Act 1, Scene 1
Coriolanus opens with a revolt of the plebeians in ancient Rome. They are out in the streets shouting for bread and the death of Caius Marcius, whom they blame for being the cause of their suffering. They accuse the patricians, members of the upper class, of hoarding the grain for themselves. The plebeians say that the patricians do nothing and thrive while they, the workers, starve. As they talk among themselves, the plebeians acknowledge that Marcius has fought for Rome and distinguished himself in the wars. But, they add, it was done out of pride and for his mother. As they are about to go to join another contingent of aroused citizens, Menenius encounters them and stops to talk with them. He is a patrician who is pleased to argue with the plebeians and instruct them. In response to their complaints, he first tells them that the patricians do take care of them and that they ought to rebel against the heavens regarding the scarcity of bread, not against the patricians. Then he tells them a story about the time the other parts of the body rebelled against the belly, complaining that the belly remained idle in the midst of the body, hoarding food, while the other members of the body worked and it did nothing. The belly responded, Menenius tells them, that it was not so, that the belly stored all the food and then distributed it to the other organs of the body through the rivers of the blood stream, keeping only the waste. Menenius explains that his story is a parable. The patricians represent the belly and the people, the parts of the body. He insultingly calls one of the leaders of the group ‘‘the great toe of this assembly.’’ As Menenius is reproaching them for revolting, Marcius enters. His first words are provocations to the citizens. He calls them ‘‘dissentious rogues’’ and ‘‘scabs.’’ When one of them observes ironically that they ‘‘have ever your good word,’’ he retorts that anyone who speaks well to them is a terrible flatterer. He calls them dogs, neither fit for peace nor war, unreliable and untrustworthy, worthy only of being hated. At the end of his harangue he asks Menenius what they want. Grain at an affordable price, Menenius tells him. Marcius is moved again to fury, belittles the people and concludes by saying he wishes the Roman Senate would give him permission to slaughter them by the thousands. Menenius attempts to calm his rage, noting that he had almost subdued the wrath of the people but Marcius re-enflamed it by his rhetoric. Menenius then asks Marcius what the crowds are doing in other parts of the city. Marcius reports that they have broken up, having won some concessions from the patricians, particularly, the appointment of five tribunes to represent them. The two that Marcius recalls, and the only tribunes who appear in Coriolanus are Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus. Scornfully, Marcius orders the people to get out of the street and go home. In the midst of this turmoil a messenger from the Senate enters reporting that the Volsces, enemies of Rome, are in arms and preparing to attack. Marcius is excited and begins to speak of Aufidius, the leader of the Volscians, a rival soldier Marcius admires, with whom he has often fought and with whom he longs to fight again. Marcius compares Aufidius to a lion he is proud to hunt. The Senate then orders Marcius to join the Roman general, Cominius, in the war. The soldiers and the senators exit in martial joy leaving the two tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus alone. They comment on Marcius’s pride and call him insolent. They are concerned, moreover, that the present war will bring out even greater superciliousness in Marcius.
Act 1, Scene 2
The scene shifts to Corioles, the capital city of the Volsces, where Aufidius and some senators are discussing intelligence briefings. They have determined that the Romans know that they are ready to attack, that there has been a popular uprising in Rome, and that Marcius and Cominius are leading an army, no doubt, toward Corioli. Aufidius maps out his strategy and shows himself to be just as eager to encounter Marcius in a fight to the death as Marcius has said he was to fight with Aufidius.
Act 1, Scene 3
In Rome, in Marcius’s house, Volumnia, Marcius’s mother, is urging Virgilia, his wife, not to be gloomy because her husband is away at war but to be cheerful. Volumnia tells Virgilia of the joy she felt the first time Marcius returned from war a hero. Rather than being excited by heroism, Virgilia expresses her anxiety over the possibility of his death. But Volumnia responds that her dead son’s good reputation would have replaced her son for her, that she would be proud to have her son die for his country. Valeria is announced. Virgilia asks permission to withdraw rather than entertain a visitor. Volumnia refuses and paints a picture of Marcius in battle, reveling in describing him wounded and bleeding. When Virgilia protests, Volumnia dismisses her as a fool; she glorifies bloody warfare over maternal tenderness and predicts that Marcius will vanquish Aufidius. When Valeria joins them, the conversation turns to how much like his father Marcius’s son is. Valeria describes how she saw him clamp his teeth in rage a few days earlier as he tore apart a butterfly. The women try to persuade Virgilia to lay aside her embroidery and go outside with them, but she refuses any exercise or amusement until her husband returns safely from the war. Valeria cajoles her with news that Marcius and Titus Lartius are camped outside the gates of Corioles and feel sure of victory. Virgilia insists on remaining at home as Volumnia and Valeria depart.
