Coriolanus Messengers
by William Shakespeare

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Messengers

(Shakespeare for Students)

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Roman messengers appear in six scenes throughout the play, sometimes bringing news of events and sometimes confirming or contradicting earlier reports by other messengers. The first messenger comes into the marketplace as Coriolanus is complaining bitterly about the government having granted the plebeians five tribunes "to defend their vulgar wisdoms" (I.i.215). Coriolanus is pleased to hear the messenger's news that the Volscian army is on the march. In I.iv, another messenger appears as Coriolanus and Lartius are preparing to attack the city of Corioles; he tells them that Cominius and his forces have the enemy in view but that the battle has not yet begun. In I.vi, a messenger reaches Cominius with incomplete information: he witnessed the Roman troops at Corioles being driven back to their trenches by the Volscians. Because he left immediately after the event, he's unaware that the Romans captured the city.

Brutus and Sicinius receive news from messengers on several occasions. In II.i, a messenger tells them they've been summoned to the Capitol, where the senators are about to meet. The messenger also reports that as he passed through the streets, he saw people from every rank and station paying tribute to Coriolanus, the hero of the hour. In IV.vi, a messenger brings the tribunes another piece of unwanted news: an earlier report about the Volscian army making inroads into Roman territory has been confirmed. Furthermore, he tells them, there's a rumor that Coriolanus has gone over to the Volscians and now shares leadership of the army with Aufidius. The tribunes scoff at the rumor, but a second messenger arrives a moment later and confirms it. He paints a grim picture: "A fearful army, led by Caius Marcius" (IV.vi.75), is laying waste to everything in its path. Two messengers also appear in V.iv. The first one tells Sicinius that the plebeians have seized Brutus and have vowed to kill him "by inches" (V.iv.39) if Volumnia and Virgilia's appeal to Coriolanus is not successful. Just as the first messenger completes his report, a second one arrives. He brings good news: the women have prevailed, the Volscians have broken camp, and Coriolanus has left.