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Coriolanus (1608)

Coriolanus (1608)

Hundred Word Summary

On the battlefield, Coriolanus is fearless and wins battles single-handedly.  Yet he refuses to be praised or rewarded for doing his duty.

Meanwhile in Rome he resents the tribunes and opposes free grain for the people.  Gradually conflict gathers momentum.

To gain promotion, he will need to flatter the people.  But relations break down and he is accused of being a traitor – and expelled.

He calls on Aufidius for support and joins him against Rome.  Only the prayers of his mother forestall the campaign.

Back in Atrium, popularity triggers jealousy, and an argument leads to a fight he cannot win.


Table of Contents


“Coriolanus” is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, written in the slipstream of great tragedies like “Macbeth”, “Othello”, “Hamlet” and “King Lear”.  It isn’t always categorised alongside these plays but perhaps it should be.  Like them it features a central character whose personality dominates the stage as events accelerate towards catastrophe.

In one sense however the central character in this play is different.  Elsewhere, heroes lay bare their psychology in soliloquies that share their thinking with the audience.  In “Coriolanus”, the hero is allocated only one soliloquy (at the end of Act Four Scene Four), and he uses it to say nothing of much interest.

This is not a coincidence. On the contrary it is central to Shakespeare’s thinking about the character of Coriolanus.  This is a tale of a formidable but flawed individual so headstrong he cannot bend or compromise.  We may talk glibly about fatal flaws, but in this case, the adjective is justified.  His flaw – to put it very broadly – is his inability to meet others halfway, to learn from them and from the situations they create.

Shakespeare might have done with Coriolanus what he does with Othello or Macbeth, and shown us his inner life, his mental struggles, his inching towards solutions to the kinds of dilemma he faces.  But Coriolanus has no inner life. Instead he has pre-programmed responses to types of situation or individual: he’s brave in battle, he’s respectful to his mother, he despises politicians, he objects to hand-outs, he feels contempt for those lower down the social scale than himself.

This doesn’t make him unattractive, however. On the contrary, it is impossible not to feel sympathy for him, helpless as he is before the force of his own rigid personality and driven by the logic of his limited intelligence towards the inevitable.  Once he was expelled from Rome for his intemperate reaction to the charge of “traitor!” Now having swapped sides, the charge is repeated, and his reaction is much as before: he has learned nothing and changed nothing, and his fate is sealed.

It is said that the essence of literature is transformation, and Shakespeare’s great tragedies trade in this commodity – though Lear discovers too late what he should have known all along; so does Othello, so does Macbeth.  Coriolanus, by contrast, is the same man at the end of the play as he was at the beginning: hard-headed, single-minded and full of integrity, but less to be admired for what he is, perhaps, than to be pitied for what he is not.


Scene by Scene

Act One Scene One

Caius Coriolanus is denounced as the “chief enemy to the people”, and his death is called for.

His achievements for Rome are belittled: “he did it [sic] to please his mother” claims one citizen.

Menenius, a politician they trust, tells them the gods, not politicians, are responsible for the famine.

He tells the tale of the stomach, suggesting every part of the state depends on every other part.

Coriolanus denounces the crowd as “dissentious rogues” and calls for them to be hanged.

He reveals that tribunes are to be elected to speak for the crowd and “defend their vulgar wisdoms”.

He welcomes the news that the Volscians are provoking war and praises his enemy Aufidius.

Newly-elected tribunes Brutus and Sicinius reveal their suspicions about Coriolanus’s personality.

Act One Scene Two

In the enemy territory of Corioli, concerns emerge that Rome knows of their hostile intentions.

The attack should go ahead but if Rome threatens Corioli, the army must be brought back.

Meanwhile Aufidius looks forward to battle with Coriolanus, a fight to the death between them.

Act One Scene Three

Volumnia tells Virgilia how she brought up her son to “seek danger where he was like to find fame”.

Virgilia shrinks from Volumnia’s vision of Coriolanus covered in blood, to be dismissed as “you fool”.

Valeria reports that Coriolanus’s son toyed with a butterfly before tearing it apart with his teeth.

She adds that Coriolanus is leading a section of the Roman army in their siege of the city of Corioli.

Act One Scene Four

Coriolanus hopes the siege of Corioli will be quick so as to support the Roman army in the field.

At first the Romans are beaten back, then Coriolanus leads the counter, only to be isolated.

Fearing him lost, Titus leads the laments, only for Coriolanus to re-emerge covered in blood.

