From Stories of Shakespeare’s Tragedies by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in a street in Rome where mutinous citizens, armed with staves and clubs, talk excitedly, being determined to rebel rather than starve. They are loudly yelling that Marcius, a descendant of their ancient kings, is the chief foe of the people, that the surplus wasted by the patricians would maintain them all in comfort. Besides, they resent the fact that one class of Roman society revels in luxury while the other is starving. They, therefore, declare that Marcius, although a brave soldier, protects only the rich and cares naught for the poor, and are just proposing to storm the Capitol when checked by the arrival of Menenius, whom, knowing he is ever ready to befriend them, they hail with joy.
After a brief parley, Menenius informs them that the patricians have always taken care of them, and that the dearth of w T hich they complain is due to the gods alone. Seeing the mob incredulous, he tries to explain the situation by the fable of the limbs and the stomach, w r hich latter was considered a lazy glutton, for whom the poor limbs were obliged to work. During this narration, there are frequent interruptions, but Menenius finally arouses mirth in his hearers by addressing one of the noisiest among them as the ‘Great Toe’ of the body politic. Then he demonstrates how the limbs were at fault, as the stomach was working to make blood to nourish the different parts of the body, and adds that, while the senators of Rome may be likened to the stomach, the common people, like the mutinous limbs, merely injure themselves by rebelling.
He has almost persuaded the plebeians to obey when Marcius joins him, roughly reproving the rioters for insubordination. To his aggressive haughtiness the people reply by ironical remarks, whereupon he shows how little he cares for their good opinion, knowing they always bow down before those least deserving of honour. When he again demands the cause of their outcries, they clamour for corn at low rates, thus giving him a good opportunity to tell them that if they would onjy use their swords to fight, they could quickly win all they need! But he grudgingly adds that the senate has just appointed tribunes to watch over their interests, a concession which enrages him.
While Menenius is marvelling at it, a messenger breathlessly calls for Marcius, announcing that the Volscians being under arms, his services are required to defend his country. A moment later a deputation of consuls, senators, and tribunes reports an attack imminent, whereupon Marcius exclaims the Volscians are well led by Aufidius, a lion he is ‘proud to hunt,’ and whom he has frequently met in battle before. Knowing this, the senators bid him accompany their consuls to war, a charge Marcius gladly accepts, because it will give him another chance to distinguish himself in the face of the foe. His enthusiasm causes Lartius, the second consul, to boast that although wounded, he will enter battle leaning on his crutch!
Marcius is about to accompany the deputation back to the Capitol to take measures for Rome’s safety, when an attempt is made to disperse the mob. Because the plebeians hesitate to obey, Marcius ironically invites them to come with him and fight the Volscians, who possess rich granaries, and thus secure all the food they need. The rabble, afraid to fight, melts away, and after a brief time, two of the tribunes remain alone on the scene, to comment upon the taunts and jibes Marcius flung at the people, adding that the coming campaign will only increase his pride. Still, they do not doubt he will, by his bravery, outshine both consuls and reap all the honours, ere they betake themselves to the senate.
The next scene occurs in the senate at Corioli, where all have assembled to receive Aufidius, who announces that although there are no tidings from Rome, he expects a speedy attack. Then he reads aloud a letter, wherein is stated both Roman consuls and Marcius, his old enemy, are coming to meet him. Lastly, he reproaches the senators for not allowing him to strike the first blow, as in his opinion they should have secured a number of towns before the Romans were afoot. Knowing Aufidius’ talents as general, the senators implore him to act as he deems best, leaving them meantime to guard the city. This decision pleases the general, who vows should he and Marcius meet, they will strike ’till one can do no more,’ ere he takes his leave, accompanied by the good wishes of all the people. We are now transferred to Rome, where, in Marcius’ house, we behold his mother Volumnia, and wife, Virgilia, sewing. Although the wife sighs because her husband has been summoned to war, the mother exults, for he has always returned victorious; she, therefore, dwells upon his triumphs from early boyhood, and answers proudly when Virgilia suggests that instead of conquering he might have been slain. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a visitor, who is shown in while Virgilia is still timorously praying her husband may be protected from Aufidius’ blows. This guest, Lady Valeria, after greeting both ladies, enquires for Marcius’ son, who, although but a child, bids fair to rival his father in bravery and activity. After a while, however, Volumnia and the caller decide to visit one of their friends, but Virgilia prefers to linger at home, anxiously thinking of her husband, who is besieging Corioli.
