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Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and EthicsShakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics




Key characters

Corialanus, Roman general and politician, previously known as Caius Martius.

Volumnia, his mother.

Menenius, politician.

Aufidius, Volscian general (from Rome’s neighbouring state, the Volsces).

 Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

Fun facts

  • The play shows the dangers of dictatorship and was praised by the Nazis.
  • A 2011 film starred as Corialanus Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) - the film poster is pictured right below.
  • Many famous actors have played Corialanus including Ian McKellen, Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films.

 Ian McKellen is pictured right in a 1984 production with Aufidius (Greg Hicks) above him. 


The story

Rome’s starving people are in revolt and bad guy, Caius Martius, wants the rioting people hanged but is restrained by another top politician, Menenius.

Martius is re-named Corialanus after brilliantly helping Cominius defeat the Volscian army, led by Aufidius, now desperate for revenge.Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

The hero, Corialanus, wants to become consul, Rome’s leader, but this is made impossible by his:

  • dictatorial arrogance.
  • insensitivity.
  • opposition from many people (including Brutus and Sicinius).

His mother, Volumnia, tells him to be nicer and more tolerant.

Furious at being rejected, he joins his old enemy, Aufidius, in an attack on Rome.

But Volumnia persuades him to give up his attack on Rome. The Volscians are incensed and kill him.

But his death is sadly regretted by Aufidius - despite initially hating each other, they had fallen in love.  


Lessons for leadership

 Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

1. Change with different circumstances

Successful in war was Corialanus’s:

  • arrogance.
  • ruthlessness.
  • autocratic leadership

But these characteristics were disastrous in peacetime, showing that a leader must:

  • be flexible. Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics
  • adapt to different situations.

As Aufidius says:

“Our virtues lie in th’ interpretation of the time”.

Aufidius (Gerard Butler), left,  is pictured right with Corialanus (Ralph Fiennes) in the 2011 film.


2. Listen and respond to people’s needsShakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

Corialanus fails because he:

  • hates the people.
  • is insensitive (living luxuriously whilst people are starving).

So Menenius can’t convince the people that the government cares for them.

Another politician, Sicinius, observes how dependent leaders are on the people. He asks:

“What is the city but the people?”

 Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

3. The importance of humility and valour

Corialanus shows how arrogant leadership can easily turn into dictatorship.

He was a poor peacetime leader, because he didn’t have the humility to put other people’s interests before his own.

Cominius believes that valour (physical and moral courage) is vital.

“Valour is the chiefest virtue, and most dignifies the haver”, he says

 Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

4. Success can easily turn into failure

Corialanus rapidly turns from a hero into a villain.


5. Honour and integrity

Despite his weaknesses, Corialanus still believes in honour based on principle.

Honour and policy, he says, should be like “unsever’d friends”.

 Shakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

6. Unity from a common threat

The hungry people soon forget their discontent when faced with the attack of the Volscian army.


7. Evil begets evil

The killer Corialanus is murdered by the Volscians.


8. Results come from actionShakespeare's Corialanus - Leadership and Ethics

“Action is eloquence”, Corialanus says.

Tom Hiddleston is pictured right as Corialanus in the 2013/4 National Theatre production.


Key quotes on ethics

Valour is the chiefest virtue, and most dignifies the haver, Cominius.

Ingratitude is monstrous, Third Citizen.


Key quote on success

Action is eloquence, Corialanus.


Key quote on strategy

Our virtues lie in th’interpretation of the time, Aufidius.

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