Act 3, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis

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Scene 1

Coriolanus is talking to his fellow generals, Cominius and Titus Lartius. Lartius has recently seen Tullus Aufidius who, disgusted that the city of Corioli yielded so easily to the Romans, has retired to Antium. Coriolanus wishes he had some cause to go there, hoping to renew his quarrel with Aufidius.

Sicinius and Brutus, the tribunes, enter. They warn Coriolanus that the people are angry with him after his insults and likely to be violent. Coriolanus immediately accuses the tribunes of stirring the people up against him. His anger mounts as the tribunes continue to argue with him, and he vents his anger not only on the tribunes but also on the patricians, whom he accuses of having given way to the people and having granted the tribunes too much power. Menenius struggles vainly to calm the situation, but Coriolanus escalates his argument with the tribunes by saying that they should be stripped of their powers, which Sicinius and Brutus say is a statement that amounts to treason.

A crowd of citizens bursts in upon the proceedings and starts to abuse Coriolanus. To add to the confusion, Brutus and Sicinius try to have Coriolanus arrested. They call upon the aediles to seize him and take him to the Tarpeian Rock, where executions are carried out. Coriolanus draws his sword and says he will die fighting. Menenius and Cominius try to calm him, and he finally leaves with Cominius. Sicinius and Brutus demand to know where he has gone, so that he can be arrested and executed. Menenius tries to reason with the tribunes and the mob of plebeians, but they take umbrage when he refers to Coriolanus as “the consul,” crying that they have not approved him for this office. They insist that Menenius bring Coriolanus to the marketplace to answer to the people. If he fails to do so, they say, they will find Coriolanus themselves and throw him from the Tarpeian Rock.

Scene 2

Inside his house, Coriolanus is telling a group of patricians that nothing will change his attitude towards the plebeians. He is surprised that his mother does not support his stance, but Volumnia tells him that she wishes he had assumed the consulship and taken power before he angered the people. Menenius enters and tells Coriolanus that he has been too belligerent and must make amends. He and Volumnia both entreat Coriolanus to repent of his word, but Coriolanus replies that he could not repent to the gods, let alone the people. Volumnia points out that it is no dishonor to use strategy in war. Why, then, should he not be strategic in his relations with the tribunes and the people?

Cominius enters and joins his voices with those of Volumnia and Menenius. If Coriolanus will only go to the marketplace and speak to the people gently, everything may yet be resolved. They will even help him ensure that his words are effective. Coriolanus eventually agrees to go to the marketplace and speak “mildly” to the tribunes, though it is clear that the notion still disgusts him.

Scene 3

Sicinius and Brutus are in the forum when an aedile comes to tell them that Coriolanus is approaching. Sicinius orders for the plebeians be assembled and instructed to reinforce whatever sentence he pronounces against Coriolanus. Brutus then tells Sicinius to make Coriolanus angry as quickly as possible, which he says will be an easy task; their enemy will then say something foolish and lose his life.

Coriolanus enters with Menenius, Cominius, and a group of patricians. The aedile then enters with a crowd of citizens....

(This entire section contains 985 words.)

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Sicinius charges Coriolanus with treachery and tyranny. Coriolanus promptly calls him a liar, and the people begin to clamor for Coriolanus to be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. The tribunes sentence him to banishment for being an “enemy to the people and his country.” Coriolanus furiously replies that he will go only too gladly, turning his back upon the city and banishing the hateful plebeians from his sight, concluding, “There is a world elsewhere.” The tribunes and the plebeians rejoice as Coriolanus departs from Rome.

Analysis

In act 3, the audience sees Coriolanus poised not only against the plebeians and the tribunes but first and foremost against his fellow patricians. He wonders why his mother, who taught him to despise the common people, disapproves of his conduct now. Volumnia is no less cold and forbidding than in her first appearance, but she does appear more flexible, urging her son to let his head rule his heart and to wait until he has consolidated his power before insulting his enemies.

As in many of Shakespeare’s works, the tragic hero is alone. Nobody understands Hamlet, least of all the audience. King Lear alienates everyone around him, and Othello is detached from his wife by suspicion. Macbeth has his closest friend murdered and even grows apart from Lady Macbeth as his corruption deepens. It is at this point in Coriolanus that the protagonist is completely deracinated. Despite his unpopularity with the people, he has always been admired by his friends and family. Now they all counsel him to prudence, failing to understand that his nature will not allow him to treat the plebeians and the tribunes with even a semblance of the respect he has for Tullus Aufidius or any military enemy. Menenius understands his nature best and expresses his understanding in Coriolanus’s absence:

His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for’s power to thunder. His heart’s his mouth:
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent;
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.

However, even Menenius thinks, or at least hopes, that this uncompromising honesty can be swayed to compromise. His mistake on this score leaves Coriolanus quite alone, dangerously free from even the possibility of a moderating influence.

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Act 2, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis

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Act 4, Scenes 1–7 Summary and Analysis