Act 1, Scene 4
Not far outside the gates of Corioles, Marcius, Titus Lartius and the soldiers they command are camped. Marcius bets Titus Lartius that the Roman and Volscian forces have already joined in battle. He loses his horse in the bet when a messenger informs them the armies are in view of each other but the battle has not yet been joined. Volscian troops pour out of the gates of Corioli and beat the Roman soldiers back to their trenches. Enraged, Marcius follows the Volsces back into Corioles and is locked inside with them. As the leaders of the Roman forces grieve over him and speak tribute to his memory, expecting him to have been slaughtered, Marcius appears at the gates, bleeding and being assaulted by the enemy. The Roman forces led by him charge the gates, enter the city, and rout the Volsces.
Act 1, Scene 5
Inside Corioles, Marcius curses the soldiers who are looting the city before the battle is completely won. Marcius, on the other hand sets out to join Cominius’s forces and to continue fighting. Lartius tells him to rest since he is bleeding and has fought hard already. Marcius rejects both his advice and the praise implicit in it, saying he has hardly warmed to his work and longs to find Aufidius and battle with him.
Act 1, Scene 6
Cominius is congratulating his troops on having fought well, but warns them that the Volsces will attack them again. A messenger arrives and reports that the Volsces have driven Marcius and Lartius’s troops back to their trenches. When Marcius enters bloody but victorious from the last battle, disdaining the poor fighting of the common soldiers, however, Cominius understands that the messenger reported old news. Cominius informs Marcius that his troops are retrenching after an indecisive battle with the Volscians. Marcius requests a division of men to seek Aufidius. By his heroic presence and his rousing words, Marcius inspires a courageous battalion of soldiers to join him, and they go off to battle.
Act 1, Scene 7
Lartius prepares his troops for battle in the field.
Act 1, Scene 8
Marcius and Aufidius encounter each other on the battlefield. They exchange words of hate and fight. During the fight, several Volscians come to the assistance of Aufidius. Alone, Marcius drives them all off, including Aufidius, and then laments that Aufidius has shamed and betrayed him, Marcius, by not fighting man to man.
Act 1, Scene 9
Victorious, the Romans assemble at their camp where Cominius pays tribute to Marcius’s valor in battle, insisting on praising him as Marcius shuns the commendations. When Cominius awards him a tenth of all the spoils of war taken from the wealth of defeated Corioles, Marcius refuses it, calling rewards a bribe and flattery. Cominius tells him he is too modest, and, in honor of how he fought at Corioles, confers the additional name of Coriolanus on him. He becomes Caius Marcius Coriolanus. When they are alone, Coriolanus tells Cominius that he must embarrass himself for there is one thing he would request. Of course, Cominius says name it and it is yours. Coriolanus tells them of a poor man in Corioles who gave him hospitality during the battle. Later Coriolanus saw that man was taken prisoner; now he asks that his freedom be granted. Lartius asks for the man’s name in order to carry out Coriolanus’s request. Coriolanus realizes he has forgotten it and says he is weary, his memory is tired, and he asks for some wine. Cominius sends him to his (Cominius’s) tent so that his wounds can be cared for.
Act 1, Scene 10
In the Volsces’ camp, Aufidius concedes to his men that Corioles has been taken by the Romans. A soldier reminds him that the Romans will return the city if certain conditions are met. Aufidius is bitter at having to accept terms, but more incensed that he has not beaten Marcius. He vows that he will kill Marcius the next time he encounters him and that he no longer cares if it is with honor in a fair fight.