Act One Scene Five

Coriolanus should rest and recover, but heroically he will lead reinforcements to help Cominius.

Act One Scene Six

Reports suggest the siege of Corioli has failed, but a blood-spattered Coriolanus suggests otherwise.

But though pressed for details, Coriolanus modestly avoids questions about how victory was won.

Instead he announces his plan to attack his enemy Aufidius, and selects soldiers to support him.

Act One Scene Seven

The city is held securely, leaving the third Roman general Titus free to reinforce the other two.

Act One Scene Eight

Confronted by Aufidius, Coriolanus agrees to fight to the death until Aufidius is rescued by his men.

Act One Scene Nine

Cominius means to tell Rome it is lucky to have Coriolanus, but the hero modestly refuses his praise.

Cominius then offers Coriolanus one tenth of the spoils of war, but once again the tribute is refused.

Finally he commemorates his heroism and courage by conferring on him the name of Coriolanus.

Coriolanus asks that a prisoner who once treated him kindly be released.  But his name is elusive.

Act One Scene Ten

Aufidius reflects bitterly on his latest defeat to Coriolanus and his hatred, and vows to gain revenge.

Act Two Scene One

Sicinius and Brutus believe Coriolanus is deficient in many ways but particularly given to “boasting”.

Menenius replies brusquely that they’re “unmeriting, proud, violent, testy … fools, as any in Rome”.

He accuses them of corruption in their work as magistrates, and claims their stupidity is infectious.

Volumnia reveals that Coriolanus, now heading home, has been wounded: “I thank the gods for’t”.

She reveals he sustained wounds in the shoulder and the arm, “large cicatrices to show the people”.

Coriolanus arrives from the battlefield, and greets his mother before his wife, kneeling before her.

Volumnia hints at her ambitions for her son but he demurs: “I had rather be their servant”, he says.

They go to the Capitol, leaving the two tribunes to resent his popularity and to predict it will not last.

Act Two Scene Two

Two Capitol officers discuss Coriolanus’s reputation: he is open in his hostility to the plebs, they say.

But he “hath deserved worthily of his country”, and has more right to advancement than most.

The Senate meets to thank Coriolanus and to honour him, but the Tribunes damn with faint praise.

Coriolanus, self-conscious and modest, refuses to listen to “hear my nothings monster’d” and leaves.

Cominius recounts Coriolanus’s youthful warrior exploits in the expulsion of Tarquin from Rome.

He has fought “seventeen battles since”, and at Corioli he proved a great leader and a great warrior.

Finally, says Cominius, he has little ambition, and doing what he does is reward enough for him.

Coriolanus returns to be told that promotion involves speaking to the people despite his reluctance.

He refuses to “brag” about his scars as if he “had received them for the hire” of the public’s support.

But despite misgivings, he must accept the convention, while his enemies conspire behind his back.

Act Two Scene Three

Coriolanus wears “a gown of humility” but remains reluctant to speak respectfully to the plebs.

He is encouraged to ask “kindly” for their support, but refuses to show the citizens his wounds.

He is finally reassured that he has the vote, leaving Sicinius and Brutus to question the citizens.

As their questions mount, the citizens change their minds, encouraged by the Tribunes’ dishonesty.

The citizens head for the Capitol to reinforce their changed opinion, followed by the Tribunes.

Act Three Scene One

Coriolanus is informed that the Volscians have raised a new army but further war is now improbable.

The Tribunes arrive to announce that “The people are incensed against him”, and they bar his way.

He is accused of having “mock’d” the people, and demurred when “corn was given them gratis”.

Coriolanus believes that allowing Tribunes in the system is tantamount to nourishing “rebellion”.

He is encouraged to say no more, but insists that he will speak as fearlessly as he fought for Rome.

He repeats that handing out corn for free “nourish’d disobedience” and aided the “ruin of the state”.

He believes that the motive on the patricians’ part was fear, and this has weakened the ruling class.

He argues if “gentry, title, wisdom” need the support of the masses, “Nothing is done to purpose”.

The Tribunes try to arrest him, accusing him of treachery, and condemn him to be executed.

Coriolanus draws his sword, and fights off the attempt to arrest him but is persuaded to go home.

Menenius concludes “His nature is too noble for the world” and says he is incapable of dissembling.

The Tribunes return to arrest him and condemn him to death that day despite the threat of civil war.

Menenius agrees to bring Coriolanus to the Tribunes to be tried “by a lawful form, / In peace”.

