ever the foremost man that did set out feet to fight; so that there was not a man among the people but was ashamed of himself to refuse so valiant a man; and one of them said to another, We must needs choose him consul, there is no remedy." But in his representation of this fact Shakspere had to create a character, and to make that character act and re-act upon the character of the people. Coriolanus was essentially and necessarily proud. His education, his social position, his individual supremacy made him so. He lives in a city of factions, and he dislikes, of course, the faction opposed to his
The people represent the opinions that he dislikes, and he therefore dislikes the people. That he has pity and love for humanity, however humble, we have already seen. Coming into contact with the Roman populace for their suffrages, his uppermost thought is "bid them wash their faces and keep their teeth clean." He outwardly despises that vanity of the people which will not reward desert unless it go hand in hand with solicitation. He betrays his contempt for the canvassed, even whilst he is canvassing :
"I will, sir, flatter my sworn brother the people, to earn a dearer estimation of them; 't is a condition they account gentle: and, since the wisdom of their choice is rather to have my hat than my heart, I will practise the insinuating nod, and be off to them most counterfeitly: that is, sir, I will counterfeit the bewitchment of some popular man, and give it bountifully
to the desirers. Therefore, beseech you, I may be consul."
The satire is not obsolete. The desperation with which he at last roars out his demand for their voices, as if he were a chorus mocking himself and the people with the most bitter irony, is the climax of this wonderful exhibition :
"Your voices: for your voices I have fought; Watch'd for your voices; for your voices, bear Of wounds two dozen odd; battles thrice six I have seen and heard of; for your voices Have done many things, some less, some more: your voices: Indeed, I would be consul."
The people have justice enough to elect the man for his deeds: but they have not strength enough to abide by their own election. When they are told by the Tribunes that they have been treated scornfully, they can bear to be rebuked by their demagogues—to have their "ignorant election" revoked-to suffer falsehoods to be put in their mouth,—to be the mere tools of their weak though crafty leaders. It is Shakspere's praise, in his representation of this plebeian and patrician conflict, that he, for the most part, shows the people as they always are,-just, generous, up to a certain point. But put that thing called a demagogue amongst them,-that cold, grovelling, selfish thing, without sympathies for the people, the real despiser of the people, because he uses them as tools, and then there is no limit to their unjust violence. In the subsequent scenes we see not the people at all in the exercise of their own wills. We see only Brutus and Sicinius speaking the voice, not of the people, but of their individual selfishness. In the first scene of the third act the Tribunes insult Coriolanus; and from that moment the lion lashes himself up into a fury which will be deadly. The catastrophe is only deferred when the popular clamour for the Tarpeian Rock subsides into the demand that he should answer to them once again in the market-place. The mother of Coriolanus abates something of her high nature when she counsels her son to a dissembling submission:
"Vol. Because that now it lies you on to speak
To the people; not by your own instruction, Nor by the matter which your heart prompts
But with such words that are but roted in Your tongue, though but bastards, and syllables
Of no allowance, to your bosom's truth." This is the prudence even of an heroic woman; but she fears for her son. She is somewhat lowered by the instruction. But the poet knew that a real contempt for the people, allied to a strong desire for the honours which the people have to bestow, must produce this lip-service. Coriolanus does not heed the instructions of his mother. approaches temperately to his questioners; he puts up vows for the safety of Rome from the depths of his full heart; he is in earnest to smother his pride and his resentment, but the coarse Tribune calls him "traitor." There can be but one issue; he is banished.
Some of the historians say that, although Coriolanus joined the enemies of his country, he provoked no jealousies amongst the native leaders of those enemies; that he died honoured and rewarded; that his memory was even reverenced at Rome. Shakspere probably knew not this version of the legend of Coriolanus. If he had known it, he would not have adopted it. He had to show the false step which Coriolanus took. He had to teach that his proud resentment hurried him upon a course which brought evils worse than the Tarpeian Rock. And yet we are compelled to admire him; we can scarcely blame him. It has not been our good fortune to see John Kemble in this his greatest character: if we had, we probably should have received into our minds an embodied image of the moral grandeur of that scene when Coriolanus stands upon the hearth of Tullus Aufidius, and says—
words with the minutest traits of the man's character which had preceded them. The answer of Aufidius is not in Plutarch; and here Shakspere invests the rival of Coriolanus with a majesty of language which has for its main object to call us back to the real greatness of the banished man:
"Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here, Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart Than when I first my wedded mistress saw Bestride my threshold."
Brief and rapid is their agreement to make war upon Rome. In the great city herself "Coriolanus is not much missed but with his friends," according to the Tribune; no harm can come to Rome; the popular authority will whip the slave that speaks of evil news. Shakspere again "baits the rabble," according to Hazlitt; though he reluctantly adds, "what he says of them is very true:"
"Cit. 'Faith, we hear fearful news. 1 Cit. For mine own part, When I said banish him, I said 't was pity. 2 Cit. And so did I.
3 Cit. And so did I; and, to say the truth, so did very many of us: That we did we did for the best; and though we willingly consented to his banishment, yet it was against our will."
When Shakspere made Coriolanus ask the freedom of the poor man that had used him kindly, he showed the tenderness that was at the bottom of that proud heart. When Rome is beleaguered, Cominius reports thus of his unsuccessful mission to her banished
"Com. I offer'd to awaken his regard For his private friends: His answer to me was, He could not stay to pick them in a pile Of noisome musty chaff: He said, 't was folly For one poor grain or two to leave unburnt, And still to nose the offence."
His old general and companion in arms touched nothing but his pride. Menenius, his "beloved in Rome," undertakes a similar mission. The answer of Coriolanus is
“Wife, mother, child, I know not. My affairs Are servanted to others."
At the moment that Coriolanus has declared to Aufidius
"Fresh embassies, and suits,
Nor from the state, nor private friends, hereafter
Will I lend ear to,"
his mother, his wife, his child appear. But he will stand
"As if a man were author of himself,
And knew no other kin."
What a scene follows! The warrior is externally calm, as if he were a god, above all passions and affections. The wondrous poetry in which he speaks seems in its full harmony as if it held the man's inmost soul in a profound consistency. But the passion is coming. "I have sat too long" is the prelude to
"O mother, mother! What have you done? Behold, the heavens do ope,
The gods look down, and this unnatural scene
Volumnia speaks no other word. The mother and the son, the wife and the husband, the child and the father, have parted for ever. The death of Coriolanus in the "goodly city" of Antium is inevitable:
"Cor. Cut me to pieces, Volsces; men and lads,