Act 2, Scene 1
In Rome, Menenius and the people’s tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius, are discussing the war and waiting for news. The conversation turns to Marcius, whom the tribunes say loves the people the way wolves love lambs, to devour them. Menenius asks them to name Marcius’s faults and to show one in him that is not more pronounced in themselves. They say he has a host of faults, but pride and boasting are the greatest of them. In response, Menenius tells them that they are known among the patricians for their incompetence and pride, especially for the way they aggrandize themselves when they perform the functions of their office. Marcius, he says, is far superior to them. As he speaks, Menenius sees Volumnia, Virgilia, and Valeria approaching; he leaves the tribunes, and greets them. Volumnia informs him that Marcius has written to her, to his wife, to the senate, and to Menenius that he is returning home. They rejoice. Volumnia even rejoices in the anticipation that Marcius is coming back wounded, numbers his wounds (twentyseven), describes them, and compares them to wounds he has received in previous battles. The thought of his wounds distresses his wife, Virgilia. They continue to talk of the war, of Marcius’s heroism, and of his fight with Aufidius. As they speak, Cominius and Lartius, with Marcius between them, crowned with a garland of oak leaves, enter. A herald proclaims Marcius’s feats of war to the assembled crowd, and he is welcomed by all, but demurs, saying such acclaim offends his heart. Seeing his mother, he kneels before her and she bids him stand, calling him by his newly won name, Coriolanus. Coriolanus then greets Virgilia, whom he gently chides for weeping at his return, telling her that tears are for the widows he has made in Corioles, and for the mothers there he has left without sons. He then greets Menenius. There is great celebration among them. Volumnia expresses her pride and notes there is one honor more she hopes to see bestowed upon her son, to be elected consul. Coriolanus responds that he would prefer to serve Rome in his way than have to ask for the people’s votes. As they speak, they move on to the Capitol, leaving the tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, alone. They acknowledge that Coriolanus is popular with the people for his valor in the war and for saving Rome from conquest. They fear, moreover, should he become consul, that their powers will be severely curbed. They take heart in the belief that Coriolanus has such a temper and a temperament that he will not be able to keep the people’s love for long. They note, moreover, that they have heard him swear he would not go through the vote-getting ritual of putting on a simple gown, standing in the marketplace, showing the scars of his wounds to the people and asking, humbly, for their votes, or voices. The tribunes hope to take political advantage of that and to remind the people how much Marcius (they continue to call him) has always hated them and treated them with contempt. A messenger enters to report to them that at a rally in the Capitol, it is being suggested that Marcius be named consul. Brutus and Sicinius set off to the Capitol to observe and sharpen their plans for their victory over Marcius.
Act 2, Scene 2
Two officers are preparing the seating for the dignitaries before a rally at the Capitol, where Marcius will be nominated for the office of consul. They discuss his merits and his attitude towards the people. One remarks that the people’s love is unsteady. They easily turn from loving a public figure to hating him. Therefore, Marcius is wise not to care about the people’s love. True, the other agrees, but Marcius is not indifferent but actively, it seems, seeks their hatred. That, he says, is as bad as flattering the people for their affection. As the patricians, the tribunes, and their attendants arrive, the officers conclude, nevertheless, that Marcius is a worthy man. Menenius takes the podium and reviews their business. Having decided what terms to impose upon the Voscians, he says, the only thing left to do is confer honor upon Coriolanus. He requests, therefore, that Cominius, who is presently the consul and who was the general of the army, speak about Coriolanus. The senators call upon him to speak and ask the tribunes to report to the people what has been said. In their response, there is already the signal of discord when they say they will report the events, but that it will be easier to make a good report of the proceedings if Coriolanus shows himself more kindly disposed to the people than has been his wont. Menenius reproaches them for inappropriate speech and they rebuke him for his reproach. Cominius mounts the podium to speak on behalf of Coriolanus, and Coriolanus rises to leave the assembly, saying he would ‘‘rather have my wounds to heal again / Than hear say how I got them.’’ Brutus, one of the tribunes, suggests that Marcius’s attitude towards the people is really the cause of his leaving the assembly. Coriolanus tells him not at all. But he begins, in heat, to add that he does not much value the people because they have shown him nothing worthy of his admiration. Menenius intervenes, telling Coriolanus to stay, but Coriolanus says that he cannot sit and listen to himself praised, ‘‘To hear my nothings monstered,’’ he says. And he leaves. Menenius points to this as a sign of Coriolanus’s humility. Cominius begins to speak. It is a typical nominating speech, charting Coriolanus’s career and accomplishments. Menenius and the senators cheer him on, and as Cominius finishes his speech, the senate calls for Coriolanus to return. Menenius tells him that the senate is pleased to make him consul and that the only thing that remains to be done is for Coriolanus to speak to the people. Coriolanus thanks them for the honor, accepts it, but begs to forgo the custom of putting on the gown of humility, show his wounds, and solicit the people’s approval. Sicinius, the tribune, explains that the people must have their votes heard and that all customary ceremony must be observed. Menenius encourages Coriolanus to go through the traditional formalities. Coriolanus answers that it will embarrass him to go through that ceremony, for it would make it seem as if he had performed his heroic deeds just to win the people’s good opinion, and that the ceremony ‘‘might well / Be taken from the people.’’ The tribunes note that statement as a mark against him, arguing that it shows his antipopulist sentiment. Menenius tells Coriolanus not to make an issue of the matter, to just go through it and get it over with, so that he may become consul. Alone, the tribunes agree that Coriolanus will simply use the people, condescendingly, for his purposes. They leave for the marketplace to inform the people of the events that have just transpired.
Act 2, Scene 3
A group of citizens is discussing the upcoming vote and their own power and responsibility. They decide to give Coriolanus their voices, saying that if Coriolanus ‘‘would incline to the people, there was never a worthier man.’’ Coriolanus enters wearing the gown of humility. Menenius is by his side, gently scolding him, saying he is wrong to object to performing this ritual, that many worthy men before him have done it. Nevertheless, Coriolanus remains disdainful and sarcastically asks Menenius if he ought to show his wounds saying to the people, look at the wounds I got in my country’s service when some of your class fled like cowards from the battle. Exasperated, Menenius tells him to act judiciously or he will ruin everything. Still, as the people approach him, Coriolanus tells Menenius he could treat them a little better if only they would wash and brush their teeth. The scene in which Coriolanus endures the process of standing for election before the plebeians, who enter in small groups, is composed of a series of dialogues between Coriolanus and the people. These exchanges are punctuated by a short soliloquy Coriolanus speaks between interviews in which he says it would be better to die or starve than endure what this custom enforces. The encounters terminate with his apparent success. They are examples of the people’s rather good-spirited and naı¨ve acceptance of Coriolanus and of his condescending, over-polite mockery and even of his downright antipathy towards them. Moreover, he stands in his gown but never lifts it to bare his wounds to their sight; technically he is not fulfilling his obligation. When Coriolanus departs to change his clothes and go to the Capitol, the tribunes and the people recapitulate the events in the marketplace. The people feel that they have been misled about Coriolanus’s sincerity and the tribunes egg them on to rescind their votes; in speeches of deep irony they instruct the people to account for their change of heart by explaining that the tribunes had confused them by their (the tribunes’) strong support for Coriolanus’s candidacy. It is particularly ironic and fitting that, in attempting to undo Coriolanus, the tribunes give the people a true account of all his virtues, telling them to say that is what they had been told by the tribunals before the election (which is not so) and that is why they were wrongly swayed to consent to make him consul. The people leave for the Capitol and the tribunes go by a shorter way, hoping to get there first. They are confident that when the people voice their intention to rescind their approval, Marcius will erupt in a fit of temper, which the tribunes will be able to use to their own advantage against him.
