(Shakespeare for Students)

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Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus are two of the tribunes chosen near the beginning of the play to act on behalf of the Roman citizens. Their principal function is to protect the people's rights by keeping them informed of what is happening in the senate and summoning them together to solicit their opinions. As the citizens' representatives, they are justified in regarding Coriolanus's hatred of the plebeians as a reason to reject him for the consulship. They may honestly feel, as Brutus says at II.iii.256-57, that the small mutiny they are encouraging will ease political pressures and prevent a more widespread civil war in the future. As politicians, they show a clear understanding of effective electioneering. They have a good sense of organization, and they make sure—through the aediles—that people turn out to vote.

But Sicinius and Brutus far exceed their duties. Most commentators judge that they corrupt the office of tribune. They seem much less concerned about service to the people than with maintaining their own power. Coriolanus is their enemy, as well as the citizen's, and they recognize this. If he were to be elected, their positions would be in peril, and this seems to be their principal motivation. They recognize that Coriolanus's arrogance is a political weakness, and they cleverly trap him into exposing it before the people. They appear jealous of the enthusiastic welcome he receives when he returns from Corioles, and this may contribute to the actions they take to bring him down. They taunt him with words they know will inflame him—for example, "traitor"—and wait for the reaction they know will come.

They seem not so clever in their conversations with Menenius , who...

(The entire section is 427 words.)