We are now granted a glimpse of the siege of this town, before which Marcius and Lartius are making a wager on the issue of the day. Then they summon the Corioli senators, who appear aloft, proclaiming that although Aufidius is not within their walls, they hear his drums summoning the young men to drive away the foe. A moment later a Volscian host issues from the town, whereupon Marcius bids his men make a brave stand, promising them victory provided they do their part. In spite of his eloquence, the Romans are driven back to their trenches, Marcius swearing hotly at them to turn and fight or incur his lasting wrath. By his rough eloquence he finally encourages them to make a new attempt, which proves so successful that the Volscians flee, Marcius pursuing them to their very gates, which he urges his men to enter boldly. But, at the critical moment, the soldiers hang back, and Marcius rushes alone into Corioli, whose gates slam between him and his forces!
The Romans deem him dead, and Lartius, joining them and hearing Marcius entered the city alone, loudly mourns such a jewel should be lost to his native land. While the Romans are still bewailing his loss, Marcius suddenly reappears, bleeding but alive, and seeing him beset with foes, Lartius flies to his rescue. This time, the Roman force, fighting bravely, penetrates into Corioli, where it soon begins plundering. While the rest are thus occupied, Marcius and Lartius scornfully watch them, until, noticing how freely his companion bleeds, Lartius implores him to have his wounds dressed. The hero, however, scorns to do anything of the sort, vowing he will appear before Aufidius in this bloody guise, and, leaving Lartius to guard Corioli, he hastens off to help the other consul.
In the next scene we behold the camp of Consul Cominius, who bids his men rest after fighting, briefly stating that although forced to retreat, he intends soon to charge again, and will sacrifice to the gods if successful. A breathless messenger now informs him how the citizens of Corioli effected a sortie, driving back the Romans to their trenches; but, as this happened an hour ago by his own showing, Cominius fancies had a victory since been won, tidings of it would have reached him ere this. The messenger, however, replies no such news could come, as he himself was obliged to take a roundabout way to escape the Volscian spies.
While they are still discussing the probabilities, bloodstained Marcius appears, breathlessly enquiring whether he has come too late? On hearing from Cominius that the fight is not yet finished, Marcius rejoices, and when asked how Lartius is thriving, reports he is holding Corioli, condemning some of its citizens to death, and the others to exile or ransom. When asked what gave rise to the report his troops were beaten, Marcius explains how the common file did fall back at first, but how he prevailed in the end, as he will relate at some fitting moment. Meantime, he is eager to learn where the foe is situated, and hearing Aufidius still lingers in the neighbourhood, craves permission to challenge him, vowing he will win if allowed to do so.
Although Cominius suggests it might be better first to attend to his wounds, Marcius considers them mere trifles, and eagerly calls those who love their country to follow him and defend it. Thereupon a number of volunteers brandish their swords and catch him up in their arms, vowing he shall lead them against Aufidius, with whom they are anxious to try issues again. Having thus worked them up to the right pitch of enthusiasm, Marcius leads his men off, promising the rest that all shall share in the booty.
We again behold the gates of Corioli, where Lartius, having posted guards, comes forth with drums and trumpets to rejoin his fellow-consul, bidding his lieutenant meantime hold the town and close the gates behind him. The battle-field between the Roman and Volscian camps next appears, where trumpets are blowing and drums are beating, as Marcius and Aufidius enter from opposite sides of the stage. Such is their reciprocal hatred that they hurl defiance at one another ere they engage in single combat, their troops meanwhile rushing madly to and fro.
In the next scene the recall brings Marcius back to the Roman camp, his arm tied in a sling, only to be told by the admiring Cominius that were some one to relate to him his feats of that day, he would never believe them! Although pleased with such praise, Marcius seems embarrassed when the general adds he will relate his prowess to the senate, so the patricians can applaud him, the ladies shudder at his dangers, and the plebeians, who have hitherto hated him, thank their gods that Rome possesses such a champion.
It is just as Cominius finishes his laudatory speech that Lartius returns, declaring he was merely an auxiliary to Marcius, who vows their praise embarrasses him as much as that of his mother when she extols him to his face. Good-naturedly retorting his modesty w r ill be spared as much as possible, Cominius, nevertheless, adjures Marcius to bear his honours as gracefully as possible, remarks which make little impression upon the hero, who growls his wounds are smarting. Besides, he haughtily declines the proffered tenth of the booty, stating he craves no pay for what he has done, but will be content to share as usual with the rest. While the trumpets blow and cheers resound for Marcius, he fervently hopes his companions’ voices will never be raised against him, and, vowing he cannot make a speech, begs permission to retire to dress his wounds.