Act Three Scene Two

At home Coriolanus refuses to change – though he suspects his mother would “not approve”.

Volumnia rebukes her son for having shown his true colours before he had been promoted.

Menenius urges him to “Repent what you have spoke” and Volumnia demands he compromise.

She urges him to apologise, and Menenius agrees that if he does, then “their hearts were yours”.

Coriolanus agrees to “give my noble heart / A lie” and to perform the part he has been given.

Volumnia recalls that she made him what he is: “Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck’st it from me”.

Act Three Scene Three

The Tribunes prepare to accuse Coriolanus of tyranny and of helping himself to the spoils of war.

They organise their ambush by planning to manipulate the crowd and to make Coriolanus angry.

Menenius reminds the crowd of Coriolanus’s service and excuses his soldier’s way of speaking.

Sicinius accuses him of being a “traitor to the people”, to which Coriolanus replies angrily.

Sicinius immediately demands the death penalty for him, then resolves to “banish him our city”.

Coriolanus embraces his punishment and curses Rome, consoled that “There is a world elsewhere”.

Act Four Scene Two

Volumnia and Virgilia accuse Sicinius and Brutus of having “incensed the rabble” against Coriolanus.

Act Four Scene Three

Coriolanus comforts his mother with the thought that extreme setbacks require extreme courage.

He encourages his family and supporters to believe that he will “exceed the common” or die.

Meanwhile a Volscian citizen hears with incredulity that Coriolanus has been banished from Rome.

He reveals the Volscian army is ready with centurions “to be on foot at an hour’s warning”.

Act Four Scene Four

Coriolanus arrives in Antium and asks to be directed to the house “Where great Aufidius lies”.

In a rare soliloquy, he speculates that, in the nature of things, lovers divide and enemies unite.

Act Four Scene Five

At first Coriolanus is refused entry to Aufidius’s house. Then he tells his story to his former rival.

He was “Whoop’d out of Rome”, he reports, and his “revengeful services” are now available.

If they are not desired, then let his throat be cut, he says, “unless / It be to do thee service”.

Aufidius embraces his former enemy – “Thou noble thing!” – and compares his feelings to love.

In an effusive address he reveals he has dreamt of Coriolanus “fisting each other’s throat”.

Aufidius engages the former Roman general to reveal where Rome’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

The servants reflect on their reactions to Coriolanus, and excuse themselves for refusing him entry.

They look forward to war with Rome: “I hope”, says one, “to see Romans as cheap as Volscians”.

Act Four Scene Six

Sicinius reveals his mistaken relief that “We hear not of [Coriolanus], neither need we fear him”.

Brutus agrees, describing Coriolanus as “insolent, / O’ercome with pride, ambitious … / Self-loving”.

News that the Volscians are marching on Rome is confidently dismissed by the two Tribunes.

Worse news emerges – that Coriolanus heads the invading Volscians like “butchers killing flies”.

Menenius believes they will have to beg for mercy, but Cominius questions “Who will ask it?”

The Tribunes are reduced to begging “Say not we brought it” while Cominius predicts “desperation”.

Various citizens reflect that though they agreed to the banishment, “yet it was against our will”.

The Tribunes “do not like this news” and would happily give “half my wealth” to “buy this for a lie”.

Act Four Scene Seven

Aufidius, told by a lieutenant how Coriolanus is admired by his men, is accepting but envious.

But he adds that Coriolanus “bears all things fairly” and seems well-disposed towards the Volscians.

He wonders what caused the break-down, suggesting “pride”, “defect of judgement” and “nature”.

He concludes that everything is temporary, and once Rome is won, he will destroy Coriolanus.

Act Five Scene One

Menenius and Cominius both believe they would have no influence over Coriolanus and his plans.

Menenius berates the Tribunes for the damage they have done to Rome in expelling Coriolanus.

Cominius reports he returned “unheard” from meeting Coriolanus, and Menenius fears the same.

Eventually Menenius agrees to try, but Cominius believes success is more likely through Volumnia.

Act Five Scene Two

Menenius is refused entry to the Volscian camp, and told to return to Rome to prepare for his death.

Coriolanus appears, and Menenius begs him to “pardon Rome”. But he refuses, handing him a letter.

Act Five Scene Three

Coriolanus regrets his treatment of Menenius, but decides to hear no further petitions from Rome.

But the appearance of his wife, mother and child brings him to his knees, which Volumnia echoes.

Their party begs him to spare Rome, while he asks them “Do not bid me / Dismiss my soldiers”.

