The main characters in Coriolanus are Coriolanus, Aufidius, Volumnia, Menenius, and Cominius.
- Coriolanus is the protagonist. A Roman military leader of the patrician class, his immense pridefulness proves his tragic undoing.
- Aufidius is the general of the Volscians. Although he is initially Coriolanus's sworn enemy, the two men respect each other and later join forces.
- Volumnia is Coriolanus's mother. She embodies the principles of the Roman Republic and proves to be a powerful rhetorician in her dealings with her son.
- Menenius is Coriolanus's friend. He is a fellow patrician, but his comparatively moderate character keeps his aristocratic views in check.
- Cominius is the Roman military commander.
Caius Marcius, who is called by his agnomen, or title, of Coriolanus from act 2 onwards, is the protagonist and tragic hero of the play. He is noble in character as well as by birth, and has been raised by his formidable mother in a tradition of public service and personal pride. He does not value money or possessions and does not seem to want the consulship much either. His pride is his defining quality. Coriolanus is so purely proud that he can sometimes seem modest. He hates to be praised by others, but this distaste seems to be occasioned primarily by his dislike of hearing other people talk about him at all. In particular, he cannot hide his contempt for the common people of Rome.
While Coriolanus is a tragic hero, he is not presented as a classic Roman hero such as Brutus, Cincinnatus, or Cato. Shakespeare’s depiction suggests that this is perhaps because his egotism is more important to him than his patriotism. The Romans regarded loyalty to the state as the supreme virtue, and Coriolanus is ultimately too proud to care about anything or anyone more than himself. (Read extended character analysis for Coriolanus.)
Tullus Aufidius, the Volscian general, is notable primarily for his mercurial temperament. At the beginning of the play, he has a personal feud with Coriolanus and wants nothing more than to fight him to the death. When Coriolanus comes to Antium to join the Volscians, however, Aufidius immediately embraces him as a brother. He then grows to resent the way his troops worship Coriolanus, and he is again maddened by Coriolanus when he decides to negotiate a peace with Rome.
As soon as Coriolanus is dead, Aufidius feels sorry for him and speaks of how noble he is. Although he has a large part in the play, Aufidius is not presented in much depth. Aside from his mercurial personality, he is primarily portrayed as a loyal Volscian and a brave, honorable warrior. (Read extended character analysis for Aufidius.)
Volumnia is Coriolanus’s mother. In her ferocious insistence that she cares much more about her son’s heroic status than his life, she initially appears as a stereotypical Roman matron, voicing the values of the Republic. However, she later appears to be somewhat more strategic and flexible, particularly in her successful attempts to negotiate with her son. Her ability to sway Coriolanus’s mind in favor of negotiation makes her a pivotal figure in the plot and singles her out as perhaps the only figure able to influence his decisions. (Read extended character analysis for Volumnia.)
Menenius Agrippa is a good-humored, sensible friend of Coriolanus who is continually trying to persuade him to behave reasonably for his own good. Menenius dislikes the tribunes and treats the common people like children, but he is neither as hot-headed nor as forthright as Coriolanus. His viewpoint generally seems to steer a middle course between the demagoguery of the tribunes and the lofty contempt of Coriolanus. (Read extended character analysis for Menenius.)
Cominius is the commander of the Roman forces against the Volscians and the senior general in Rome. Despite being eclipsed by the courage and fortitude of Coriolanus, Cominius appears to bear his second-in-command no ill will,...
(The entire section is 952 words.)