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But out affection!
All bond and privilege of nature, break ! The character of CORIOLANUS, and those by whom he is surrounded, together with the historical incidents in which they take part, afford a wide field for the dramatic genius of Shakspeare; and scarcely does he exceed, in any of his classical plays, the success he has attained in that of Coriolanus.
The story of that general is well known in connection with the history of Rome. The play opens with the citizens having revolted; and Shakspeare introduces MENENIUS, who, by a well-chosen fable, induces them once more to unite themselves for the good of the Commonwealth.
VOLUMNIA, the mother of CORIOLANUS, and VIRGILIA, his wife, appear in the third scene, in an apartment at his house, discussing the qualities of the general in his absence, and engaging in domestic duties, which commend them as good wives. Outside of the city a battle is raging with the Volsces, who are laying siege to Rome, and in which CORIOLANUS is successful. He returns to Rome, midst the plaudits of the people; and, before known as Caius Marcius, is surnamed CORIOLANUS, in reward for his bravery before Corioli. He is afterwards crowned with an oaken garland before the soldiers of the army, and elected consul; but, offending the citizens by his counsel in the sale of corn, lately received from Sicily, he is accused before the tribunes, and banished perpetually from Rome.
In the fourth act, Shakspeare represents him as taking leave of his mother and wife, and effectively depicts their sorrow at parting. Flying to the Volsces, he is received with open arms by their king, AUFIDIUS; and shortly joins him in a descent on Rome. His success strikes terror into the Roman camp, and MENENIUS is sent to endeavour to make terms with him. In vain does MENENIUS urge every plea; CORIOLANUS is inflexible, and will not withdraw his forces.
This introduces the most effective scene in the play. VOLUMNIA, his mother, and VIRGILIA, his wife, are sent, as a last resource, to visit the Volscian camp, if perchance their entreaties may soften the inflexible CORIOLANUS. They enter, habited in mourning, and VIRGILIA first addresses him, directing her strongest weapon, affection, at his weakest part, the heart, and exclaims
"My lord and husband !" He pleads with her, acknowledges his love, but entreats
." Do not say,
Forgive our Romans.” His mother then urges her suit, kneeling before him; still he is unmoved: at last, mother and wife, and child, join in passionate supplication; and, unable to hold out longer, he acknowledges the power of woman's tears; and Rome is saved as he exclaims
“Ladies, you deserve
Coriolanus. My wife comes foremost: then the honour'd mould Wherein this trunk was fram'd, and in her hand The grandchild to her blood. But, out, affection! All bond and privilege of nature, break! Let it be virtuous, to be obstinate.What is that curt'sy worth; or those doves' eyes, Which can make gods forsworn ?-I melt, and am not Of stronger earth than others.-My mother bows; As if Olympus to a molehill should In supplication nod: and my young boy Hath an aspect of intercession, which Great nature cries, Deny not.—Let the Volces Plough Rome, and harrow Italy; I'll never Be such a gosling to obey instinct; but stand, As if a man were author of himself, And knew no other kin. Virgilia.
My lord and husband ! Coriolanus. These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome.
Virgilia. The sorrow, that delivers us thus changed, Makes
think so. Coriolanus.
Like a dull actor now, I have forgot my part, and I am out, Even to a full disgrace. Best of my flesh, Forgive my tyranny; but do not say, For that, Forgive our Romans.—0, a kiss Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge! Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss I carried from thee, dear; and my true lip Hath virgin'd it e'er since. You gods! I prate, And the most noble mother of the world Leave unsaluted : Sink, my knee, i’ the earth ; [Kncels. Of thy deep duty more impression show Than that of common sons.
CORIOLANUS.— Act V. Scene III. VIRGILIE.
Coriolan. Ma femme s'avance la première; puis la mère vénérable dont les flancs m'ont porté, tenant par le main son petit-fils. Mais chassons loin de moi toute affection. Brisons tous les liens, annulons tous les droits de la nature; faisons consister la vertu dans l'obstination. Que m'importe cette humble attitude, ou ces yeux de colombe qui rendraient les dieux parjures ?—Je sens que je m'attendris; je ne suis pas formé d'une argile plus dure que les autres hommes.—Ma mère s'incline: c'est comme si l'Olympe devant une humble taupinière abaissait son front suppliant. Et mon jeune enfant qui semble intercéder d'un air si touchant, que j'entends la voix puissante de la nature me crier: “Ne le refuse pas !”—Que les Volsques promènent la charrue sur Rome et la herse sur l'Italie, je n'aurai point la sottise d'obéir à un aveugle instinct. Je veux rester insensible comme un homme qui se serait fait lui-même et n'aurait point de famille.
Virgilie. Mon seigneur et mon époux.
Coriolan. Je ne vous vois plus des mêmes yeux dont je vous voyais dans Rome.
Virgilie. La douleur qui nous a changées vous le fait croire ainsi.
Coriolan. (A part.) Comme un acteur sans mémoire j'ai oublié mon rôle, et je reste court à ma honte.—Haut.) O la plus chère moitié de moi-même! pardonne à ma rigueur; mais ne me demande
de pardonner aux Romains.—Oh! un baiser, long comme mon exil, doux comme ma vengeance! (Il l'embrasse.) Par la jalouse reine du ciel, c'est le baiser que tu m'as donné à mon départ, ô ma bienaimée; ma lèvre fidèle l'a conservé pur et vierge.-Mais, tandis que je parle, grands dieux! je laisse là, sans la saluer, la plus noble des mères. Fléchissons le genou, (il met un genou en terre) et témoignons de ma soumission
par des respects plus profonds que n'en monteraient des fils vulgaires.
CORIOLAN.-Acte V. Scene III.