Volumnia describes her divided loyalties, then pledges to lie down in front of his troops if he attacks.

She begs him to make peace, and reminds him of his future cursed reputation if he destroys Rome.

Coriolanus breaks down, and asks Aufidius if he would resist his mother in the same circumstances.

Peace is secure, leaving Aufidius to tell the audience that he will be avenged on his former enemy.

Act Five Scene Four

Menenius tells Sicinius that there is no hope of mercy, and blames the Tribune for their fate.

Sicinius is told to hide since the people have his colleague Brutus and “they’ll give him death”.

News arrives that Volumnia has succeeded in her mission to secure peace, and is nearing Rome.

Act Five Scene Five

Senators welcome Volumnia, Virgilia and Valeria back, and call to repeal Coriolanus’s banishment.

Act Five Scene Six

In Antium, Aufidius complains that he has been let down by Coriolanus, whom he regrets trusting.

He took him on as an equal, he recalls, but more recently “I seem’d his follower, not partner”.

Now that Coriolanus has succumbed to “a few drops of women’s rheum”, he must pay the price.

Aufidius’s advisors resent Coriolanus’s popularity in Antium, and suggest “let him feel your sword”.

The city’s governors are persuaded by Aufidius that Coriolanus’s show of mercy was treacherous.

Coriolanus reprises the triumphs of his campaign, contrasting Antium’s honour with Rome’s shame.

Aufidius accuses him of treachery, claiming he “betray’d your business” for his mother’s tears.

Coriolanus invites the Volsces to kill him, and as they call for his murder, he is stabbed to death.

Aufidius stands on his corpse, then tells the senate he will explain all to them in due course.

Meanwhile his body is raised up as Aufidius admits “My rage is gone; / And I am struck with sorrow”.

Thinking Aloud

Shakespeare’s plays often condense a range of themes in their opening scene: these are the narratives the play will explore.  Here, four themes are introduced: one, the city is close to famine, and insurrection is in the air; two, popular dislike of Coriolanus as a leading citizen is endemic; three, the Volscians are rebelling and war is imminent; four, Coriolanus has enemies in high places as well as low.  In short, Rome is divided at home and conflict is imminent beyond her boundaries.

The play opens with the First Citizen’s conviction that Coriolanus is “chief enemy to the people”.  Reasons for this emerge quickly.  First he is regarded as “a very dog to the commonalty”, a leading citizen indifferent to the hungry masses; and second he is provocative in his contempt for them, accusing them of hating greatness and favouring evil – and he thinks they deserve to be hanged.  Nonetheless when war is declared and military virtues are needed, the cry goes up for Coriolanus.

The opening two scenes introduce the audience to the two sides in the military conflict with the Volscians, led respectively by Coriolanus and Aufidius.  Act One Scene Three moves from male to female and from effect to cause: what made Coriolanus so single-minded, so driven, so drawn to war? The answer, this scene implies, is his mother Volumnia.  In her world-view, danger is the route to fame, bloodshed is a thing of beauty, and cruelty is to be praised: witness the grandson with the butterfly.  What matters here is that Coriolanus, evidently something of an absentee father himself, was raised by his mother, whose distorted values he appears to have inherited.

The relationship between Volumnia and Coriolanus is also notable because mother / son relationships are so thin on the ground in Shakespeare: Hamlet / Gertrude is an obvious exception: there are few others.  Neither relationship is especially admirable.  Father / daughter relationships, by contrast, are numerous.

In the play’s opening scenes, Coriolanus is widely condemned for his pride and self-regard. Particularly critical are the Tribunes, who, at the end of 1.1, tell one another that if the military campaign against the Volscians goes badly, Coriolanus will avoid the blame, but if it goes well, he’ll take the credit.  Shakespeare goes out of his way to record that these criticisms are not justified.  When in 1.6 the overall Roman general Cominius asks how victory was won at Corioli, Coriolanus changes the subject: “Will the time serve to tell?” he asks.  “I do not think.  Where is the enemy?”   And when on his return to Rome, his achievements are broadcast in the Senate, he leaves the chamber.

Coriolanus may be resented and disliked by “dull tribunes” and “fusty plebeians” back in Rome.  But in the military world, he commands undiluted gratitude and respect. Once again, however, when in 1.9 Cominius seeks to praise him for the hero he has proved to be, Coriolanus refuses to accept the praise he is due: “Pray now, no more”, he responds, adding modestly but inaccurately “I have done / As you have done”.  Moreover, when one tenth of the spoils of war are offered him, he deflects the prize, refusing, as he says, to allow “A bribe to pay my sword”.  Shakespeare’s aim is to underline the point that whatever his shortcomings in the civilian world, at war Coriolanus is as honourable as he is masterful.