Act 3, Scene 1
In the Capitol, Coriolanus has begun conducting state business as head of state, discussing the Volsces. Lartius has returned from Corioles, reporting that Aufidius has raised a new army and, consequently, the previous Roman victory has not really made Rome safe from the Voscians. Cominius demurs, arguing that the Volsces are, all the same, worn out, that Rome will not have to confront them in their lifetimes. Coriolanus asks Lartius if he saw Aufidius personally. Under safe conduct, Lartius reports, Aufidius visited him; Aufidius was angered by the poor way the Volsces conducted the war and spoke of his profound hatred for Coriolanus and that he wishes nothing more than to confront him once again in combat. Coriolanus echoes his wish so that he might ‘‘oppose his [Aufidius’s] hatred fully.’’ As he sees the tribunes approaching, Coriolanus confides to his colleagues that he does ‘‘despise’’ Brutus and Sicinius because they give themselves airs of authority and provoke the patricians. (It is important to notice that he does not despise Aufidius. He hates him. To despise is to hold in contempt. Hate indicates a passion which is not tainted with disrespect. Coriolanus values Aufidius and counts him a worthy adversary. That is not his attitude towards the tribunes.) As Coriolanus and his party are advancing toward the marketplace, the tribunes stop them, forbidding them to go further. Cominius protests, asking if Coriolanus has not been chosen by the nobles and the commons as consul. Brutus answers that he has not been. Astonished, Coriolanus compares the people to irresponsible children. The supercilious prodding by the tribunes as they assert their authority inflames Coriolanus to a fit of temper which causes him to voice his contempt for them, and for the people they represent, even to the point of expressing his opinion that the plebeians must be treated mercilessly, that any concessions to them or their welfare only increases their tendency to assert themselves and flaunt the authority of the nobles. Menenius repeatedly attempts to calm Coriolanus and prevent him from worsening the conflict. The tribunes, of course, do just the opposite and goad him on to greater anger. And when Coriolanus is swirling in the whirlwind of rage and declaring that the people be forcibly suppressed and the tribunes stripped of power, the tribunes summon the aediles, officers with police power, to summon the people. Sicinius declares Coriolanus a traitor. Sicinius and Coriolanus scuffle. Menenius tries to keep peace. The people enter. There is a general melee with shouting and grabbing. The plebeians surround Coriolanus. Menenius continues to try to subdue passions, while the tribunes condemn Coriolanus in their attempt to inflame passions, and quickly call for Coriolanus’s death. When the tribunes order the aediles to seize Coriolanus and bear him to the Tarpeian rock from which they wish to cast him to his death, Coriolanus draws his sword and drives the people and their tribunes to flight. Menenius advises Coriolanus to go to his home and to wait there, as he and other patricians attempt to mend the situation. Coriolanus answers that there are enough of them to take on and defeat the plebeians. But Menenius and Cominius, despite feeling as he does, urge him to go home rather than make matters even worse. Coriolanus, at last, heeds them. Alone, one of the patricians notes that Coriolanus has ‘‘marred his fortune.’’ Menenius answers that, ‘‘his nature is too noble for the world.’’ The tribunes return with the plebeians, armed, searching for Coriolanus, and calling him, ‘‘this viper.’’ Menenius and the tribunes argue about Coriolanus’s merits and his service to Rome. They want to fetch him in order to throw him from the rock. Menenius emphasizes that Coriolanus is a warrior who lacks social grace and a moderate temperament. After much wrangling, the tribunes order the people to lay down their weapons and agree that Menenius will bring Coriolanus to the marketplace, where Coriolanus will face a peaceful trial and answer his accusers rather than endure mob frenzy.
Act 3, Scene 2
Speaking with a member of his own class, Coriolanus insists that no matter with what the plebeians threaten him, he will remain as he is. He wonders, however, why his mother does not support him, she who had always spoken with such contempt for the plebeians. Just as he is speaking of her, she enters and he asks her why ‘‘did you wish me milder,’’ rather than being glad he acted like the man he is. She explains to him that it is better to have the power to use before you wear it out. He does not want to hear her. She tells him he would have been more of a man if he had made less of an effort to appear to be one, that he ought to have concealed his views until his adversaries no longer had the power to hinder him from acting on them. ‘‘Let them hang,’’ he responds regarding the people. His mother tartly retorts, ‘‘Ay, and burn too,’’ meaning the city of Rome, and implicitly reproaching him for a dangerously cavalier attitude. Menenius and a number of senators enter, and everyone advises Coriolanus that he has been too rough in his behavior and that he must, for the common good, apologize for the harsh things he has said. Coriolanus says that he cannot do that. His mother speaks at length to him, cajoling and reprimanding, calling him too stubborn, telling him that it does not dishonor him to say something in order to achieve a desired end, even if he does not mean it. She and all the patricians urge him, then, to dissemble and humble himself before the plebeians for the sake of achieving power over them. Coriolanus struggles against them, arguing that he cannot do it: the dishonor is too great. Volumnia trumps him by pointing out how great the dishonor is to her to have to beg this of him. Coriolanus gives in to her, but she behaves coldly to him. He sets off for the marketplace, repeating to himself that he will answer all accusations with mildness.
