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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act V, Scene 1

Summary

This scene opens with the entrance of Menenius, Cominius, Sicinius, and Brutus, who are all perturbed by the imminent Volscian attack on Rome led by Coriolanus. Menenius refuses to go to Coriolanus and beg for mercy; instead, he suggests that those principally responsible for banishing him should go, meaning the tribunes. Cominius tells them of his futile efforts to get Coriolanus to renounce his plans to invade Rome; the warrior would not even acknowledge that he knows him. Apparently he has sworn off any connection to his former life. When the tribunes plead with Menenius again to try and save Rome, the man finally agrees to go to Coriolanus. He leaves, filled with confidence of succeeding in his endeavor. Cominius, however, remarks to the tribunes that Coriolanus will not listen to Menenius. He suggests instead that Coriolanus’ wife and mother may be able to solicit his mercy. At this suggestion, the nobles leave for Coriolanus’ house to entreat Volumnia and Virgilia to intercede on behalf of Rome.


Notes

This scene focuses on the resolve of Coriolanus to destroy Rome. He will not listen to any pleas for mercy and does not even acknowledge that he knows his old friend Cominius. In truth, Coriolanus now has no allegiance other than to himself. He wants revenge for his banishment, and nothing seems to be able to stop him.

Menenius shows himself to be somewhat weak in this scene, for he is afraid of Coriolanus’ vengeance. He knows he is somewhat to blame for the banishment and expects that Coriolanus will take him to task on it. He also shows his vulnerability by the ease in which he is cajoled into going to see Coriolanus by the tribunes. When they appeal to his patriotism, he succumbs to their pleas, promising to meet with Coriolanus after dinner. He finally shows his naïveté by believing he can succeed with Coriolanus, where Cominius has failed. Cominius is much more realistic and knows that Menenius is not likely to succeed, foreshadowing the next scene.

Although Cominius feels that “all hope is in vain” in the case of Coriolanus, he does suggest that Volumnia and Virgilia may be able to sway the warrior; as a result, they all set off for the old home of Coriolanus, hoping to convince the women to try and save Rome. It is rather ironic that Cominius and the others place the hope for Rome’s survival in Coriolanus himself. None think there is a possibility for the Roman army to stand up against this mighty warrior; only his mercy will spare the country.

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