« AnteriorContinuar »
tion: he cannot stay to pick the few grains of wheat in a pile
Of noisome musty chaff (v. 1. 25). Political partisanship is effaced in the fury of personal vengeance.
Here and there the egoism of the aristocratic temper triumphs in a trait of sarcastic humour, as in the case of the poor man in Corioli who had befriended him and whose life he wished to save, but whose name was ‘By Jupiter ! forgot.' Lastly, this vehement, impracticable Coriolanus of Shakespeare is moved only by one force, with which reason has nothing to do—the passionate bond of sympathy with his mother. This fine trait, so well seized by Plutarch, is for Shakespeare also the raison d'être of the whole story; and he makes it plausible by a profusion of subtle psychological strokes. It is Volumnia who prevails upon her son, as candidate for the consulship (iii. 2.) as well as in the greater crisis before the walls of Rome, to be 'mild,' against his nature; and the earlier triumph prepares us for the later. A hint of Plutarch's, that “at her desire' he took a wife, suggested the conception of Virgiliathe 'gracious silence' beside the great moving and controlling voice. Volumnia differs from her son in her keener and subtler brain. Shakespeare, as has been said, adopts almost all that Plutarch had given
But her fiery outbursts and her flashes of penetration are his alone. In the great appealspeech the Shakespearean touch is easily recognised in the fierce irony of the climax Come let us go: this fellow had a Volscian to his mother' (v. 3. 178 f.). In the speeches at the earlier crisis we find such strokes of penetrating criticism as
I have a heart as little apt as yours,
her to say.
You might have been enough the man you are,
With striving less to be so. It marks the comparative sobering of Shakespeare's imagination in this last of the great tragedies, that such dicta of the cool, critical judgment are finally seen to exhaust the situation. We accept for the moment Enobarbus' criticism of Antony, and Kent's of Lear; but as the tragedy deepens, a change insensibly steals over the ethical proportion of things, the verdict of the sober judgment appears of a less absolute competence, fatuity itself acquires higher faculties of vision and utterance; Lear in his frenzy and Antony in the final transports of his passion, discover their sublimest selves. But the fatuity of Coriolanus undergoes no such imaginative alchemy. He is sublime in battle, and in the final renunciation, where his mother's heroic heart beats in accord with his, and his with hers; but his stubborn refusal to distinguish between the conditions of a civic community and those of a camp, is, at bottom, stupid, and its stupidity is never felt sublime. He is bolder than the devil, but not so subtle; and his want of serpentine craft or of comprehension of it excites neither admiring pity, as in Brutus, nor tragic horror, as in Othello, but the half-amused sympathy with which we look on the blunders of a giant more brave than wise. Those critics who have spoken with least reserve of the heroic greatness of Coriolanus have admitted that the temper in which Shakespeare presents him is almost unsympathetic; it is surprisingly free from ... suggestions of deep personal feeling. Coriolanus, says Mr. Barrett Wendell, owes his fate to 'a passionate excess of inherently noble traits, whose very nobility unfits them for survival in the ignoble world about them.' He represents "aristo
cracy as nobly worthy of dominance as in Henry V., and yet as inexorably doomed as in Antony.' But the man who pictured Henry before Agincourt among the common soldiers hardly thought that the insolent hauteur of Coriolanus was sufficiently explained and excused by his having to lead a 'musty superfluity' of 'dissentious rogues.' The tribunes themselves are permitted to utter a palpable hometruth, when they tell him :
You speak o' the people,
(iii. 1. 80.) Even Coriolanus' valour is described with a fire chiefly of the imagination. The magnificent battlepoetry of this play betrays no martial enthusiasm, like that which glows so transparently in the choruses of Henry V. The career of Coriolanus, with his fabulous yet, in the sequel, futile valour, is a satire upon militarism; and the sublime images in which his feats are told, -he struck Corioli like a planet,'-—'as weeds before a vessel under sail, so men obey'd and fell below his stem,'-only make the undertone of irony more explicit. Shakespeare had dared to laugh at Achilles and Ajax; but the Homeric grandeur of Coriolanus (communicated through an utterly unHomeric style) conceals a not less bitter sense of the futilities of heroism,
Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with
staves, clubs, and other weapons. First Cit. Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
All. Speak, speak.
First Cit. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish ?
All. Resolved, resolved.
First Cit. First, you know Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.
All. We know 't, we know it.
First Cit. Let us kill him, and we'll have to corn at our own price. Is 't a verdict ?
All. No more talking on 't; let it be done : away, away!
Sec. Cit. One word, good citizens.
First Cit. We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians, good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us : if they would yield us but the superfluity while it were wholesome, we might guess
18. guess, consider.
they relieved us humanely; but they think we
Sec. Cit. Would you proceed especially against
All. Against him first : he's a very dog to the commonalty.
Sec. Cit. Consider you what services he has done for his country ?
First Cit. Very well; and could be content to give him good report for 't, but that he pays himself with being proud.
Sec. Cit. Nay, but speak not maliciously.
First Cit. I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say it was for his country, he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud ; which he is, even to the altitude of his virtue.
Sec. Cit. What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him.
You must in no way say he is covetous.
First Cit. If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition. [Shouts within.) What shouts
All. Come, come.
21. object, spectacle.
want only serves, like an in
ventory of their goods, to make ib. as an inventory, i.e, our their wealth more manifest.