Sympathizing With Coriolanus

"What he cannot help in his Nature, you/account a Vice in him." 1. This is the reason it is so difficult, and yet so necessary, to sympathise with Coriolanus. His virtues work in conjunction with his vices and for a modern reader, with little empathy for the autocratic, warlike states of the Romans or Jacobeans, Coriolanus appears scant more than a bloodthirsty tyrant with none of the poetical and emotional depth afforded to Shakespeare's more canonical tragic heroes. However, a consideration of the values portrayed in the text - those of the nobility of war, the dangers of democracy and the deceptive power of words - and how the character of Coriolanus epitomises these values, allows one to recognise his emotional development and his worth to the state and thus truly sympathise with him.

Coriolanus is perhaps one of Shakespeare's most misunderstood characters, the primary reason being that he is also one of Shakespeare's least poetic characters. Unlike Hamlet or Lear, Coriolanus is given little opportunity to wax philosophical, and therefore has none of the profound and emotive eloquence of his tragic predecessors with which to captivate the reader. 2. Furthermore, in Coriolanus' few lengthy speeches,...

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