Coriolanus: anxious and calm

OK, when most people think of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare, they usually go to the soliloquies (Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” [and yes, I know it may not be a soliloquy], Richard III’s “Now is the winter of our discontent,” Lady M’s “Unsex me here,” and the like), so what about in Coriolanus?

Well, there we have a problem, Houston…there’s only one soliloquy in the play.

Well, two really…but in a sense they’re the same speech, separated a brief exchange with a citizen of Antium:

A goodly city is this Antium. City,
’Tis I that made thy widows. Many an heir
Of these fair edifices ’fore my wars
Have I heard groan and drop. Then, know me not,
Lest that thy wives with spits and boys with stones
In puny battle slay me.

O world, thy slippery turns! Friends now fast sworn,
Whose double bosoms seems to wear one heart,
Whose hours, whose bed, whose meal and exercise
Are still together, who twin, as ’twere, in love
Unseparable, shall within this hour,
On a dissension of a doit, break out
To bitterest enmity; so fellest foes,
Whose passions and whose plots have broke their sleep
To take the one the other, by some chance,
Some trick not worth an egg, shall grow dear friends
And interjoin their issues. So with me:
My birthplace hate I, and my love’s upon
This enemy town. I’ll enter. If he slay me,
He does fair justice; if he give me way,
I’ll do his country service.
  • IV.iv.1-6,12-26

He arrives in Antium, and ponders his own history there–making widows, and killing men. He realizes that they don’t recognize him here, else the women and orphaned boys would kill him. After the exchange with the citizen, Martius’ rhetoric moves from the local (Antium) to the world and its “slippery turns.” He muses on how sworn friends can become bitter enemies, and then how “fellest foes” can “grow dear friends.” In either shift, he sees the cause as being trivial (“a dissension of a doit…some chance, some trick not worth an egg”). Then calling into account himself, he goes back to the concept of town, both his “birthplace” and “this enemy town.” And then he states his purpose: either to have Aufidius kill him, or to join the Volscian cause against Rome.

What I find most interesting, though, is not his reflective, almost philosophical tone (which is a new one for him), but the scansion:


~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~/~

A goodly city is this Antium. City,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ || / ~ ~ /

’Tis I that made thy widows. Many an heir
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Of these fair edifices ’fore my wars
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Have I heard groan and drop. Then, know me not,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Lest that thy wives with spits and boys with stones
~ / ~ / ~ / ~

In puny battle slay me.

/ / ~ / -~- / / / / /

O world, thy slippery turns! Friends now fast sworn,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Whose double bosoms seems to wear one heart,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Whose hours, whose bed, whose meal and exercise
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ || ~ / ~ /

Are still together, who twin, as ’twere, in love
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Unseparable, shall within this hour,
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / || / /

On a dissension of a doit, break out
~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To bitterest enmity; so fellest foes,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Whose passions and whose plots have broke their sleep
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To take the one the other, by some chance,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Some trick not worth an egg, shall grow dear friends
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

And interjoin their issues. So with me:
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

My birthplace hate I, and my love’s upon
~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

This enemy town. I’ll enter. If he slay me,
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

He does fair justice; if he give me way,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~

I’ll do his country service.

Here, the iambic pentameter is very, very regular, with only the occasional spondee, caesura, or trochee.

Compare that to some of his earlier speeches


/ ~ ~ / / ~

They are dissolved. Hang ’em!
~ / / ~ / ~ / / / / ~

They said they were an-hungry, sighed forth proverbs
~ / ~ / / / ~ / ~ /

That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ ~ / ~ /

That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not
/ ~ ~ / / / ~ / ~ /

Corn for the rich men only. With these shreds
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / -/- / ~

They vented their complainings, which being answered
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

And a petition granted them—a strange one,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To break the heart of generosity
~ / / -/- / / ~ / ~ /

And make bold power look pale—they threw their caps
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

As they would hang them on the horns o’ th’ moon,
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~

Shouting their emulation.
  • I.i.202-12

/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ||/ ~ /

All the contagion of the south light on you,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

You shames of Rome! You herd of—Boils and plagues
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Plaster you o’er, that you may be abhorred
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Farther than seen, and one infect another
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Against the wind a mile! You souls of geese,
~ / ~ / ~ / / / ~ /

That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
~ / ~ / ~ / / ~ ~ /

From slaves that apes would beat! Pluto and hell!
/ / ~ / / / ~ / ~ /

All hurt behind. Backs red, and faces pale
~ / ~ / ~ / / ~ / /

With flight and agued fear! Mend, and charge home,
~ / ~ / ~ -/- ~ / ~ /

Or, by the fires of heaven, I’ll leave the foe
~ / ~ / ~ / || / ~ / /

And make my wars on you. Look to ’t. Come on!
/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

If you’ll stand fast, we’ll beat them to their wives,
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

As they us to our trenches. Follow me!
  • I.iv.30-42

~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

As reek o’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize
/ ~ / / -~- / ~ / ~ /

As the dead carcasses of unburied men
~ / ~ / ~ / / / ~ /

That do corrupt my air, I banish you!
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

And here remain with your uncertainty;
~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts;
/ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
/ ~ ~ / ~ / || / ~ / ~ /

Fan you into despair! Have the power still
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To banish your defenders, till at length
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Your ignorance—which finds not till it feels,
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Making but reservation of yourselves,
/ / / / || ~ / ~ /

Still your own foes—deliver you
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

As most abated captives to some nation
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

That won you without blows! Despising
~ / ~ / ~ / / / / /

For you the city, thus I turn my back.
/ ~ ~ / / /

There is a world elsewhere.
  • III.iii.121-36

Alone (save for the audience), Martius speaks rhythmically, with depth and almost philosophical thoughts in the later speech. To others, his speech is filled with variations from the calm iambic pentameter. If iambic pentameter is the rhythm of the human heart, then only alone is he calm; with others, it’s all palpitations. [as someone who suffers from anxiety/panic attacks, I’m wondering if there’s not a little bit of that at work here]

So, even though there’s a dearth of soliloquies here, the one (two?) that is here carries some interesting insights for the actor/director willing to dive deep.

Comment?