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Coriolanus: The Journey of an Unlikeable Hero

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10 Facts You May Not Know About Coriolanus

One of Shakespeare’s last tragedies ever written, Coriolanus, follows a Roman general who becomes a military hero. He seems to be the perfect leader––until his unlikable temperament results in his downfall. Exploring themes of leadership, ambition, and power, Shakespeare’s play is powerful, heartbreaking, and intense. 

This season’s production is only the third time the Festival has produced this play in its sixty-two year history, with previous productions being in 1977 and 2007. Here are ten more facts about the play and our production you may be interested to know:

  1. Scholars consider Coriolanus unusual for Shakespeare’s works, as it follows a single narrative line. Additionally, some of its most striking moments are accentuated by silence. Still, Director Lisa Peterson considers the play to be one of Shakespeare’s most powerful. 
  2. Although Coriolanus faced military success, his temperament was not suitable as a leader, which resulted in his downfall. This brings up an interesting theme that Peterson will play on in her production, asking the question: “what does it take to step up and lead?”
  3. Peterson has made the artistic decision for Coriolanus to be produced in a modern setting this year at the Festival. (The other play in the Anes Studio Theatre this season, also directed by Peterson––*Timon of Athens––*will, however, be set in the time of its creation, around 1607.)
  4. Along with Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus was the last of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Although they are both Roman plays, Coriolanus is set in a time period two centuries earlier, while Antony and Cleopatra takes place in Imperial Rome. 
  5. Coriolanus was written around two to three years after Timon of Athens, and scholars speculate it was first performed in 1609 or 1610 at the Blackfriars Theatre in London.
  6. The play is based on the life of Caius Marcius Coriolanus, Rome’s leader, who was a hero in the early fifth century and late sixth century. Shakespeare most likely took inspiration from The Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus written by biographer Plutarch. The text was later translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.
  7. The play is historically accurate in the fact that it is set after the fall of Tarquin, who was the last king of Rome. Ultimately, the play shows the struggle that occurred during the transitional period when Rome was moving from monarchy to republic. 
  8. The play may be rarely-performed because of its unlikeable characters, yet the political appeal of Coriolanus allows for a continual buzz of discussion amongst scholars and politicians alike.
  9. This is one of the few Shakespeare plays that was actually banned in a democracy in modern times. In the 1930s, it was banned in France, and post-war Germany prohibited it due to its themes of militarism.
  10. A 2011 British film adaptation placed the setting as contemporary, reminiscent of Yugoslav Wars. Adaptations of the story have proved to be difficult because of Coriolanus’ questionable integrity. Although he is a successful military hero, our protagonist is still unlikeable.

The 2023 season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival runs from June 21 to October 7 and includes Romeo and JulietA Midsummer Night’s DreamJane Austen’s Emma The MusicalA Raisin in the SunThe Play That Goes WrongTimon of Athens, and Coriolanus, as well as all the experiences surrounding the plays, such as The Greenshow, seminars, orientations, and backstage tours. Tickets and information are available by calling 800-PLAYTIX or visiting bard.org.

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