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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act III, Scene 1

Summary

The action reaches a crescendo in this scene and begins the onset of Coriolanus’ downfall. The scene opens on a street in Rome. Coriolanus, Menenius, Cominius, and Titus Lartius are on their way from the Capitol to the market place. Lartius, who has returned to Rome, briefs Coriolanus on the developments in Corioli. He informs him that the Volscians have not accepted their defeat and are only waiting for the opportune moment to strike again. Cominius complacently remarks that the Volscians have been worn down and do not constitute a threat to Rome any longer. Coriolanus is impatient to know whether Aufidius spoke of him. Lartius informs him that Aufidius has shifted to Antium and that he has vowed to destroy his hated rival Coriolanus. Coriolanus expresses a desire to seek Aufidius at Antium, an ironic foreshadowing since he will be forced to do so very soon.

The tribunes arrive and state that going to the marketplace will prove dangerous. When the Senators demand the reason why, Brutus replies that the people are incensed against Coriolanus and have revoked their votes. Coriolanus rebukes the tribunes for failing to control their own herd and accuses them of inciting the commoners against him. Menenius urges Coriolanus to control his temper. Coriolanus, however, blames the tribunes and prophesies chaos. Brutus attempts to absolve himself of responsibility by stating that the people accuse Coriolanus of mocking them. The anger of Coriolanus rises, and the quarrel becomes volatile as Cominius and the other Senators rise to Coriolanus’ defense.

Coriolanus goes on at length about how the commoners could never rule themselves and that their only advantage is their numbers. Sicinius accuses Coriolanus of being a traitor, and Coriolanus responds by saying the tribunes should be thrown out of office. Brutus accuses him of treason and orders his arrest.

As citizens begin to assemble, Menenius tries to pacify everybody. The tribunes, however, incite the mob and again call for Coriolanus’ arrest. There is great confusion and disorder, and even Menenius is unable to control the situation.


Sicinius speaks to the people, insisting that Marcius is about to curtail the citizens’ liberties. He claims again that Marcius’ treason deserves death. Menenius reproaches the tribune for fuelling the fire instead of quenching it. One of the Senators exclaims that this is the way “to unbuild the city and to lay all flat.” Coriolanus issues a challenge, draws his sword, and swears that he is ready to die on the spot, fighting for his honor. Menenius calls upon the patricians for help, and the mob is beaten back.

After the rebellious mob is driven away, the patricians discuss a future course of action. Menenius and a Senator advise Coriolanus to go home while they patch up matters. At first he resists, but then departs. Menenius and two patricians are left behind and heave a sigh of relief. The first patrician laments that Coriolanus has himself marred his fame. Menenius indulgently remarks that Coriolanus’ nature is too noble for this world. Both, however, regret Coriolanus’ implacable anger.

Brutus and Sicinius enter again with the mob. They ask Menenius the whereabouts of Coriolanus and state that he shall be killed without a public trial since he has violated the law. Menenius, horrified by this turn of events, tries to say something, but to no avail. No one listens as he tries to claim that

Coriolanus has rendered noble services to Rome by defeating the Volscians and has not done anything that deserves death. Brutus urges the crowd to pursue Coriolanus to his house. Menenius attempts to pacify the mob by saying that he will prevail upon Coriolanus to answer the citizens’ complaints in the market place. Sicinius relents and orders the commoners to assemble in the marketplace. He tells Menenius that if Coriolanus does not appear, he will be sought and killed.

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