Before allowing him to depart, Cominius publicly crowns him with an oaken garland, gives him his choicest steed, and hails him as ‘Coriolanus,’ since it is to his efforts the capture of Corioli is due. Although the new name is greeted with renewed demonstrations of joy, Coriolanus, still refusing to make a speech, vows he will have to go and wash his face so people can see his blushes. Then, while Cominius escorts him to his tent, Lartius hastens back to Corioli, after sending word to Rome of their victory. It is just as they are leaving the scene that Coriolanus remembers how an old prisoner implored his aid, and intercedes in his behalf, although he is too faint and weary to recall the man’s name.
The curtain next rises on the Volscian camp, whither Aufidius returns announcing the loss of Corioli, and exclaiming he wishes he were a Roman, for the conquered cannot expect good treatment. He next avers that, although he has been beaten five times already by Marcius, he will conquer or die should they ever meet again. When his men exclaim that Marcius is a devil, he vows he is the boldest man he ever met, adding he hates him so bitterly that he would fain wash his ‘fierce hand in’s heart.’ Then he bids the bystanders find out which Volscians are to be hostages, and promises to await their report in a neighbouring grove.
The second act opens on the public square in Rome, where Menenius, talking to two tribunes, tells them good news has been promised by the augurs ere night. Hearing his interlocutors exclaim such tidings will not be welcome to the people, who hate Marcius because of his boastful pride, he justly accuses them of the very fault for which they blame Marcius.
After the tribunes have withdrawn, the three women approach, and Menenius courteously enquires why they are thus abroad. Thereupon Volumnia proudly announces they are going to meet her son, who is returning victor, as a letter has just made known. She then adds that he will probably find a similar missive awaiting him at home, and when Menenius anxiously enquires whether Marcius has been wounded, joyfully exclaims he has indeed, and that these new wounds will bring him further honours. On hearing how Lartius himself wrote the news of Marcius’ triumphs and of Aufidius’ escape, Menenius rejoices ere he enquires whether the news has also reached the senate. Then, turning to the two tribunes who appear again, he tells them Marcius is coming, interrupting himself in the midst of his recital to find out from Volumnia where her son was wounded, and how many scars he can now boast. A moment later a blast of trumpets heralds Marcius’ arrival, his proud mother exclaiming that, while noise goes before him, he leaves tears behind him, for she knows many foes have fallen beneath his hand.
We now behold the triumphal return of the Roman troops, Coriolanus, crowned with his oaken garland, marching between the consuls, while a herald proclaims that fighting alone before Corioli, he won the name of Coriolanus, by which he is henceforth to be addressed. While all acclaim, Coriolanus deprecatingly implores them not to cheer him, just as Cominius calls his attention to the little group of women by the roadside. Kneeling respectfully before Volumnia, Coriolanus thanks her for her prayers, and then seeing his wife’s tears, questions with playful deference whether she would have laughed had he been brought home dead. Next, he receives greetings from Menenius, who vows Rome will ever honour his name, a statement to which all present subscribe.
Taking leave of his wife and mother, Coriolanus now continues with the procession to the senate, Volumnia exclaiming as he leaves the scene that she covets but one more honour for him, the consulship, although he rejoins he would rather be the people’s servant in his own way than sway with them in theirs. After the triumphal procession has swept out of sight, the tribunes comment on the fuss made over Coriolanus, adding that should he ever be elected consul their offices would ‘ go to sleep,’ for no authority would be left in their hands. Their only hope, therefore, lies in the fact that a consul’s election depends upon the votes of the people, and that to obtain them, a candidate must humbly beg for them, exhibiting his wounds on the Forum, and thus bespeaking the favour of the voters. They artfully decide to remind the plebeians how Coriolanus has hated and scorned them, and thus subtly work to defeat his ambitions. Just as they have reached this decision, a messenger summons them to the Capitol, where Coriolanus is to be proposed as consul in reward for his heroic deeds. But, although they obey this summons, the tribunes do so fully determined to use their eyes and ears to direct affairs according to their wishes.