Coriolanus refuses every honour offered to him to mark his heroic fighting, but he makes one request: that a “poor man” who once gave him shelter be released from captivity by the invading Romans.  The request is readily accepted, but Coriolanus cannot remember the man’s name, his wounds require attention and the moment is lost. It seems that Shakespeare wanted to suggest that Coriolanus has human sympathy as well as martial virtues, but the former is weak in his make-up.  In Plutarch’s “Lives”, which was the source of this story for the playwright, the prisoner is described as “wealthy”.  The change is Shakespeare’s, and (as the critic Emma Smith suggests) one may well speculate why he made it, given that the theme of wealth and poverty is intermittently explored in this play.

The negative impression Volumnia formed on the audience in 1.3 is reinforced in 2.1, her second appearance in the play.  Earlier (it will be remembered) she takes delight in the cruelty of her grandson as she hears how he playfully tortured a butterfly.  Here she expresses her relief that her son was wounded in battle (“I thank the gods for’t”), takes pleasure in the human suffering he causes (“behind him he leaves tears”), and trumpets his capacity for killing (“Death … in’s nervy arm doth lie”).  Shakespeare’s purpose, once again, is to shed light on Coriolanus’s damaged psychological condition by revealing its source.

Coriolanus’s ambitions on the battlefield are clearly his own.  But in the civil sphere, his agenda has a quite different origin: “I have lived”, says his mother Volumnia at the end of their conversation in 2.1, “To see inherited [realised, put into effect] my very wishes”, and Coriolanus can only demur before her formidable will: “Know, good mother”, he stammers (not for the first time, one imagines), “I had rather be their servant in my way” – that is, he would prefer to serve the nation as he chooses, namely as a career soldier.  But it seems that the choice is not entirely his.

The opening scene of Act Three is often the turning point in Shakespearean drama.  Act Three Scene One of “Coriolanus” opens with the central character about to be robed as one of Rome’s rulers and it closes with him about to go on trial for his life before a crowd that scent blood.  The link between these two poles is his lack of faith in the system he is about to join and his unwillingness to dissemble about this: as Memenius says, “His heart’s his mouth: / What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent”. The situation deteriorates when two Tribunes – whose duty is to calm the crowd – see more profit to themselves in rousing insurrection, and Coriolanus’s prospects look bleak.

There is no sense in this play that Coriolanus has or had a father.  He is simply not mentioned.  The closest we come in the play to a father for Coriolanus is Menenius, the patrician politician, who recollects in 5.1 “He call’d me father”.  In the absence of a genuine father figure, Volumnia takes responsibility for his past, just as she dominates his relations with his family in the present.  What made Coriolanus what he is? Volumnia provides an answer in 3.2: “Thy valiantness [courage, determination] was mine, thou suck’dst it from me”.  But she adds that his “pride” is all his own, and this perhaps is where he is most vulnerable: his fatal flaw.

“Coriolanus”, as the introduction to this page suggested, presents a remarkable psychological portrait of a driven man.  His quirks of personality – his contempt for the masses, his reverence for his mother, his lust for action – dominate the play. Yet the mechanics of his mind are not explored from the inside.  So there are few clues as to what he really feels about, for example, loyalty or love or death – though these are variously prominent in the events described her. In other tragedies written around this time – “Hamlet” (1600), “Othello” (1604), “Macbeth” (1606) – the inner man and the life of his mind are central to the unfolding action.  But in this play, clues as to the hero’s motives are almost non-existent.  Even when, as in 4.4, he is granted a soliloquy, what he says adds little to our picture of him.

After Coriolanus is refused entry at Aufidius’s door, a servant reflects that “his clothes made a false report of him”.  This line would resonate more forcibly with Jacobean audiences than with modern, since clothes were then a clear-cut signifier of social class.  This equation was governed by the Sumptuary Laws, which dictated dress codes.  So when Henry V wants to know on the eve of battle what his troops are thinking, he disguises himself in the garb of an ordinary soldier and goes amongst them undiscovered.  More metaphorically, when Macbeth discovers he is to be promoted Thane of Cawdor, he is puzzled: “The thane of Cawdor lives”, he observes, “why do you dress me / In borrow’d robes?”

