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A history of the play by Shakespeare and other adaptions of his play

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

Coriolanus, a tragedy in five acts by William Shakespeare, was first printed in the Folio of 1623. It is based upon the story of Coriolanus as told by Sir Thomas North in his translation of Bishop Amyot's version of Plutarch's Lives. So closely, indeed, does the poet follow North that some of his longer passages are 'simply Plutarch put into metre.' The play seems to have been written in or about 1609, and belongs, therefore, to Shakespeare's later period and manner.

Of the earlier performances of the tragedy there are no records. The first mention of the work in theatrical history has reference to the adaptation made by Nahum Tate and represented at the Theatre Royal in 1682. This was entitled The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth; or, The Fall of Caius Martius Coriolanus. Genest describes the adaptation (which was in five acts) as "on the whole a very bad one." Tate, he says, "omits a good deal of the original to make room for the new fifth act. His own additions are insipid, and he makes numberless unnecessary changes in the dialogue; but the first four acts of his play do not differ very materially from Shakespeare. He has been guilty of a manifest absurdity in turning Valeria into a talkative fantastical lady.... He has made one considerable improvement. Shakespeare has been guilty of a mistake in repeatedly saying that Caius Marcius was alone when he forced his way into Corioli. Tate uniformly represents him as not being quite alone on this occasion. Plutarch says he had a very few friends with him." Tate observes, in his dedication, that he chose Coriolanus for his adaptation because "there appeared in some passages no small resemblance with the busie faction of our own time." He adds: "Whatever the superstructure prove, it was my good fortune to built upon the rock." The names of the performers in Tate's play are not known.

A second adaptation of Coriolanus--the work of John Dennis--was brought out at Drury Lane in November, 1719, under the title of The invader of his country; or, The Fatal Resentment. "Dennis," says Genest, "has retained about half of the original play, which he has altered much for the worse" (The English Stage). The cast presented Booth as Coriolanus, Mills as Aufidius, Cory as Menenius, Walker as Brutus, Mrs. Porter as Volumnia, and Mrs. Thurmond as Virgilia. The piece was acted only thrice, and Dennis, in his dedication to the Lord Chamberlain, attacked the management and certain of the actors.

A third adaptation of Coriolanus--attributed to Thomas Sheridan, and entitled Coriolanus; or, The Roman Matron--was brought out at Covent Garden in December, 1754. This was an amalgam of Shakespeare and James Thomson, whose Coriolanus had been acted there in 1749. Sheridan's piece had been produced in Dublin, with Mossop as Coriolanus. At Covent Garden Sheridan himself appeared as the hero, with Shuter as Menenius, Ryan as Tullus, Peg Woffington as Veturia, and Mrs. Bellamy as Volumnia. For details of the adaptation see Genest, who records a performance of Coriolanus at Covent Garden on March 14, 1758, with Smith in the title part, Mrs. Hamilton as Veturia, and the rôle of Volumnia omitted. The play called Coriolanus; or, The Roman Matron, produced at Drury Lane in February, 1789, was published in the same year with Sheridan's name as the adapter. Genest, however, believed that it should be attributed to J.P. Kemble, "as it differs but little, or nothing, from the alteration which Kemble afterwards avowed." "The first three acts were judiciously altered from Shakespeare, with omissions only;" into the other two acts lines by Thomson were introduced. Kemble, of course, played Coriolanus, with Wroughton as Aufidius, Baddeley as Menenius, Mrs. Farmer as Virgilia, Mrs. Ward as Valeria, and Mrs. Siddons as Volumnia. "Coriolanus," says Genest, "proved to be Kemble's grand part." "He was Coriolanus' self," says W. Robson; "his voice, his own private manner, his very rigidity, completed the identity" (The Old Playgoer). Kemble and his sister were seen again in this piece at Covent Garden in November, 1806, when they were supported by Miss Brunton (Mrs. Yates) as Virgilia, Pope as Aufidius, and Munden as Menenius. On November 19, 1819, Macready appeared at Covent Garden as Coriolanus and was saluted by Barry Cornwall in a sonnet as "the noblest Roman of them all."

The credit of restoring to the stage the text of Shakespeare's play, almost unadulterated, appears to belong to Elliston, who produced the tragedy (edited by G. Soane) at Drury Lane in January, 1820, with Edmund Kean in the title rôle, S. Penley as Aufidius, Gattie as Menenius, Mrs. Robinson as Virgilia, and Mrs. Glover as Volumnia. "Kean," Genest says, "ought not to have attempted Coriolanus; his figure totally disqualified him for the part." The next Coriolanus, in order of time, seems to have been John Vandenhoff, who played the rôle in various provincial centres in 1822-3. Later revivals in London include those at Covent Garden in December, 1833, and in March, 1838, in both of which Macready reappeared, supported, in the latter year, by J.R. Anderson as Aufidius, George Bennett as Brutus, Bartley as Menenius, and Mrs. Warner as Volumnia; at Covent Garden in September, 1838, with Vandenhoff as Coriolanus; at the Marylebone Theatre in 1843, with C. Dillon in the title part; at Sadler's Wells in September, 1848, with Phelps as Coriolanus, H. Marston as Aufidius, G. Bennett as Cominius, Mrs. Marston as Valeria, Miss Cooper as Virgilia, and Miss Glyn as Volumnia; at Drury Lane in January, 1851, with J.R. Anderson in the title part; at Sadler's Wells in September, 1860, with Phelps in the title part, H. Vezin as Aufidius, G. Barrett as Menenius Agrippa, Lewis Ball as First Citizen, Miss Atkinson as Volumnia, and Miss K. Saxon as Virgilia; at Dublin in May, 1863, with G.V. Brooke as Coriolanus; at the Grand Opera House, New York, in December, 1878, with J. McCullogh and Katharine Rogers in the chief rôles; at the Opera House, New York, in November, 1885, with Salvini in the title part, and Mrs. A. Foster as Volumnia; at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, in August, 1893, with F.R. Benson as Coriolanus, O. Stuart as Aufidius, A. Brydone as Cominius, G.R. Weir as First Citizen, Mrs. Benson as Virgilia, and Miss Alice Chapin as Volumnia; at the Comedy Theatre, London, February, 1901, with F.R. Benson as Coriolanus, Oscar Asche as Sicinius, Miss L. Braithwaite as Virgilia, and Miss Genevieve Ward as Volumnia; at the Lyceum Theatre (in three acts), April, 1901, with Henry Irving as Coriolanus, J.H. Barnes as Agrippa, Laurence Irving as Brutus, C. Dodsworth as First Citizen, Miss Ellen Terry as Volumnia, Miss M. Hackney as Virgilia, and Miss M. Milton as Valeria.

"The tragic struggle of the play," says Edward Dowden, "is not that of patricians with plebeians, but of Coriolanus with his own self. It is not the Roman people who bring about his destruction; it is the patrician haughtiness and passionate self-will of Coriolanus himself.... The pride of Coriolanus is not that which comes from self-surrender to and union with some power, or person, or principle higher than oneself. It is two-fold--a passionate self-esteem which is essentially egoistic, and, secondly, a passionate prejudice of class.... His sympathies are deep, warm, and generous; but a line, hard and fast, has been drawn for him by the aristocratic tradition, and it is only within that line that he permits his sympathies to play.... For Virgilia, the gentle woman in whom his heart finds rest, Coriolanus has a manly tenderness.... In his boy he has a father's joy.... His wife's friend Valeria is the 'moon of Rome.'... In his mother, Volumnia, the awful Roman matron, he rejoices with a noble enthusiasm and pride" (Shakespeare: his Mind and Art).

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