Act 1, Scenes 3–10 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1006

Scene 3

Volumnia, the mother of Caius Marcius, and Virgilia, his wife, are in his house, sewing. Volumnia scolds her daughter-in-law for appearing so unhappy at Caius Marcius’s absence. She should not think so much about missing her husband as about the glory he is winning in the service of Rome. Virgilia will not be comforted, and she worries that her husband will be killed.

Valeria, a friend of the family, enters. She asks after Virgilia’s son, young Marcius, and praises him for possessing the same noble qualities as his father. She tries to persuade Virgilia to go out on a visit with her, but Virgilia will not cross the threshold of her house until her husband returns from the wars. Valeria then gives her news of her husband, to improve her spirits. While Cominius has gone to fight the Volscians in the field, Caius Marcius has been tasked with capturing the city of Corioli, which she regards as a safer mission.

Scene 4

Before the city of Corioli, a messenger comes to Caius Marcius to tell him that Cominius is a mile and a half away from the Volscian army. Caius Marcius remarks that he will be able to hear them when they join battle, and soon afterwards the signal is clearly audible. Caius Marcius attacks the city but is driven back. He curses his troops for their cowardice, and he quickly joins battle again and enters the city, only to find that the gates have closed behind him. The soldiers assume that he has been killed, having been trapped in the city. His fellow general, Titus Lartius, is eulogizing Caius Marcius for his heroism when he returns to the ranks, wounded.

Scene 5

The Roman soldiers are looting the city of Corioli. Caius Marcius remarks to Titus Lartius on how ignoble it is to fight for spoils and how he despises these greedy plebeians. He then asks Titus to take enough soldiers to secure the city, so that he can lead the rest to help Cominius against Aufidius. Lartius protests that Caius Marcius is already wounded and should not return to battle, but Caius Marcius insists and goes to join Cominius.

Scene 6

Cominius is close to his camp, in retreat from the Volscians, when Caius Marcius enters and reports that Titus Lartius holds the city of Corioli. Caius Marcius is eager to join battle again and Cominius agrees, though he says he would rather give Caius Marcius time to recover from his wounds. Caius Marcius makes a rousing speech to the troops, telling them that every Roman soldier is worth four Volscians. He then leads them into battle against the army of Aufidius.

Scene 7

Titus Lartius appoints guards for the city of Corioli. Then, remarking that if Cominius and Caius Marcius lose the field, the town will also be lost, he too goes to join the battle against the Volscians.

Scene 8

Caius Marcius and Tullus Aufidius finally encounter one another on the battlefield. They both agree to fight to the death. As they do so, some of the Volscian soldiers intervene to protect Aufidius, who curses them for their officiousness and says that they have shamed him.

Scene 9

The battle is over and the Volscians are in retreat. Cominius praises the courage of Caius Marcius in fulsome terms and rewards him with a tenth of the plunder they have taken. Caius Marcius, however, refuses this as a “bribe to pay my sword.” He serves Rome for honor, not profit or praise, and is contemptuous of those with less elevated values. Cominius then gives him an agnomen, a title of honor. From this day, he will be Caius Marcius Coriolanus, to commemorate his courage in this battle and in the capture of Corioli.

Scene 10

Tullus Aufidius enters the Volscian camp, covered in blood. He curses the fall of Corioli and laments his failure to finish his fight with Caius Marcius, swearing to kill his enemy the next time they meet.


Scene 3 stands out as a contrast to the rest of act 1 for taking place in a domestic setting and featuring women sewing rather than men fighting. Volumnia, however, is arguably as martial and combative a figure as any of the men in the play, and it quickly becomes apparent that Caius Marcius shares his attitudes and values with his mother. Volumnia epitomizes the Roman ideal of public spirit. The great Roman heroes were figures like Lucius Junius Brutus, whose expulsion of his uncle, King Tarquinius, from Rome led to the foundation of the Roman Republic, and who sentenced his sons to execution when they conspired to restore the monarchy. Five centuries later, his descendent, Marcus Junius Brutus, was to kill his friend, Julius Caesar, in an attempt to preserve the Republic his ancestor had founded. Volumnia, therefore, is in good company when she prefers a dead son to a cowardly or disloyal one. But Shakespeare is not entirely in sympathy with these Republican virtues. In all his Roman plays, this subtle critique comes through in the coldness of those who espouse such views. Virgilia’s concern for her husband is more natural than her mother-in-law’s ferocious patriotism.

The battle scenes are relatively brief, but they provide further insight into the character of Caius Marcius. Caius Marcius is not a complex man in the way that Hamlet is. He is not given to introspection or to soliloquies. Nonetheless, he is not simple in the sense of being either merely admirable or despicable. He has noble qualities. His modesty in disliking praise and refusing rewards is genuine. He is an outstandingly brave, resilient, and unselfish fighter. However, his modesty is coupled with an arrogance that leads him to disparage his fellow soldiers even as they honor him. When he sees soldiers looting, he never reflects that they do not have his background of wealth and privilege, which allows him to despise money. He is utterly contemptuous of anyone who does not share his values, outlook, and virtues. In all these things, he is his mother’s son.

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