Aufidius knows Coriolanus better than most, so his reflections on why Coriolanus broke with his own side and defected to the enemy are worth taking in.  He suggests three possible causes: it may have been pride, he suggests, echoing a theme that has resonated throughout the play; it may have been “defect of judgement” – a failure to make the right call at the appropriate time; or it may have been “nature”, by which he means inflexibility, a failure to move from “the casque [helmet] to the cushion” once war was over.  He doesn’t, of course, suggest that Coriolanus was betrayed by jealous Tribunes hungry to lead the mob – but Shakespeare does. 

Coriolanus’s dismissal of Menenius in 5.2 brings to mind a similarly brusque and abrupt rejection by a young man of a former father-figure, in the shape of Henry V and Falstaff.  The scene occurs at the end of “Henry IV Part Two”, as the young Prince Harry (once Falstaff’s protégé) has just been crowned.  “God save me, my sweet boy!” exclaims Falstaff jovially to his old drinking companion.  But the young king does not return his high spirits: “I know thee not, old man” he replies, perhaps the most devastating putdown in Shakespeare … until “Coriolanus”.


Who’s Who / Characters


A brilliant soldier, and perhaps (though the evidence is less clear) a brilliant general too.  Brave, selfless, modest, a team player – on the battlefield.  But elsewhere, a limited character, with stock responses that don’t always serve him well.  A stranger to self-deprecation, entirely lacking in humour – though not in humanity, since he reveres his mother, and calls off the attack on Rome at her insistence.  It is almost as if Shakespeare had explored the character without bounds (Hamlet, Lear), and purposed here to explore a character destroyed by his own limitations. 


Coriolanus owes his courage to his mother – or so she claims in 3.2: “Thy valiantness was mine”, she asserts, “thou suck’dst it from me”.  But his pride is all his own, she believes, echoing a criticism often rehearsed by his enemies but not in evidence in (for example) his military exploits.  By contrast, on the battlefield, the pride is all her own, as she relishes her son’s wounds (“I thank the gods”) and enjoys the pain he inflicts on others (“behind him he leaves tears”).  Her dominating personality is glimpsed in her self-satisfaction: “I have lived”, she says in 2.1, “To see inherited my very wishes” – an achievement fully realised when she persuades her son to call off the assault on Rome in the last act.

Quick Quiz

Who according to Menenius is responsible for the famine?

How does Virgilia describe her son after hearing the tale of the butterfly?

How does Aufidius escape being killed by Coriolanus in Act One?

How does his mother react when she hears about Coriolanus’s wounds in battle?

Give the name of the King whose expulsion Coriolanus once assisted.

Which policy does Coriolanus believe will ruin the state?

What is Sicinius’s accusation in Act Three Scene Three?

Which action does Coriolanus invite Aufidius to perform if his services are not needed?

What is Coriolanus’s first gesture when he comes face to face with Volumnia in Act Five?

How does Aufidius celebrate his triumph when Coriolanus is killed?

The gods

A “crack” (or cheekie chappie)

He is rescued by his troops

“I thank the Gods for’t”


Giving free corn to the people

That Coriolanus is a traitor

To cut his throat

To kneel

He stands on his corpse

Last Word

Around the time “Coriolanus” was being written, The King’s Men – the theatre company in which Shakespeare was a share-holder and for whom he was script writer – opened a new theatre.  They didn’t abandon The Globe, since it could accommodate 3,000 punters at a sitting, and made a lot of money.  But it was an outdoors theatre, and subject to any number of limitations – too cold in winter, plague-ridden in summer – which the new indoors theatre at Blackfriars largely avoided.

One further advantage emerged at the gate.  Whereas prices at The Globe varied from a cut-price one penny to a truly luxurious threepence, entry at Blackfriars started at sixpence.  Changing the price of admission to any kind of performance, as English football clubs have found over the past thirty years, changes the types of spectator who turn up to get in.  Blackfriars audiences tended, necessarily, to be wealthier than the regulars at The Globe.

“Coriolanus” is a play about ambition, drive, courage, integrity and personal limitations.  It’s also a play about wealth and poverty: the plebs who call for Coriolanus to be hanged in the opening scene are hungry, and it’s a notable feature of this play that between the rulers and the ruled there is rarely much common ground.  One can only speculate at this distance, but it seems quite possible that performances may well have elicited a different reaction at The Globe than emerged from the posher crowd at Blackfriars. 

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