Analysis of Ralph Fiennes Adaptation of Coriolanus

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In his movie adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Coriolanus Ralph Fiennes is forced to abandon the play’s complex literary concepts and focus solely on the central themes due to time restraints. In Fiennes’s film, he uses his access to modern film techniques in order to construct his own unique adaptation of the original play while also managing to preserve the crucial pieces of the Shakespearean masterpiece. Although the movie interpretation of Coriolanus presents an opportunity to bring the play to life through a visual aid, the movie fails to fully capture the profound scope of Shakespeare’s intricate literary elements.

Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Tribunes as being evil and having ulterior motives can also be found in Fiennes’s film. This is apparent in Sicinius’s reaction to Coriolanus’ injuries which suggested that he is loyal to him and his cause. Fiennes uses a unique approach in capturing Sicinius’s scene with the Tribunes that is still able to accurately mirror Shakespeare’s original intent for the scene. Sicinius outrageously pretends to feel a form of unity towards Corionalus in order to keep the actual intentions of the Tribune a secret. By shooting a scene that focused on the members of the Tribune while Sicinius is professing his loyalty to Coriolanus, Fiennes is able to indirectly link Sicinius words to the Plebeians. The conflicting allusion to the plebeians by Sicinius and Brutus emphasizes their immediate split from their current class.

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This heavily dialogue based scene found in Shakespeare’s original play did not make its way into Fiennes’s film interpretation in the same orally dense format. Fiennes chose to take a more indirect approach to capture the essence of Shakespeare’s original scene. Brutus is seen telling Menenius that they are choosing to remain as they are at the marketplace to serve the needs of the plebeians or, as stated in the film,“for the people”. This unspoken loyalty to the plebeians is secured as Brutus refers to the plebians as his “masters”. Although each of these lines appear in both the film adaptation and the original play, there is no verbal indication of the Tribune’s removal from its class. To convey this action to the audience, Fiennes turns to the actors wardrobe to demonstrate this course of action from the original play. The suits worn by the Tribunes represented their intentions to abandon their place among the plebeians and disturb the traditional order of the classes. Menenius, Coriolanus, and the rest of their group are the only people shown dressed in suits. This demonstrates how Fiennes is able to use his own original technique to depict the Tribunes as both evil and seeking ulterior motives in the same way that Shakespeare did.

Shakespeare’s tragic hero is effectively preserved by Fiennes’s efforts in his portrayal of Coriolanus. Shakespeare incorporates lengthy passages that are filled with dialogue that reflect Coriolanus’s quest and obstacles to attain a position as consul. Fiennes, on the other hand, frames the task of gaining the support of the citizens as a taxing chore for Coriolanus since he viewed the class of the plebeians as being significantly inferior to him in terms of status. Fiennes makes a contemporary addition to the original play of a loud and powerful instrumental feature in Coriolanus’ march towards the people of the marketplace. Since Coriolanus is on a mission where he must beg for the support of the people, the addition of percussion possibly serves as a metaphor to those played during a battle. However, the unwavering respect that Coriolanus has for those who have served in the war is highlighted in both Shakespeare’s play and Fiennes’s film. In Fiennes’s film, Coriolanus is shown shaking hands with a commoner that he saw was wearing a military beret that suggested previous time in the military. This was the only form of physical interaction Coriolanus had with one of the plebeians. This interaction reveals to the audience how Coriolanus’ admiration of those with military backgrounds outweighs his negative feelings for the other commoners that he believes to be beneath him. In Shakespeare’s play, he frequently refers to the “voices” of the common people in Coriolanus’ quest for the approval of the so called “voices” that he deems inferior to his own. In the screen version of the play, Fiennes has Coriolanus give his speech in an automated, monotone voice, emphasizing that the words were meaningless but required in order to gain the support of the “voices”. Fiennes uses the actions of Coriolanus to highlight his hostile feelings towards the plebeians which accurately mimics the attitude of Coriolanus in Shakespeare’s original script.

Ralph Fiennes chose to shift the setting of Coriolanus away from Shakespeare’s original stage in Ancient Rome and towards a setting that compliments his modern adaptation. This alteration to the traditional setting of the play presents an opportunity to show the play in a way that is easier to comprehend the complexity of the play, while also appealing to a modern audience. Although Shakespeare’s common theme of power struggle and social class are still relevant today, the modernized film interpretation which Fienne offers allows the viewers to personally relate to the central themes found in the play. While the people in today’s age are not typically familiar with the political structure of Ancient Rome, they are aware of the present political issues of the 21st century. In Shakespeare's original script, Coriolanus is said to have been wearing a “cap” as he made his way across the marketplace. This cap was known to be worn by those in their journey to obtain consulship in order to appear modest in the eyes of the plebeians.

Fiennes decided to add a modern twist on the original wardrobe in Shakespeare’s play that still captures the underlying purpose that the clothing choice served. Fiennes chose to have Coriolanus wear a plain suit with no tie in order to convey his superiority, in terms of class ranking, above the plebeians, whose clothing is far inferior to the suit. Fiennes uses the suit to portray Coriolanus as superior to the lower class plebeians in his address where he is seen taking off the clothes of “humility”. Due to a limited amount of stage space, Shakespeare essentially depicts Coriolanus as seeking approval from a small gathering of people at the marketplace. Fiennes, however, is able to utilize his access to an unlimited amount of space to shoot this scene for his film adaptation. Therefore, Fiennes chose to place a large audience in front of Coriolanus during his speech to the common people. Fiennes refrains from capturing both the citizens and Coriolanus in the same shot in order to emphasize the great divide between the plebeians and the far superior speaker. Fiennes also uses deliberate filming angles to further accentuate the gap between the social classes. The camera crew strategically films Coriolanus at an upward angle to indicate that he is seen as being above the class of the plebeians. The frames that capture the eyes of the citizens depicts the interaction as a way for the plebeians to interrogate Coriolanus. Although Shakespeare chose to use a smaller crowd to address the power gap between the classes, Fiennes is able to capture the same message with his contemporary spin on the scene.

The nature of this movie is adaptive on the surface, and although this version of the play might be more appealing to the modern viewer, crucial literary elements are bound to get lost in translation. Fiennes’s modern version of Coriolanus is bounded by time restrictions that limit his ability to properly develop the main character and unveil the metaphorical complexity at the root of the play. Despite the time limitations that faced the production of the movie, Fienne utilized a wide range of theatrical methods and choices that prioritized the central elements of the Shakespearian drama. Fienne effectively transformed the initial play into a modern picture that managed to capture the significance of Shakespeare’s historical play.

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