Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coriolanus 2: Judgment Day

                 Coriolanus is a great soldier who is pressured to become a politician, the politicians think this is a bad idea, and slander him to the point of turning the mob of Rome violent against him. Coriolanus leaves and joins his former enemies, the Volscans. They march on Rome, and just before he marches in and destroys Rome, his mother pleads with him to make peace. He does, but then he is betrayed by the Volscans who incite the people of Coriolone – a city which he conquered and for which he was named – to rise up against him and murder him.

            Coriolanus’s fate was to die in order to make peace. Kind of like the Terminator at the end of T2. Arnold lowers himself into the molten steel in order to destroy the last chip and prevent the rise of Skynet. “I know now why you cry…” And he melts with a thumbs-up. I know now why I cry too, Arnold.

            I love the character of Coriolanus’s mom. She’s a classic stage mom. After he returns from war, she encourages him to run for consul, the highest office in Rome:


I have lived

To see inherited my very wishes

And the buildings of my fancy; only

There’s one thing wanting, which I doubt not but

Our Rome will cast upon thee. (2:1)           


            Coriolanus is a soldier and a snob; he disdains the common people and doesn’t want to be consul:


I had rather be their servant in my way

Than sway with them in theirs. (2:1)


            Then, when the other politicians turn the public against him by pointing out that he doesn’t like them (true) and is a danger to them (false), his mother encourages him to keep trying by lying and apologizing, she compares it to taking a town in warfare with false and gentle promises in order to prevent bloodshed:


             now it lies you on to speak

To th’ people; not by your own instruction,

Nor by the matter which your heart prompts you,

But with such words that are but roted in

Your tongue, though but bastards, and syllables

Of no allowance, to your bosom’s truth.

Now, this no more dishonors you at all

Than to take in a town with gentle words,

Which else would put you to your fortunate and

The hazard of much blood.

I would dissemble with my nature where

My fortunes and my friends at stake requir’d

I should do so in honor. (3:2)


            Coriolanus agrees. He goes to the people, and they quickly accuse him and rouse his constant temper. His angry, defensive outburst leads to his banishment and then the quest for revenge by joining with the enemies.

            And of course his mother confronts him at the last second and pleads with him not to destroy Rome, but to make peace. A good decision, but it does result in his murder:


Our suit

Is that you reconcile them: while the Volsces

May say, “This mercy we have show’d,” the Romans,

“This we receiv’d”; and each in either side

Give the all-hail to thee and cry, “Be blest

For making up this peace!” (5:3)


            Coriolanus listens to his mommy:


O my mother, mother! O!

You have won a happy victory to Rome;

But, for your son, believe it – O, believe it—

Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d,

If not most mortal to him. (5:3)


            Moms want the best for their sons. I guess sometimes they’re overbearing and try to control their children’s lives. I have no experience whatsoever with this. My mom and dad were both much younger than I am now when they first became parents and even though they fumbled their way through parts of it, I would say they did a pretty decent job. As 3 of 5, I got space my other siblings might not have had.

            I moved out of our house at 14 to go to a boarding school (by my own choice), and their influence in my life decisions declined even further. 

            As a kid we used to drive our station wagon to Chicago once or twice a year to go shopping at Water Tower Place, or visit the Museum of Science and Industry, and when we drove home we would drive through Evanston, Winnetka, Lake Forest, turning an hour drive on the expressway into a three-hour tour of the mansions and large homes of the North Shore. My parents ingrained in me a middle class fascination with wealth and the opulence it affords. Then when I was 14 we drove the wood-paneled station wagon into Lake Forest (where my boarding school was) and they left me there, to mingle with and wonder at the BMW-driving, international-traveling, blue-blazered classmates of mine.

One weekend I came home from school and told them about how we helped our Geometry teacher get her car unstuck from the snow and she drove us to Ben and Jerry’s to get a Vermonster. It was the description of the giant ice cream dish that got them. The treat’s structural integrity dissolved as Wager, Tito, Reiser, Leo Kim and I soldiered our way to the elusive glass bottom that we glimpsed only momentarily every time we scraped our spoons against it and swallowed another flavor-miasma that nature never intended. They laughed and laughed and when someone else came over to visit – Uncle Dito or Aunt Sylvia – they’d say: “Gabe, tell that story again, about the car stuck in the snow.” And I’d tell it again, and every time I told it, it became more elaborate and ridiculous and I dropped in more ten dollar P-SAT words to show off.

            It became clear soon after that storytelling was in my nature. 

Sarah Conner wanted the best for John Conner, so she trained him to be a soldier and stuff and he defeated the army of the robots. Coriolanus was a soldier and his mom wanted him to be a politician and he achieved greatness, but it cost him his life. My parents wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be, so I do this and call it work. It ain’t exactly bringing in the harvest, but it's all I got to try to make a difference. I don't think there are any Volscians left in the world to get betrayed by and I'm no damn good at fighting robots either.

No comments:

Post a Comment