Act 3, Scene 3
The tribunes Brutus and Sicinius are discussing the charges they are going to bring against Coriolanus, the strategies they will use to have the crowds affirm with their shouts whatever sentence they (the tribunes) impose upon Coriolanus, and how they can best get Coriolanus into a rage so that he will speak intemperately and they can impose the most severe punishment. As they speak, Coriolanus enters with Menenius, Cominius, and other patricians. With the encouragement of his friends, Coriolanus is rehearsing the appeasing things he will say. Then the trial begins with Menenius acting as an advocate for Coriolanus, recounting to the crowd the service to the state Coriolanus has done. Coriolanus then asks why, after being granted the honor of being consul, it was rescinded. Sicinius retorts that Coriolanus is not to ask questions but to answer theirs. He accuses Coriolanus of plotting to obtain tyrannical power and states that he is therefore a traitor. Being called a traitor, despite his attempt at bearing himself mildly, inflames Coriolanus. Menenius’s reminder does not keep him calm. Instead Coriolanus lets loose a volley of anger directed at the tribunes. Sicinius takes advantage of his outburst, and inflames the crowd with his condemnation of Coriolanus’s wrath. In response, they shout that he should be thrown from the Tarpeian rock. Calm is destroyed. Angry shouting prevails. Coriolanus cannot calm himself and the tribunes sentence him to banishment from Rome, with the addition that should he ever return, he will be cast to his death from the Tarpeian rock. Coriolanus accepts his sentence with rage-filled curses against the tribunes and the people, calling them a ‘‘common cry of curs, whose breath / I hate.’’ He ends by saying he turns his back on Rome. ‘‘There is a world elsewhere.’’ The people rejoice that their enemy is gone and they follow Coriolanus to the gates of the city.
Act 4, Scene 1
At the gates of Rome, Coriolanus takes his leave of family and friends. While they are angry and mournful at his departure, he is spirited in his courage and optimistic about making a life for himself, telling them that as long as he lives they will always hear from him and that they will never hear anything about him but what is like himself. Refusing to have anyone accompany him in his wanderings, he departs.
Act 4, Scene 2
Once Coriolanus is gone, the tribunes decide it is time to mollify the patricians, who have sided with Coriolanus. They send the people home, saying ‘‘their great enemy is gone.’’ As they speak, they see Volumnia, Virgilia, and Menenius approaching and try to avoid them, but Volumnia sees them and curses them. They call her crazy and leave. She tells her companions that her anger is boundless and self-consuming.
Act 4, Scene 3
A Roman spying for the Volscians and a Volscian spy meet as the Roman is going to Antium to give the Volscians news from Rome. The Roman tells the Volscian that Coriolanus has been banished, and the Volscian lets him know what good news that is: Aufidius and the Voslcians are preparing another attack on Rome.
Act 4, Scene 4
Coriolanus arrives in Antium, poorly dressed and muffled in a cloak. He finds Aufidius’s house and determines to present himself to Aufidius, thinking that friends can turn foes and foes can turn friends. He will offer his services to the Volscians, if they will have him, and if they choose instead to kill him, that’s only fair, he thinks, considering the number of deaths he has brought to them.
