Saturday, February 22, 2014

Coriolanus - Shakespeare’s Gen. Patton

Watching the Royal Theater Live production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston reminded me of two things; the first was just how good a play this underrated tragedy truly is, and second, how much Caius Martius Coriolanus reminded me of General George S. Patton as portrayed by George C. Scott in the 1970 movie.

Both men are military men who are most comfortable at war. Both are unbending and apolitical

Both men held themselves and others to a higher standard, and both spoke their minds. When Patton believed one of his men a coward, not only did he tell the soldier so, but he slapped him for it. Both Coriolanus and Patton respected their adversaries, and both were accused of being overly proud.

I do not believe Coriolanus was overly proud. On a number of occasions he did not want to hear his accomplishments extolled.

"Pray now, no more...
I have done as you have done –
that’s what I can... for my country."

When his war wounds are mentioned:

"Scratches with briers,
Scars to move laughter only."

One of my favorite parts of Patton is the opening scene when Gen. Patton delivers a speech to inspire his men. This speech is based on the one Patton gave prior to D-Day. Patton uses coarse language, the kind of talk that the average dough boy could understand and appreciate.

When I heard Tom Hiddleston give Coriolanus’ brief battle speech in act I, scene VI, it reminded me of the Crispen Day speech Hiddleston did in Henry V. But the Coriolanus speech (like Patton’s) is not as grand as the Crispen Day speech, which centered around ‘band of brothers’. Coriolanus’ speech, on the other hand, emphasizes individualism, and every man finding courage in himself. He delivers the speech before his men covered in the blood of their enemies.

"If any such be here...
that love this painting
Wherein you see me smeared; if any fear
Lesser his person than an ill report;
If any think brave death outweighs bad life
And that his country’s dearer than himself:
Let him alone... follow Martius"

Both stories of these two men have a tragic ending. Neither die in a great battle as they would have preferred, but die rather unexpectedly. Both Patton and Coriolanus possessed shortcomings their world was not willing to accept. Both had too much nobility that their world could not tolerate. Patton and Coriolanus were great men, and their greatness was their undoing.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon