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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act IV, Scene 6

Summary

This scene shifts back to Rome, where Brutus and Sicinius appear in public, gloating over their defeat of Coriolanus. They remark that the “world goes well,” for the commoners are tame and trade is flourishing. As Menenius approaches, the tribunes greet him heartily, and Sicinius states that Coriolanus is hardly missed. Menenius simply sighs and says that it would have been better if Coriolanus could have adjusted himself to the political situation. Brutus claims that Coriolanus could never have adjusted, for he was too insolent, proud, self-centered, and ambitious. Menenius denies these charges. Still the tribunes are thankful that Coriolanus was not elected consul and that “Rome sits safe and still without him,” ironic words spoken about a soldier who is presently marching against Rome.

The smug happiness of the tribunes is momentarily deflated by the news that the Volscians have entered Roman territories and are devastating the countryside. Menenius thinks that Aufidius must have been encouraged by the news of Coriolanus’ banishment and is preparing to attack Rome; the tribunes refuse to believe either the news they have heard about the Volscians or Menenius’ suppositions. They order the slave who is spreading vile rumors about the Volscians be whipped.

A messenger enters with the news that the Senators are rushing to the Senate house because some frightening news has been received. Sicinius attributes it to the rumor spread by the slave and again orders him to be whipped. The messenger states that the slave’s news has been confirmed and that even worse news has been received. Coriolanus has joined Aufidius and leads the Volscians against Rome. The tribunes refuse to believe what they have heard and see it as a ploy to make them repeal the sentence of banishment. Menenius is also surprised by this news, for he knows of Coriolanus’ intense hatred for Aufidius. Another messenger enters and summons Menenius to come to the Senate immediately.


Cominius arrives and sarcastically praises the tribunes for their “good work.” He paints a terrifying picture of the destruction of Rome under the leaderships of Coriolanus, who has become the “god” of the Volscians, inspiring the army with an incredible confidence. Cominius says that Coriolanus is at the head of the army and Aufidius is obeying his commands as if he were his officer. Cominius is certain that Coriolanus will be victorious, for the regions already attacked by the Volscians have all surrendered. Menenius says that only if Coriolanus has mercy on Rome can they be saved; Cominius, however, fears that they have forfeited the right to beg for mercy by allowing the tribunes to banish him in the first place. Menenius sadly agrees and again accuses the tribunes for being responsible for the attack.

A group of commoners enter, and the normally gentle and pacifying Menenius mocks them, accusing them of being responsible for the danger facing Rome. The citizens begin to regret their decision to exile Coriolanus. As commoners argue amongst themselves, Menenius and Cominius leave for the Capitol. The tribunes send the citizens home, assuring them that there is no cause to worry; but left alone onstage, they dread that the news they have heard may be true.

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