Act 4, Scene 5
Inside Aufidius’s house, the serving men are going back and forth bringing wine to guests. Coriolanus enters and is taken for a beggar. He refuses to leave when asked, and when the servants try to remove him bodily he resists. Aufidius is summoned and comes to see what the matter is. Coriolanus opens his cloak to reveal himself but Aufidius does not recognize him. Only when Marcius names himself does Aufidius know him. Rather then calling himself Coriolanus, he says my name is Caius Marcius. Then he narrates the wrongs he has suffered at the hands of the Roman plebeians, explains that he has been banished, and that, for revenge, he wishes to make war against Rome with the Volscians if they will have him. If not, he offers himself to Aufidius, saying he has no desire to live. Aufidius clasps him to his bosom and vows friendship and comradeship with him. He tells him the Volscians are preparing a military campaign against Roman territories, although not the capitol city itself. He offers Coriolanus co-command of his forces and the power to decide if they will assault the city of Rome itself as well as the territories. When Aufidius takes Coriolanus inside to join the diners, the servants, once so contemptuous of the beggar they had thought he was, now confess to each other how they each sensed there was something special about him. Another servant enters and informs them excitedly that the man they saw is Caius Marcius and that the Volscians are setting off immediately to make new wars against Rome.
Act 4, Scene 6
In Rome, the tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, are congratulating themselves on how well everything has gone since the departure of Coriolanus. When they meet Menenius they mention that Coriolanus is not missed. Menenius says wistfully he wishes Coriolanus had been more prudent in his speech. None of them has heard any news of Coriolanus. As Roman citizens pass them on the street and offer them their blessings and their thanks, the tribunes become swollen with pride and opine that ‘‘Caius Marcius,’’ as they call him, eschewing the honorary ‘‘Coriolanus,’’ was a good soldier but had become too proud. As they continue in this vein, an aedile meets them with the news that Rome has captured a Volscian and learned that the Volsces have two armies in the field marching against them. Although Menenius offers the reasonable analysis that when he learned of Coriolanus’s banishment, Aufidius undoubtedly had taken to the field against a substantially weakened Rome, the tribunes refuse to believe it and order the man who reported the approach of the Volscian armies whipped for spreading rumors. Menenius advises they question the man before they whip him, lest they fail to get important information about the coming attack. The tribunes dismiss Menenius with haughty contempt. Another messenger arrives and announces that the senate is convening and that there is bad news. The tribunes in response order the Volscian captive to be publicly whipped to put an end to the panic. But the messenger adds that the report has been confirmed and, even worse news, that Marcius leads one of the Volscian armies against Rome and vows revenge. The tribunes do not believe it, and Menenius himself doubts this part of the news, recalling the fierce enmity between Marcius and Aufidius. But as he is expressing this doubt, another messenger arrives to summon him to the senate with reports that Marcius is indeed leading an army against Rome. Menenius enters, and berates the tribunes for bringing on such a calamity. Menenius says Rome must ask for mercy. Cominius retorts with the question, Who shall ask for it? and answers, not the tribunes, nor the people, who wronged him, not even his friends, who did not help him but acceded to the tribunes and the people. A group of the people enter, fearful of the punishment they expect Marcius is bringing. They say now that they never really approved of banishing him. The tribunes tell them to go home. They say the reports are patrician propaganda. Alone, the tribunes leave for the capitol to learn more news, still refusing to believe that reports of the attack are true.
Act 4, Scene 7
In a camp outside Rome, Aufidius is talking to his lieutenant about how the soldiers idolize Marcius. Aufidius says he cannot do anything about it before the attack on Rome because it would weaken the army. But after the Volscian victory, Aufidius says, he plans to take his revenge on Marcius and bring him down.
Act 5, Scene 1
Cominius has been to see Marcius, who has arrived at the gates of Rome with his army. Cominius begs Marcius to relent and spare the city, but to no avail. The tribunes plead with Menenius to go to him and see if he can exert his influence more successfully on Marcius. Menenius is reluctant. He declines, arguing that it will be useless, it will only depress him, Menenius, to see himself scorned by the man who had once called him father; finally Menenius agrees to go. Perhaps Marcius will be more tractable after he has eaten, he says. Once he has gone, Cominius assures the tribunes that Menenius will fail, that only if Marcius’s mother and wife go to him may he possibly show mercy.
Act 5, Scene 2
Menenius, at the Volscian camp, is stopped by the guards from going further. They say Coriolanus, as they call him, will not see him. Menenius assures them he will, but they mock him. When Coriolanus appears with Aufidius he sees Menenius and spurns his petition, only giving him a letter he had prepared to send him. Coriolanus exits with Aufidius, and the guards further scorn Menenius. Menenius leaves them, broken but stoic, saying he cares not if he dies; his curse to the guards is that they have a long life.
