Ralph Fiennes’s film of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is quite good. Unlike many ‘modern-dress’ Shakespeare performances, this one doesn’t seem forced and stupid. Maybe that is because it was filmed in Belgrade, and Serbia is one of the few places today where one can imagine someone like Coriolanus actually living.
But what sort of person is Coriolanus? He seems to perfectly embody a martial, aristocratic or rather timocratic and thymotic ethos. He magnificently despises riches:
Our spoils he kick’d at;
And looked upon things precious as they were
The common muck of the world: he covets less
Than misery itself would give; rewards
His deeds with doing them; and is content
To spend the time to end it.
But what exactly does motivate him? It seems that thymos has to be ‘allied’ (as Plato puts it) to some conception of the good. In his speech at the first battle he says:
Those are they
That most are willing.—If any such be here,—
As it were sin to doubt,—that love this painting
Wherein you see me smear’d; 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, or so many so minded,
Wave thus [waving his hand], to express his disposition,
And follow Marcius.
There you have the love of 1) honor, 2) bravery, and 3) the common good of his country. But as the play unfolds he shows himself to have such a low opinion of his fellow citizens (especially, but not only, the plebeian ones), that honor (1) from them doesn’t seem to have much value. But then when they return his contempt and banish him he is so mad that he is willing to fight against his country, so how can it be dearer to him than himself (2)? And as to bravery (3), that is only intelligible in relation to some other good for which one is willing to be brave.