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Act II, Scene 2
Two officers, who are arranging the room for the meeting of the Senate, discuss the likelihood of Coriolanus becoming consul. The first officer remarks that Coriolanus is “a brave fellow; but he’s vengeance proud, and loves not the common people.” The second officer comments that Coriolanus’ explicit indifference to what the plebeians think of him is due to the “noble carelessness” of his character. The first officer amplifies this theme, remarking that Coriolanus is not simply indifferent to the plebeians but “seeks their hate.” Their discussion ends with the arrival of the Senators.
Cominius, Menenius, Coriolanus, Sicinius, and Brutus enter along with the other Senators. Menenius begins by stating that Titus Lartius has resolved the terms of the treaty with the Volscians and is due to return to Rome. The main point of the meeting, however, is to praise the deeds of Coriolanus; therefore, Cominius gives a report in great detail. At the conclusion, he turns to the tribunes and bids them to convey what passes in the meeting to the commoners. Sicinius replies that he approves of granting Coriolanus his due honors, but Brutus says Coriolanus should change his attitude towards the commoners. Menenius reproaches Brutus for his comment and bids him to remain silent. Apparently offended by the comment, Coriolanus rises and soon leaves, saying he is uncomfortable hearing his own praise.
Menenius urges Cominius to proceed with his account of the deeds of Coriolanus. Cominius obliges by praising the valiant acts of Marcius from the very beginning of his career to his heroic effort in Corioli. The Senators then decide to make him a consul. When Coriolanus is summoned and told of the honor, he requests that he be excused from the custom that requires office seekers to don a gown of humility and solicit the citizens’ votes by displaying their wounds. Sicinius insists that the commoners must be gratified with this tradition. Even Menenius agrees that the ancient custom must be followed.
This scene opens with two officers discussing Coriolanus, recalling the last scene, which opened with the tribunes doing the same. The officers wonder what king of ruler this great soldier will be and worry that he will look down upon the plebeians. Even though they both agree that Marcius is worthy, the first officer says that he seems to seek the hatred of the commoners by his actions. It is a common Shakespearean trait to provide comments of great insight from the mouths of lesser characters; the officers’ dialogue is realistic and analytical but not spiteful like that of the tribunes.
When the meeting of the Senate begins, it is obvious that its purpose is to praise the deeds of Coriolanus, and Cominius gives a detailed report of his bravery. Jealous of all the praise for Coriolanus, Brutus makes offending remarks that are so upsetting that Marcius leaves the Senate. To see him fleeing from sarcasm when he has withstood the mightiest blows on the battle field is surprising, but not completely at odds with his character; by personality, he is suited for politics or the office of consul.
After Coriolanus departs, on the weak excuse that he does not want to hear his own praise, Cominius continues to report the deeds of Coriolanus in magnificent terms; he chronicles Marcius’ entire career, beginning with his victory over the Tarquins at the age of sixteen to his tremendous victory at Corioli.
His speech portrays Marcius’ true valor and fearlessness, turning his weaknesses into strengths. His account also reinforces the view that Marcius is a solitary figure, who is always willing to give his all. The Senators are impressed with the account and choose Coriolanus as consul. When he is summoned to return to the Senate to hear the news, Coriolanus begs not to be made to follow the ancient custom of begging the citizens’ votes and showing his wounds. This provides the tribunes with the ammunition to destroy him. They plot his downfall as the scene draws to a close.