Act 5, Scene 3
Coriolanus is telling Aufidius how dear Menenius has been to him and how, nevertheless, Menenius could not shake him from his purpose, when Volumnia, Virgilia, Valeria (a renowned matron of Rome) and his little son approach. He sees them and confesses that he is moved, but vows to retain the firmness of his objective. He kneels to his mother after embracing his wife, but tells them he will not be swayed. Volumnia then kneels to him and in a long speech expresses the special grief she feels of having to be grieved at seeing him, which is the thing that ought to bring her joy. She assures him that if he marches on Rome he will also tread on his mother’s womb, for she will die by her own hand if she fails to persuade him to offer Rome mercy. She argues that he can broker a peace between Rome and the Volscians that will be beneficial to both sides and cause both sides to honor him. When he seems unmoved, she calls him proud and taunts him saying she is not his mother; some woman in Corioles is. At this he takes her hand and surrenders to her. He asks Aufidius if he, too, would not be moved to mercy by such supplication. Aufidius says, indeed, he would. But in an aside, Aufidius notes that he will use Coriolanus’s mercifulness to regain his position of dominance over him.
Act 5, Scene 4
Menenius advises the tribune, Sicinius, that there is hardly any hope of Volumnia’s succeeding with Coriolanus where he had failed. A messenger enters with news that the people are enraged and have seized the other tribune, Brutus, and threaten to kill him by slow torture if Volumnia and Virgilia do not return with good news. But at his heels, another messenger rushes in with that very unanticipated good news. In the distance, trumpets and other instruments of joy begin to sound as Menenius and Sicinius leave the stage to join the rest of Rome in celebration.
Act 5, Scene 5
This is a scene of only six lines in which the citizens of Rome welcome Volumnia, Virgilia, and Valeria back with shouts of gratitude.
Act 5, Scene 6
Aufidius orders his attendants to summon the people of Corioles to the marketplace, where he will bring accusations of betrayal against Coriolanus, whom he knows intends also to speak there in defense of his capitulation. From his conversation with his henchman, it is clear that Aufidius is plotting to have Coriolanus killed. Their rehearsal of the case they will make against him is interrupted by the shouts of welcome they hear in the distance as the Volscian people welcome Coriolanus with an enthusiasm that Aufidius did not receive. In his jealousy, he is sure that he can rise only if Coriolanus falls. The lords of the city, unlike the cheering commons who greet Coriolanus, greet only Aufidius warmly, and together they berate Coriolanus for his betrayal of the Volscians. Coriolanus enters and presents the nobles with a report of the spoils of war he has brought back and with the terms of the peace he concluded with Rome, which he characterizes as reflecting ‘‘no less honor to the Antiates [the Volscians] / Than shame to th’ Romans.’’ Aufidius interrupts and tells the Volscian lords not to read the peace accords; he accuses Coriolanus of treachery and abuse of power. Coriolanus recoils, challenges the accusation, and Aufidius repeats it, addressing Coriolanus only as Marcius. Aufidius condemns Coriolanus’s behavior and demeans his manhood, saying he ‘‘whined . . . away … victory’’ at the sight of ‘‘his nurse’s tears,’’ and calls him ‘‘boy of tears.’’ Enraged, Coriolanus in a temper of wrath confutes the accusation by reminding his auditors how he brought destruction to Corioles in his battles in the past as a Roman fighter against them and cries out how he would kill Aufidius even now were he six times the man he is. Aufidius’s henchmen raise a cry against him and rushing at him, stab Coriolanus, who falls dead. The Volscian senators are horrified by Aufidius’s deed, but Aufidius assures them that he can justify the assassination of Coriolanus when he tells them of the dangers Coriolanus posed to Corioles. The lords agree that Coriolanus’s wrath, mitigates Aufidius’s act. Aufidius says that now his own rage at Coriolanus is past and he is ‘‘struck with sorrow.’’ He orders a ceremonious funeral for Coriolanus, not omitting to add, ‘‘though in this city he [Coriolanus] / Hath widowed and unchilded many a one, / Which to this hour bewail the injury.’’
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007