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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Young Marcius

He only appears once in the intercession scene and speaks only one and a half lines in the play and his character is sketched in by Valeria’s account of his chasing a golden butterfly and then tearing it up in a fit of rage. Volumnia attributes it to “One on’s father’s moods”. Valeria says that he prefers swords and drums to school lessons. Volumnia sees this behavior as fit for a noble warrior which tellingly shows that Young Marcius is Coriolanus’ replica. His character serves to highlight Coriolanus’ upbringing and how Volumnia heedlessly encourages bloodthirstiness at the expense of morality. In the intercession scene he defies his father saying that he will run away and come back a great fighter, which echoes Coriolanus’ own trajectory after leaving Rome.

Menenius

Menenius is the consummate diplomat, gracious and benevolent, and always displacing blame from himself. He is an old man who describes himself as Coriolanus’ “father” and the “book of his good acts”. Shakespeare created Menenius from two lines in North’s Plutarch: “ certain of the pleasantest old men, and the most acceptable to the people. Of those Menenius Agrippa was he, who was sent for chief man”. Menenius is a humorous patrician and a sensible and experienced commentator on events. He is palpably present throughout the entire play. Menenius functions as a counter poise to all that Marcius represents.

Menenius paints his character for the benefit of the tribunes and describes himself as a “humorous patrician, and one that loves a cup of hot wine without a drop of allaying Tiber in’t; said to be something imperfect in favoring the first complaint --- hasty and tinder-like upon too trivial motion, one that converses more with the buttock of the night than with the forehead of the morning; what I think, I utter, and spend my malice in my breath”. Menenius is a hedonist and survives off his ability to talk a mean streak and say what people want to hear. He is quick in reply and easily adapts himself to the changing circumstances.


Menenius is friendly toward the commoners and is seen as “one that hath always loved the people” yet he is as contemptuous of them as Marcius. Menenius is a hypocrite who can hide his feelings and adapt himself to the situation. He holds the view that patricians must continue to rule Rome even if that means allowing the commoners to think they may have some representation. He is conservative in his political views and likes to maintain the status quo. It is this streak of conservatism that leads him to insist that Coriolanus wear the gown of humility and exhibit his wounds to solicit the citizens’ votes according to the ancient custom.

Menenius is the only humorous character in the entire play. His wit does not provide rib-tickling laughter but surprises his opponents. He anticipates the tribunes by painting an indulgent portrait of his own faults and thereby does not allow them to get the upper hand in the argument. He captures the interest of the commoners by telling them the story of the revolt by the members of the body against the stomach. The commoners realize what he his trying to do and one of them comments, “ you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale”. His humor is not apparent to the characters but achieves an ironical significance for the reader who sees clearly through his ruse.

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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

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