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between us, and will never suffer us againe to be united into one body."
Discarding the formality of an oration, Shakspeare has split this speech into dialogue, making Coriolanus deliver almost every sentiment of the original as the expression of impassioned feeling. +
Whilst Shakspeare was solicitous to make his hero right in the principle on which he acts, he has been equally careful, by exaggerating the intemperance of his conduct, to place him decidedly wrong in its application. Instead of soliciting the suffrages of the people as a favour; of submitting an humble statement of his services, and exhibiting the wounds which he had received in defence of his country, as Plutarch informed the poet (though incorrectly) was the custom with suitors, the dramatic Coriolanus insolently demands the consulship as a right, and proudly refuses to gratify the citizens by a display of those scars which bore testimony to his valour and his services. Plutarch says, that Coriolanus “ shewed many wounds and cuts upon
* Life of Coriolanus, p. 228.
+ “It is a purpos'd thing, and grows by plot,” &c. with the subsequent passages through a great part of the scene." Act III. sc. 1.
his body which he had received in seventeen years' service at the wars." *
Though Shakspeare has not hesitated to deviate, in this instance, entirely from his authority, he has been extremely minute in the preservation of minor traits of character related by Plutarch of the subject of his page. Marcius looked upon pecuniary rewards with contempt, rejecting the gift of a tenth part of the spoil that he had won at Corioli, as “ rather a mercenarie reward, than a honourable recompence;
he would have none of it, but was contented to have his equal part with the other souldiers." +
The poet has given the passage a most elegant turn of expression :
“ I thank you, general ;
But whilst Coriolanus rejects princely gifts with indifference, he disdains not solicitation in the cause of mercy: “Onely, this grace (said he) I crave and beseech you to grant me: Among the Volces there is an old friend and hoast of mine, an honest wealthy man, and now a pri
* Life of Coriolanus, p. 228. † Ibid. p. 225. I Act I. sc. 9.
soner, who living before in great wealth in his owne' country, liveth nowe a poore prisoner, in the hands of his enemies: and yet, notwithstanding all this his misery and misfortune, it would do me great pleasure if I could save him from this one danger, to keepe him from being sold as a slave.” * I shall not quote the dramatist's version of this pleasing trait of Marcius' humanity; it is merely necessary to direct the attention of the reader to the singularity of Shakspeare in rendering the petition nugatory in the moment it is granted :
O well begg'd!
Be free, as is the wind. Deliver him, Titus.
By Jupiter, forgot :-
It is amusing to trace so apparently careless and inartificial a sentence as the following, to the grave authority of an historian :
“ 1 Cit. I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end: though soft-conscienc'd men can be content to say, it was for his country, he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud.”
The passage in Plutarch stands thus : -" The
* Life of Coriolanus, p. 225.
t Act I. sc. 9.
onely thing that made him to love honour, was the joy he saw his mother did take of him. For he thought nothing made him so happy and honourable, as that his mother might heare every body praise and commend him, that she might alwaies see him return with a crown upon his head, and that she might still embrace him with teares running down her cheekes for joy."
Shakspeare has a second reference to this uncommon cause of a hero's devotion to the hardships and dangers of a military life. †
The conduct and feelings of Coriolanus on receiving his sentence of banishment, are extremely well described by Plutarch. « Martius alone, who neither in his countenance nor in his gate, did ever show himselfe abashed, or once let fall his great courage: but he onely of all other gentlemen that were angry at his fortune, did outwardly show no manner of passion, nor care at all of himselfe. Not that he did patiently beare and temper his evill hap, in respect of any reason he had, or by his quiet condition : but because he was so carried away with the vehemence of anger, and desire of revenge, that he had no sense nor feeling of the hard state he was in.” I
* Life of Coriolanus, p. 222.
Act III. sc. 2.
Shakspeare has entirely lost sight of the selfpossession of Coriolanus, implied throughout this passage, by permitting his hero to relapse into passion, and pour upon his persecutors a torrent of abuse. *
The scenes in the play representing Coriolanus's flight to Antium, his entertainment by Aufidius, his march to Rome as general of the Volcians, and his reception of the embassies of the affrighted citizens, are copied with great accuracy from the history, which is, with one or two interesting exceptions, too long for quotation. “ Now was Martius set then in his chaire of state, with all the honours of a generall, and when he had spied the women coming afar off, he marvelled what the matter meant : but afterwards knowing his wife which came foremost, he determined at the first to persist in his obstinate and inflexible rancour. But overcome in the end with natural affection, and being altogether altered to see them, his heart would not serve him to tarrie their coming to his chaire, but coming downe in hast, he went to meet them, and first he kissed his mother, and embraced her a pretty while, then his wife and little children. And
* “ You common cry of curs !" &c.
Act III. sc. 3.