When the people of Rome exile Coriolanus, he seeks refuge in Antium, throwing himself before his longtime enemy, Tullus Aufidius, and offering himself as a weapon against Rome. Although he has fought countless times for Rome, bringing himself to the brink of death time and time again, the Roman populace disapproves of him from the outset of the play, first for his unbending refusal to give them corn freely, and then for his undiplomatic tendencies in office. They banish him from the city when he refuses to mollycoddle them, as he might put it. Like two other Shakespearian protagonists, Hamlet and King Lear, Coriolanus is exiled under the pretense of protecting the health and stability of the state, but in all three cases, those who do the exiling clearly have ulterior motives. The key difference between these men is how they react to their exiles. Hamlet leaves with the image of Fortinbras' army imprinted on his brain, spurring him towards action, but somehow he returns calm and collected, save for his brief outburst with Laertes in Act V.i.
[...] When Coriolanus then loses his composure instead of apologizing to the people, as he is told to do by his advisors, and shouts, fire I' th' lowest hell fold the people!” (III.iii.68), his exile is inevitable. The people call for his death, yelling to throw him off a cliff, so Sicinius purportedly spares him by reducing the sentence to banishment. In Hamlet and King Lear, the protagonists are similarly shunted out of their cities and off of their thrones so that others can have their power. [...]
[...] Upon leaving Rome, Martius goes to directly Antium, placing himself at the mercy of Aufidius, his sworn enemy. He already knows exactly what he wants to do, as his prepared speech to Aufidius outlines his desires clearly: In mere spite To be full quit of those my banishers, Stand I before thee here . So use it That my revengeful services may prove As benefits to thee; for I will fight Against my cankered country with the spleen Of all the under fiends (IV.v.86-96). [...]
[...] But his actions betray his unflinching hardness, his lack of compassion, which he never overcomes in the play. That moment with Volumnia is close, but ultimately, his existing love for and duty to his mother do not suffice as any kind of moral transformation for Coriolanus. All three of these protagonists are killed at the end of their plays, but at least Hamlet and Lear die with dignity and peace. Hamlet makes his peace with Laertes as they are both dying, and in the end, Fortinbras honors him like a true soldier. [...]
[...] We do not see what has transpired during his absence, his trickery in switching the letters, the demise of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; save for the brief description Hamlet gives Horatio. Therefore, when he returns, we know relatively little of what he has planned while away; we only see that he has changed somehow, but even this is fuzzy, as he is almost immediately trapped in Claudius and Laertes' revenge plan. One of the difficulties with Hamlet is that he is practically impossible to understand, perhaps partially because we have so little opportunity to see him thinking, planning. [...]
[...] From the instant he leaves Rome's gates, Coriolanus is bent upon wreaking vengeance on the city he once called home, and the act of exiling him does nothing to curb his fiery spirit. At the moment of his banishment, he cries, incensed, banish you! / And here remain with your uncertainty. / Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts!” (III.iii.124-26). For a man who detests words, what better curse to set upon his enemies than that mere rumors should haunt them? [...]
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