Julius Caesar and Coriolanus

Julius Caesar and Coriolanus both deal with the lives of Roman leaders and great generals. There is much similarity between the two characters and some marked differences.

Both titular characters are successful against the enemies of Rome. Caesar comes back from this great conquests and Coriolanus comes back after defeating the Volscians. Both men consider themselves very important and feel that they should have some say in running the government of Rome. After this they differ somewhat.

In Julius Caesar, Caesar does not seem to be ambitious for the crown of king, although he is accused of it. He refuses by report three times when he arrives back in the city, but is persuaded to the Senate to receive it again the day he is killed. Caesar is also greeted by the masses as a hero when he returns at the beginning of the play. He is lauded more after Mark Antony stirs up the crowds for him after he is murdered.

The same cannot be said for Coriolanus. The people do not like him at all. They have been rioting over a shortage of grain they blamed him for. Not only that, he openly admits to despising the masses. This of course does not help his cause any. He is openly ambitious as well. He demands to be made a consul in the government. No one comes to his aid to stir the masses up for him. The opposite occurs, and he is banished from Rome.

Caesar is killed in the third act by his false well wishers and former friend Brutus. Coriolanus is exiled in the third act.

Julius Caesar concludes as his nephew/son Octavius and Mark Antony fight Cassius and Brutus in Philippi for the rule of Rome. It ends in normal Shakespearean tragic fashion. Coriolanus takes a different turn. After his exile, Coriolanus goes to the enemies he just defeated so that their general can kill him. This doesn’t happen. Instead, Coriolanus joins with the Volscians and moves on Rome. He only stops when his mother and wife beg him to. After making peace with the Romans, Coriolanus is killed by the Volscians because of his treason against them.

Julius Caesar and Coriolanus are both similar plays. They differ some too. Both deal with Roman leaders who are done away with by their own people. In the case of Julius Caesar, we are usually forced to read the play in high school. I had to in the 10th grade, and like most of the Shakespeare thrust upon me then, I hated it. After this reading, I understand the play better and enjoyed it more. I found Cassius especially interesting this time out. He is Julius Caesar‘s Iago. Cassius and Iago are villains very much made from the same cloth. They are both ambitious and manipulative to the point of committing great evils. (Iago still wins out).  On the other hand, We are rarely made to read Coriolanus, which is unfortunate. This play is superior to Julius Caesar. It is more compelling. It has more intrigue, and the titular character is very flawed and unlikable. Coriolanus is everything Caesar is and isn’t.

I never thought when looking at my collected works of Shakespeare that I would enjoy Coriolanus, but I did, very much so.  I even gained a better appreciation for Julius Caesar this time around. But if you have the option, read Coriolanus. Enjoy.

Darkly,

Vic Kerry

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