Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
How reading it compares to seeing it
This is the first play by Shakespeare that I have ever read cover to cover, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
I studied Shakespeare at school (Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet) and had seen the firm versions, which I enjoyed much more because I found the language so much easier to understand when heard, but I had left it at that because I found the idea of diving into anything else totally overwhelming.
However, recently I rediscovered Shakespeare through The Hollow Crown. Tom Hiddleston is a fantastic actor and the whole cast makes the series extremely interesting to watch. It reaffirmed my belief that Shakespeare should be watched, not read, after all they are plays. They should be performed. But now I’m not so sure.
I went to see the NTLive Broadcast of the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Coriolanus because it had Tom Hiddleston in it and the set design looked amazing (I am an artist obsessed with sets and props). However this is not a review of that.
The next day I downloaded Coriolanus onto my kindle with the intention of scanning through it and reading lines I didn’t catch while watching it. Skip forwards a week and I have read it cover to cover.
Watching Shakespeare for me (the first time I see a play for example) is an attempt to rapidly translate what is being said. Because of this some of it goes over my head. I am dyslexic and language is not my strong point, but I love stories and I have determination and persistence on my side. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it. For me, one of the joys of seeing this production having no prior knowledge of the play was being able to see something by Shakespeare and not already know what was going to happen. It was all new and exciting right up until the end.
So when I started reading it, I didn’t think I’d be able to separate what I’d seen from what I was reading, but soon they did start to drift apart. Though the characters still appeared in my head as the actors did, the locations and sets didn’t. I was struck by how large and grand the scope of the play was, with cities, battles, citizens, armies, flags, horns, this list goes on. The minimal cast of the production I had seen really allowed for the words to take centre stage, focusing on the importance of the characters and their motivations and emotions, making it very intimate. And because of this, though as I read it I was imagining much grander settings, my focus was very much on the characters.
Coriolanus is an extremely interesting protagonist. He is stubborn and arrogant but a great solider, respected by many. However, it is the very qualities which make him a good soldier, which make him a terrible politician and also leads to him seeking revenge. I made numerable notes in my copy about his character, trying to pin it down, however that is a discussion for another day. Perhaps I’ll write a post about it.
Reading this play really gave me the time to consider every word spoken, reading passages over and over again just to appreciate them or pick apart the layered metaphors. I skimmed through bits again looking for points and often paused to recite parts out loud, listening to how the words sound. I was surprised by how easily I was able to follow and understand it without watching it. But now I think about it, it has been almost ten years since I left Shakespeare in the classroom and my reading has improved a great deal since then.
Thank you Tom Hiddleston for leading me back to Shakespeare and thank you Josie Rourke for putting together an amazing production which made me pick up this play.
This year I am resolving to read more Shakespeare. Next on my list is Hamlet because I recently watched and loved the RSC production with David Tennant. Then I hope to read a play that I have never seen before and see how that experience compares.
I am going to see an encore screening of Coriolanus this week and it will be interesting to see what I pick up on now that I am familiar with it.
(Books read in 2014 #6)