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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Menenius is valuable in oiling the political machinery of Rome. He has a style which persuades the people that he is sympathetic towards them when he is not. This points out his hypocrisy but this attitude is essential to maintain peace, a lesson that Coriolanus is never able to grasp. His attempts to reconcile the Senators and citizens (when he placates the citizens by telling them the tale of the belly), the citizens and Coriolanus (in the central Act III conflict) and Coriolanus and his own nature (when he goes to intercede for Rome) are ineffectual in the e He aims to establish a political compromise but is unsuccessful in his efforts. His speech to the commoners about the revolt by the members of the body against the belly is a common enough political parable. It reflects Shakespeare’s abhorrence of democracy as a form of government. Menenius believes that if the commoners try to usurp the powers of the patricians it will result in utter chaos. The belly of his tale stands for the patricians while the rebel members represents the plebeians. Menenius sees democracy as a many-headed monster. The political upheaval in Rome is a result of the inversion of roles. The commoners sought to play the role of the ruler. They thus allowed the foot to assume the role of the head. The central moral of the play denunciates democracy as a form of government. This is why the play is so relevant to our times when democracy is seen as the right of the people. Menenius constantly urges Coriolanus to exercise temperance, control his wrath and speak less arrogantly to the people, yet he wants him to wield his power at the same time. Throughout Act III, Menenius’ tone is that of a peacemaker. He is constantly trying to soothe ruffled feathers and saying, “Be calm, be calm”.


He is the only character apart from Virgilia who really loves Coriolanus but in the end he does not stand by him because he does not have enough moral resolve. He allows for the tribunes to manipulate him which engenders his exile. His love for Coriolanus is evident in the verbal jig into which he breaks out on learning that Coriolanus is returning victorious to Rome. His constant defense of Coriolanus --- “Do not take / His rougher accents for malicious sounds, / But, as I say, such as become a soldier”--- do nothing but attempt to ameliorate a tense situation. As far as consolidating anything deeper, Menenius cannot.

In brief, Menenius is a conciliator who aims at effecting a political compromise. After the rebellion by the mob in Act III he says “This must be patch’d / With cloth of any colour”. He is an aged Senator but he is not weak. Even at his advanced age he retains his fighting spirit. When Marcius is attacked by the commoners in the market place he declares that he too could fight the tribunes. He is verbally adroit whereas Marcius is physical, yet both are ineffectual as leaders. His speech is largely ironical and he possesses an easy tone of familiarity along with an innately good nature. As a politician he is flexible and able to adapt himself to the changing environment.

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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

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