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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act V, Scene 3

Summary

The scene opens in Coriolanus’ tent outside Rome. Coriolanus, Aufidius, and other Volscian lords are engaged in what appears to be a council of war. Coriolanus says that they will attack Rome the next day and tells Aufidius to report to the Volscian lords how he has conducted the operations of warfare. Aufidius praises him and asserts his satisfaction at Coriolanus’ handling of the pleas from his former friends. Coriolanus then confesses how difficult it had been to remain impervious to the pleas of Menenius, who loved him like a father. Coriolanus vows that hereafter he will not admit any other emissaries. A shout is heard, and Coriolanus reiterates his vow.

Virgilia, Volumnia, Young Marcius, Valeria, and attendants enter wearing mourning dress. Although Coriolanus has just made a vow to Aufidius, he cannot send his own family away. As they approach, Coriolanus at first refuses to acknowledge the ties of affection he has for them. He sways in his resolve, however, when his wife curtsies and looks at him with her “doves’ eyes” and his mother bows in supplication. He then steadies himself again and declares he has no kin, again refusing to show any love or affection for his family. He listens as each of them begs him to call off the invasion of Rome. He ignores their requests although it is emotionally devastating for him. He also explains that he cannot forgive Rome.


Volumnia makes a passionate plea against his invasion. She tells him it is not Rome or the plebeians which have caused the present situation, but his own hard heartedness. She then begs him to listen to her. Coriolanus calls upon Aufidius and the other Volscians to listen so he will not be weakened by what he hears. She begins by stating how miserable the entire family has been since his exile. Next, she points out that the conflicting claims of their devotion for their country and their love for Coriolanus are tearing them apart. They cannot even pray to the gods for peace, for they do not know whether they should pray for Rome or for the victory of Coriolanus. They will be the losers in either case. If Coriolanus loses, he will be led in shame through the streets of Rome, and if he wins, he will tread in triumph over the ruin of his own country. Volumnia vows that if she fails to dissuade him from attacking Rome, she will kill herself and he will have to step across her dead body to enter the city. Virgilia declares that she will do likewise. Young Marcius, however, says that Coriolanus will not tread over his body because he will run away and fight him when he is big enough to do so.

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