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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Notes

This scene reveals how tenuous political rule is and how easily peace can be disrupted by war. The first part of the scene shows Brutus and Sicinius immensely satisfied with the state of affairs and taking all the credit for the “present peace / And quietness o’the people.” Little do they know that the peace is formed on very shaky ground and is about to be rudely disturbed by Coriolanus’ attack on Rome.

When Menenius enters, Sicinius remarks that Coriolanus is not missed much and that all is calm in his absence. Somewhat surprisingly Menenius agrees with them, revealing an implicit criticism of his friend that amounts to betrayal. When the tribunes again criticize Coriolanus for his insolence and ambition,

Menenius does not forcefully object to it and merely says, “I think not so.” The talk of Coriolanus is ironically interrupted by the news that the banished warrior has joined force with the Volscians and is devastating the countryside. The tribunes refuse to believe this news and order that the slave be whipped for spreading false rumors. The news, however, is soon confirmed, and Menenius immediately accuses the tribunes of being responsible for the entire mess.


When Cominius arrives, he paints a terrifying picture of the destruction of Rome under the leadership of Coriolanus, whom the Volscians follow like a god. The only hope lies in Coriolanus’ mercy, but none of them expect to receive any kindness from him after his banishment.

When the commoners enter and speak of Coriolanus, they again reveal their inconstancy. One of them remarks that he had pitied Coriolanus when he was banished, and another remarks, “though we willingly consented to his banishment, it was against our will.” Like the tribunes who lead them, the plebeians are learning to avoid taking responsibility for their actions by deflecting blame. In fact, throughout the play, most of the characters, including Coriolanus, have managed to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, especially in the conflicts between the classes. This lack of responsibility results in a republic that suffers from a lack of integrity and moral courage.

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