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COMING fresh from the perusal of such of Shakspeare's plays as exhibit the sparkling treasures of his rare wit, glowing fancy, and surpassing poetry, — the creative power of his far-reaching imagination, or the convulsive throes, the moral earthquakes and volcanoes, of human passion, - the Drama before us produces an effect almost startling, from the stern, unadorned, and somewhat rugged strength which is its prevailing characteristic. We soon, however, acknowledge the peculiar fitness of the style to the time, the action, and the characters: we recognize in its massive simplicity a grandeur which ornament would injure; in its ruggedness, a power which polish would destroy. In this fitness consists a portion of the value of the Play; a still greater portion in the striking specimen it affords of that “ infinite variety” of the writer, which “ age cannot wither, nor custom stale;” — and, greatest of all, in its subtle and powerful delineation of human character; that high and extraordinary quality in which all his contemporaries and followers halt so far behind him.
In “ CORIOLANUS,” as in “ MACBETH,” the Poet has taken an historical character, belonging to a remote and rude age, the records of whose actions, and of the events that gave birth to them, history borrows from tradition, and perhaps assists by conjecture. From the plain and simple relation of those actions and events, he at once judges of the motives, feelings, and circumstances which actuated and produced them; - and conjures up before the “mind's eye” the very man, a living sentient being, with his moral structure as clearly developed as his outward form would be, were he presented bodily to our senses.
Amongst the many truthful delineations of the human mind which have sprung from Shakspeare's teeming brain, none are more exquisitely natural, more nicely discriminated, than the Hero of this stirring Play. Superficially viewed, his character appears repulsive and disagreeable; but study it minutely, and it becomes deeply interesting. Born in a state of society which admitted of no gradual connecting links between the lower and higher classes, no channels to conduct the kindly sympathies of each to the other, Coriolanus naturally inherited the prejudices of his order. But this is not all. He is rendered vain-glorious not alone by the pride of place and ancestry, but likewise by that nobler pride — the consciousness of high desert, of natural nobleness of mind, and of indomitable courage. Viewing all this, and beholding also the selfish, sordid natures, the utter and unredeemed baseness of the leaders of that populace with which he is brought into hostile contact; — recollecting, moreover, that he is the spoilt child of success, the boy-warrior, who “ at sixteen years ” — “fought beyond the mark of others; ” — who has thrice won the oaken garland; who has been borne aloft on the shields of a conquering army; greeted by the acclamations of the very populace which afterwards revolts against him; — can we, ought we to feel wonder or disgust at the mingled scorn and rage which, with such heaped measure, he hurls upon the “ trades " and “ occupations” of Rome? No. His conduct may be somewhat unamiable, but it is perfectly natural. His very faults are but the excesses of his virtues; he sets up a standard of moral perfection derived from the consciousness of his own high qualities, and in his inexperience of the world, its sufferings, mistakes, and accidents, he is indignant that the mass of the community should fall short of that standard.
The character of Volumnia is just what “the honored mold of Marcius” might be supposed to be: towering grandly above most of the ordinary weaknesses of her sex, but possessing the rest of them in more than ordinary perfection. What an exquisitely natural specimen of the absence of self-knowledge is conveyed in the declaration, “ Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck’dst it from me; but owe thy pride thyself!” Now the feeling of prido is to the full as strong in the mother as in her wayward son; but age, experience, and expediency, have modified and checked the free exhibition of it. — Amidst the stir, the turmoil, and the turbulence of this Play, how melodiously the sweet voice of the gentler affections makes itself heard ! as though, in the din of arms, the clangor of martial music, and the roar of battle, an occasional pause enabled us to catch the soft breathing of flutes. Around the bold and lofty nature of Marcius, the shoots and tendrils of love are permitted to spring and to twine, shedding a lovely grace, like the clinging leaves of the acanthus round the capital of a Corinthian column; which, while they adorn it with their beauty, rob it not of the least portion of its grandeur or its strength.
“CORIOLANUS” was first published in the original folio. The incidents are derived from Plutarch.
SCENE I. — Rome. A Street. 1 Cit. Against him first: he's a very dog to the
commonalty. Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with
| 2nd Cit. Consider you what services he has done staves, clubs, and other weapons.
for his country?
1st Cit. Very well: and could be content to give 1st Cit. Before we proceed any farther, hear me him good report for 't, but that he pays himself speak.
with being proud. Cit. Speak, speak. [Several speaking at once. | 2nd Cit. Nay, but speak not maliciously.
1st Cit. You are all resolved rather to die than 1st Cit. I say unto you, what he hath done fato famish?
| mously, he did it to that end : though soft-conCit. Resolved, resolved.
scienced men can be content to say it was for his 1st Cit. First, you know Caius Marcius is chief country, he did it to please his mother, and to be enemy to the people.
partly proud : which he is, even to the altitude of Cit. We know't; we know't.
his virtue. 1st Cit. Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at 2nd Cit. What he cannot help in his nature, our own price. Is 't a verdict ?
you account a vice in him. You must in no way Cit. No more talking on 't: let it be done. I say he is covetous. Away, away!
1st Cit. If I must not, I need not be barren of 2nd Cit. One word, good citizens.
accusations : he hath faults, with surplus, to tire 1st Cit. We are accounted poor citizens: the in repetition. [Shouts within.] What shouts are patricians, good. What authority surfeits on, would these? The other side o' the city is risen! Why relieve us : if they would yield us but the super- stay we prating here ? -- to the Capitol ! fluity while it were wholesome, we might guess Cit. Come, come. they relieved us humanely: but they think we 1st Cit. Soft: who comes here? are too dear. The leanness that afflicts us, the ob
Enter MENENIUS AGRIPPA. ject of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance : our sufferance is a gain to 2nd Cit. Worthy Menenius Agrippa : one that them. — Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere hath always loved the people. we become rakes : for the gods know I speak this 1st Cit. He's one honest enough. 'Would all in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge. the rest were so.
2nd Cit. Would you proceed especially against Men. What work's, my countrymen, in hand ? Caius Marcius ?
Where go you