#MindTheBard: Boils (Coriolanus)

Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus
Photo credit: Johan Persson

On this #ShakespeareSunday we head off to ancient Rome, where tempers are boiling over… The Tarquin kings have been expelled and there are riots in the street, as citizens grapple for grain; they’re also not best pleased with the general Caius Marcius, who reciprocates their contempt. The ‘microbe’ for today is the boil, which is used by Caius Marcius (Coriolanus) to curse anyone who comes up against him.

Boils are also known as ‘furuncles’, and are most often caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (you may have heard of this from MRSA). The infection affects skin & hair follicles, therefore boils can occur almost anywhere on the body – though they are most commonly found on the face, neck, armpit, thighs & backside. Boils present as red, pus-filled lumps, which can be as small as a pea or as big as a golf ball, and feel tender, warm & painful. Damage to the local hair follicles can spread the infection deeper and into the surrounding tissues. They can clear up of their own volition, but often have to be opened & drained; larger or more recurrent boils may require antibiotic therapy.

Image credit: A.W. Rakosy/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Photo credit: Thomas Habif, MD
Image credit: Shakespeare’s Words

“Boils and plagues
Plaster you o’er, that you may be abhorr’d
Further than seen and one infect another

Against the wind a mile!”
Caius Marcius, Coriolanus (Act 1 Scene 4)

Today’s quote comes from early on in the play, as Caius Marcius (later Coriolanus) addresses his fellow Romans in t he wake of an attack by the army of the Volsces. He is admonishing them as they are beaten back to their trenches, seemingly not up for the fight – he is ashamed of what he sees as cowardice and tries to force his troops back into battle by belittling them rather than motivating them.

Though it is not an especially popular part of Shakespeare’s canon, relatively speaking, there are still a range of places where you can find it should you want to give it a watch. My first recommendation, as expected, is TSMGO’s reading – I’ve previously found it quite difficult to engage with, but I had no trouble here. Plus it’s free, and comes with an introduction and post-show Q&A! If you’re willing to shell out, you can rent the Tom Hiddleston-led production at the Donmar Warehouse via National Theatre At Home, or the RSC ‘Rome’ season production from 2017 can be found on BritBox – if you haven’t previously signed up, you can still get a free seven-day trial (£5.99 thereafter). There are audio versions on Audible, and Wordsworth Classics is probably the best value should you wish to read it.

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