Politicians and/or military generals get in trouble for all sorts of reasons -- corruption, sex scandals, treachery, being a crack addict, etc.
But you don't often hear about them getting in trouble for being brutally honest about what they think... partly because it never happens. Yet this is what happens in "Coriolanus," Shakespeare's gritty tragedy about a great but unlikeable man who is manipulated into exile, and whose loyalties must be stoked back to Rome. The biggest problem is perhaps that NOBODY in this play is really likable.
Roman general Caius Coriolanus is leading a war against the Volscians, led by his nemesis Tullus Aufidius. After he wins a decisive victory against Aufidius, and gains the city of Corioles for Rome, he's welcomed back as a hero and given the official name of "Coriolanus." His glory-hungry mother encourages him to strike while the iron is hot, and run for consul.
Here's the problem: Coriolanus has a lot of contempt for the common people, and when his political enemies Brutus and Sicinius arrange for the crowds to be filled with... well, the sort of gullible idiots you're confronted with at every election. You know, the people who are shocked when politicians turn out to be liars, and whose convictions are so deep that one heckler can change their minds.
So when the crowds are swayed against him, Coriolanus ends up having a massive public outburst that not only kills his political career, but gets him exiled. He ends up going to the Volscians to serve under his beloved enemy Aufidius (the foe yay between these two is very textually-supported), turning the tide of the war against Rome. Is there any way to bring his old loyalties back?
"Coriolanus" is not one of Shakespeare's better-known tragedies -- compare to "Othello," "Macbeth" or "Hamlet" -- and that may be because it doesn't really have a relatable protagonist. Coriolanus is just not a very likable guy. He's a man whose outer armor is so thickened that only rage and bitterness can seep through, partly because of the way his mother has always encouraged him to fight and die for Rome.
And it becomes obvious early on why he is that way: Volumnia, a stalwart Roman woman whose only interest in life seems to be what glory her son can capture ("Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action"). She's the strongest force in the plot besides Coriolanus himself -- she's so obsessed with her son that she tries to insert herself in his marriage.
But if Coriolanus is not a likable person, then at least he spits out constant, impassioned speeches ("My throat to thee and to thy ancient malice/Which not to cut would show thee but a fool/Since I have ever follow'd thee with hate..."). There is a raw power into Shakespeare's verse, which gives it a blade-sharp intensity whenever one of the more passionate people opens their mouths.
And the tragedy of Coriolanus' downfall is perhaps that it's tied in with the aggressive, resentful attitude that has made him a great leader. His loyalty to Rome is easily turned on its head when the people he despises turn on him, and only revived in time to destroy him once and for all.
"Coriolanus" is not the easiest to read of Shakespeare's tragedies, merely because the titular character is just not as complex as Shakespeare's best. But it's nevertheless a powerful, passionate piece of work.