Coriolanus Roman Senators
by William Shakespeare

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Roman Senators

(Shakespeare for Students)

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They serve as advisers to the consuls, whom they have the power to appoint. These appointments, however, must be confirmed by a vote of the citizens. The senators are all wealthy patricians, members of Rome's most prominent families. Their attitude toward the common citizens is ambiguous, yet they generally seem to recognize the limits of their own authority and to acknowledge the rights of the plebeians. One citizen, however, claims that the senators have so little concern for the populace that they will allow them to starve to death rather than reduce the price of grain. Further, he charges that they've passed laws encouraging usury, repealed statutes that placed restraints on wealthy people, and consistently enacted legislation that makes life difficult for the poor. Menenius, on the other hand—who is himself a senator—says that the senate is the source of everything that benefits the common citizens. And Coriolanus declares that if it weren't for the vigilance of "the noble Senate" (I.i.186), the plebeians would constantly be at each other's throats.

In II.ii, the senators address the tribunes—the people's representatives—with deference. However, they apparently intend to appoint Coriolanus to the consulship, and they do. In III.i, they escort him to the marketplace. As he becomes increasingly impatient with the tribunes, the senators urge him to moderate his words. When the mob arrives, the senators are caught up in the tumult. They draw their weapons and try to separate Coriolanus from the people. After Coriolanus leaves, they speak to the tribunes respectfully and urge them to allow him another chance to address the populace. In III.ii, some senators join Volumnia and others in trying to persuade Coriolanus to return to the marketplace and pacify the people. As one of them points out (III.ii.26-28), the senators fear there will be a civil war unless Coriolanus retracts his words. The senators are equally fearful of an invasion by the Volscians. When Volumnia and her party return from the Volscian encampment outside Rome—having persuaded Coriolanus not to attack the city—the senators lead a celebration in honor of their success.