Friday, June 29, 2012

Coriolanus and King James

Last night my wife and I decided to rent a movie. So we watched a few trailers and decided on a movie named Coriolanus. It looked like a fascinating story of a man that was rejected by the country he fought for, banished and ends up having to join forces with his mortal enemy. It had Ralph Fiennes (playing the main character Caius Martius Coriolanus) and Gerard Butler (playing his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius) starring as two of main characters with a great supporting cast. At the very end of the trailer a headline flashed that made it known that the movie was based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. So now I am really stoked. It looks like a good action movie with a great cast and the underpinnings of a solid story. So we rented it.

What could go wrong?

The movie was set in a modern version of Rome and the opening scenes were flashes of news reports that looked eerily similar to the recent riots in Greece. The parallels of the movie to modern day happenings make the movie look even more interesting. The first real scene has an angry mob marching on a government controlled food depot. So were are getting right into it.

What could go wrong?

Then we hit the first lines of dialogue:

Second Citizen: Before we proceed any further, hear me speak. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
Gathered Citizens: Resolved.
Second Citizen: First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people.
Gathered Citizens: We know it.
First Citizen: Let us kill him. And we'll have corn at our own price.
Second Citizen: We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians of good. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, our suffering, is a gain to them.
Gathered Citizens: Aye.
Second Citizen: Let us revenge this with our sticks, ere we become rakes.
First Citizen: No more talking on it. Come!

Uh oh. I'm starting to get an idea of what could go wrong. Who speaks like that? It became very difficult to follow what was going on. Further into the movie we were treated to this gem:

Tullus Aufidius: What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: A name unmusical to the Volscians' ears, and harsh in sound to thine.
Tullus Aufidius: Say... what's thy name? Thou has a grim appearance. What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: Know'st thou me yet?
Tullus Aufidius: I know thee not. Thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: My name is Caius Martius, who hath done to thee particularly, and to all the Volsces, great hurt and mischief. Thereto witness my surname... Coriolanus. Only that name remains. The cruelty and envy of the people who have all forsook me, hath devoured the rest and suffered me by the voice of slaves, be whooped out of Rome. Now this extremity hath brought me to thy hearth. Not out of hope, mistake me not to save my life. For if I had feared death, of all men in the world I would have avoided thee. But, in mere spite, to be full quit of those my banishers, stand I before thee here. I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends. But if thou dares not this, then I present my throat to thee and to thy ancient malice. Which not to cut would show thee but a fool, since I have ever followed thee with hate, and cannot live but to thy shame, unless it be to do thee service.

Don't get me wrong. Reading dialogue like this is nothing like trying to decipher it on the fly in the context of a movie. When I read it I can understand it but it isn't quite a clear as it could be. In a movie it was near impossible to understand what was actually being said. It seems silly to me to update every aspect of the movie but the dialogue. In this movie the dialogue is what really tells us what is going on. Isn't the point of a modern telling of a Shakespeare play to help modern viewers understand better?

It is the very same reason that most churches and Christians no longer use the 1611 King James version of the Bible. The whole point of modern versions is so that modern readers can better understand what the Bible is saying. But then as a church we can still get caught up using "insider" language that ends up confusing those outside of the church. That doesn't mean that we should stop using terms like justification and sanctification. What it means is that we need to be very intentional about clarifying and defining the terms that we use so that even those outside the church can easily follow our dialogue.


Movie quotes are from


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