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Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's lesser-known (but extremely well thought-of by critics) plays, with such political overtones that it remains the only Shakespeare play banned by a modern democracy (France in the 1930s).
Caius Martius is a Roman general; brilliant but arrogant and contemptuous of the ordinary folk. When we meet him at the start of the play, there are food riots going on in Rome and Caius Martius is being blamed for taking the grain supplies for the army. While others try and calm the situation, Marcus simply retorts that the commoners aren't worthy of having the grain as they have not done military service.
After defeating the army of the Volsces tribe and capturing the city of Corioles, Marcus is given the name "Coriolanus" as a reward, and is persuaded to run for Consul. However, two of his opponents conspire to whip up the commons against him and he is hounded out of Rome after making a bitter speech about the evils of democracy.
Caius Martius, now hungry for revenge against his homeland, offers his services to the Volsces and their leader Aufidius. Marching on Rome, he has the city at his mercy, but is persuaded by his wife and mother to spare the city. When he returns to Aufidius, he is murdered for his betrayal.
A film version was made in 2011, directed by Ralph Fiennes who also played the lead. Gerard Butler played Aufidius, with Vanessa Redgrave (in a highly acclaimed performance) as Volumnia and Brian Cox as Menenius. It's a Setting Update into a generic Crapsack World "Calling itself Rome" (though filmed in Belgrade, Serbia). The film was largely acclaimed for being able to successfully please both Shakespeare purists and action movie junkies.
- Ambition Is Evil: This, along with Pride is the root of most of the problems, on both sides of the commoners vs dictators debate.
- Badass: Coriolanus. This guy charges alone into an enemy city and emerges alive and victorious. Also, given his rank, an example of a Four-Star Badass.
- Berserk Button: Coriolanus can, with some effort, hold on to his temper when he has to, but not when someone calls him a traitor.
- Blood Knight: Coriolanus lives for combat, and it's frequently pointed out that it's the only thing he really knows. Unfortunately, he is quite open about his total contempt for anyone who does not fight.
- Break the Haughty: Both Coriolanus and his mother suffer greatly for their pride.
- Death by Adaptation: In the 2011 film, Menenius kills himself shortly after Coriolanus rejects his offer for peace.
- Democracy Is Bad: Sort of. Even though Coriolanus is clearly not meant to be seen as absolutely correct, his points about how the common people are extremely fickle and gullible and demand a say in government despite knowing absolutely nothing about it are arguably quite valid.
- Destination Defenestration: In the 2011 film Aufidius and Martius go out the window together in their first confrontation.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas
- Could just as easily be called "Even Bad (or at least Haughty, Power-Hungry) Mothers Love Their Sons, even if their influence screws said son up something fierce."
- Evil Matriarch: Volumnia may not be exactly evil, but she is certainly extremely cunning and manipulative.
- Foe Yay: Canon, and in spades.
- Gray and Gray Morality: Coriolanus' total contempt for the common people is clearly shown to be a serious fault, but he makes some good points (see Democracy Is Bad above) and the two men who claim to be "voices of the people" are described, as ambitious by Menenius.
- Hot-Blooded: Depends to some extent on the actor playing him, but Coriolanus' temper is a serious problem especially when his Berserk Button gets pressed.
- Hypocritical Humor
- Important Haircut: In the 2011 movie the Volscians start shaving their heads in imitation of Coriolanus, and the 'throne' he sits on is the barber's chair they use for this initiation. The bearded Aufidius is not happy.
- Insult Backfire: While it's meant more as constructive criticism than as a true insult, various people tell Coriolanus that he is not respectful enough towards the people in the hope that he will change his tune. Unfortunately, his contempt for the commoners (and for lying, two-faced politicians) is such that he considers it a good thing that he is totally open about what he thinks of them.
- Manipulative Bitch: Volumnia (Coriolanus' mother) is an absolutely brilliant emotional manipulator. She plays her son like a fiddle in every major conversation they have.
- The tribunes manipulate Coriolanus just as much as his mother, but not to his advantage.
- Likewise Aufidius at the end; the Volscian lords are at least willing to hear Coriolanus' side of things, but Aufidius provokes him into losing his temper again and he's killed by the mob.
- No, You: Coriolanus responds to his banishment by shouting at the commoners, "I BANISH YOU!"
- Patriotic Fervour: Coriolanus gets his from his mother, who openly states she would prefer her sons die in battle for Rome rather than live long lives not serving their country.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Menenius makes a heroic effort to keep Coriolanus' temper in check (especially in public), and genuinely seems to be trying to do what's best for Rome. Sometimes verges on Only Sane Man territory, except that there are other figures (like Volumnia) who seem to actually understand what's going on.
- Revenge Before Reason: Seems to be being played dead straight after Coriolanus' exile, but ultimately subverted when Coriolanus' family manage to talk him down and make him agree to a peace, even at the cost of his own life.
- The Rival
- Sleazy Politician: Both of the tribunes.
- Worthy Opponent: Coriolanus and Aufidius acknowledge quite near the start that they respect each other greatly ("He is a lion I am proud to hunt"), which is why (along with absolutely bucket loads of Foe Yay) Aufidius immediately accepts Coriolanus' offer of an alliance.