I know, the title reads like a term paper written for extra credit by a sycophantic Literature major, but bear with me. I love the universe of The Hunger Games, and the subsequent prequel book, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes almost as much as I love the classic Shakespeare tragedy Coriolanus. Warning: there will be spoilers for both the Hunger Games series (prequel book included) and the play Coriolanus.
Those of you familiar with the prequel and the character of President Snow may know that his first name is Coriolanus, just like the titular character in the play. But how far do those similarities between the characters and their stories go? Let's dive in and find out because I think it goes beyond just their names.
The Hunger Games Overlapping With Shakespeare
Coriolanus Snow is the central character of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Caius Marcius Coriolanus, being the Roman war hero of the titular play. Both characters at their root are ambitious and self-serving – they feel entitled to the best and are willing to betray whomever they need to – be it best friends, family, or country – to get ahead and seize the power they feel is rightfully theirs.
At the start of each of their stories, both Snow and Caius Marcius are somewhat overlooked and seen as part of the pack, so to speak. Neither is on the fringe of society – they're both very much a part of respected society, but within that hierarchy, there's still ranks to climb to achieve fame and notoriety.
In the hero's journey, there comes a point for the character to prove himself; for Caius Marcius, this comes in the war against Volsci at the battle of Corioli where he breaches the gates and slaughters their army, leading the way for the Roman army to conquer the city and win. For Snow, his moment to prove himself as more than an orphan of war and the last of his family name comes when he mentors the eventual winner of the tenth annual hunger games.
Each Coriolanus is successful at this challenge as they get what they want, though, like any good narrative, it does have some unforeseen consequences. Snow's consequences were being forced to join the peacekeepers and assigned to district 12 – a life on the fringes. Caius Marcius, now given the moniker Coriolanus after his war efforts, runs for Senate and is elected. However, his fellow Senators turn against him and have him banished for being a traitor.
This is the low point in each of the characters' eyes, though their stories offer them both a path back to the life they knew and the idea of success they still cling to. For Snow, this comes in the form of his best friend and classmate, Sejanus. He gets himself banished as well and is assigned to the same peacekeeper unit as Coriolanus. However, the reunion is short-lived as Sejanus has a rebellious heart and makes plans to run away, disappearing into the north, beyond the reach of the Capitol. Snow sells him out for a ticket back into the Capitol's good graces and gets all the power he dreamed of – that is until he's brought down by one Katniss Everdeen and the rebel uprising, but his eventual downfall was inevitable.
Why was it inevitable? Because the same thing happened to Caius Marcius Coriolanus. After he was banished, he allied himself with Volsci and joined their ranks with the intent to bring down Rome as an act of vengeance. This ultimately led to his downfall as his mother persuaded him to seek peace between the two armies, which the Volsci responded to by executing Caius Marcius Coriolanus as retribution for his betrayal.
The Title Character isn't Where the Similarities End
Also worth noting is that both Coriolanus characters have a Volumnia in their life; For Caius Marcius, that's his mother – the very person who pushed him to run for Senate, inciting his eventual downfall. For Snow, that person is Dr. Volumnia Gaul, head game maker for the hunger games and absolute mad scientist. Being that Snow is still in school, she acts as an advisor, always challenging Coriolanus to be more ruthless and uncaring with human life and fates, hoping to instill a sense of her own lack of morality in him.
Both Volumnias used their Coriolanus like a puppet as a means to shift the status quo as they saw fit while at the same time destroying their Coriolanus. In Coriolanus, this comes when Volumnia persuades Cauis Marcius to broker peace between Rome and Volsci, effectively betraying yet another nation and leading to his execution for such actions. In The Hunger Games, Dr. Gaul slowly manipulates Coriolanus Snow into devaluing humanity and seeing life through the same elitist and self-serving lens that she does while training him to carry on and expand her ruthless legacy in the hunger games.
Each Character's Victory Leads To Their Downfall
Eventually, this does lead to Snow's downfall in the form of the oppressed rising up against the Capitol, refusing to take part in his ruthless form of society any longer. His hubris leads him to poison his political adversaries, though he had to poison himself too in order to divert suspicion. His death was caused by choking on his own blood while laughing at the death of his successor.
Both Coriolanus characters are ruthless and manipulate those around them as they themselves are manipulated by Volumnia. And so the wheel turns – war, valor, exile, betrayal, redemption, and finally, the fall. The arcs of the characters follow the same pattern, just as a bevy of modern works have drawn their inspirations from the Bard's characters and stories, my personal favorite being the parallels between Sons of Anarchy and Hamlet.
Overall, both stories are excellent on their own; however, when placed side by side, they bolster one another and prove the stories and characters are powerful enough to endure.