We next behold the Capitol, where two officers are laying cushions for the consular candidates, remarking while doing so that Coriolanus is ‘vengeance proud,’ and has never shown any regard for the people. Still, as they cannot but agree he has deserved well of his country, they hope his haughtiness will not interfere w r ith his election. A moment later a blast of trumpets announces the arrival of the two consuls, attended by a train of lictors and senators, as well as by the candidates for office. While all the rest take their places, Coriolanus, seeing Cominius about to make a speech in his behalf, begs permission to withdraw, muttering he would rather be wounded again than sit still and hear himself praised. Then Cominius, in a wonderful speech, recalls the great deeds Coriolanus has performed in behalf of his country from the time when he was sixteen. His eulogy is so warmly approved by all present that on his reappearance the senate select the hero as next consul, adding that he will, however, have to bespeak the votes of the people in the Forum, ere his title is secure. Averse to don the garb of humility and sue for votes, Coriolanus reluctantly yields to his friends’ wishes, and betakes himself to the market-place, to display his scars and ask for voices; but, perceiving his ungracious attitude, the tribunes ardently hope he will instead offend the people by addressing them in so haughty a manner.
The curtain next rises on the Roman Forum, where citizens, passing to and fro, discuss the coming election, adding that if Coriolanus humbles himself sufficiently, they will support his election, as they do not wish to appear ungrateful. Still, they feel it so unlikely the hero will try to conciliate them that they are greatly surprised to see him appear in the usual garb of humility, accompanied by Menenius. The latter, evidently encouraging the reluctant candidate, urges him to seize this opportunity to win the votes of some men passing by. Stiffly and ungraciously, for he would rather bid the plebeians keep at a distance and wash their faces, Coriolanus now bespeaks these men’s votes. When asked, as usual, what claim he urges to such a distinction, he haughtily rejoins his ‘own deserts,’ thereby further antagonising his interlocutors, who feel his election depends solely upon their favour. Still, notwithstanding his repellent attitude, Coriolanus succeeds in winning a few votes, although he obstinately refuses to exhibit his wounds, and restively cries, ‘Better it is to die, better to starve, than crave the hire which first we do deserve.’
Nevertheless, with a sneer he cannot entirely suppress, Coriolanus concludes that, having gone so far, it is best to continue to the bitter end, and so goes on asking for votes in a surly way. It is at this moment Menenius returns with the tribunes, who sullenly inform Coriolanus, that having stayed in the market-place the customary length of time, and having won a certain number of popular votes, he is entitled to be invested with the emblems of his office. But they angrily frown when he proposes to change his garments ere repairing to the senate with Menenius. When he has gone, they also comment upon his evident irritation, and seeing some of the voters pass by, enquire why they favoured a man who mocks them, until they gradually make them discontented with their choice. Finally they work the people up to the point of exclaiming that Coriolanus, not having asked votes properly or exhibited his wounds, is unworthy of election, and that as he has not yet been installed in office, they will go to the senate and denounce him as their enemy. This decision delights both tribunes, who, after giving the mob explicit directions how they are to proceed, watch the rabble out of sight, before they, too, hasten to the Capitol, separately, for they do not wish to appear to have had any hand in the coming turmoil.
The third act opens in a street in Rome, where Coriolanus, Menenius, and many others are welcoming Lartius, who has just returned, announcing that Aufidius is at Antium gathering new troops to attack Rome. This is startling news; but when Coriolanus hears the Volscian general longs to meet and beat him, he eagerly exclaims, ‘I wish I had a cause to meet him there, to oppose his hatred fully.’
Then, seeing the two tribunes arrive, he expresses contempt for ‘the voice of the people,’ and when they forbid him to advance any further, haughtily demands what this means, only to be told his election is not yet assured, as the people are incensed against him. Although Menenius strives to keep Coriolanus calm in face of this calculated insult, he doesn’t succeed, for the hero hotly denounces the tribunes in the most sarcastic way, although they insist they are acting in behalf of the plebeians whom he has scorned and deprived of corn. Such remarks so incense Coriolanus that his contempt for the ‘mutable, rank-scented many’ becomes more and more apparent. In fact, his remarks finally become so offensive that the tribunes declare they will make them known to the people. Hoping to deter them, Menenius reminds them they are stirring up evil feelings which will have bad results; but in spite of his efforts, Coriolanus denounces the tribunes, declaring the senators were wrong to allow the people such officers, a statement they consider such rank treason that they call for an asdile to arrest the traitor. But, when this officer appears to lay hands on Coriolanus, he is reviled and beaten off by the hero’s friends.
The ensuing commotion attracts a rabble of plebeians, and although Menenius pleads for moderation on both sides, the tribunes instigate rabid cries against Coriolanus for refusing corn gratis. Thus, before long, the hero is surrounded by a mutinous rabble; for, in spite of the speeches of Menenius and of some of the senators in his behalf, the tribunes persuade the people to take their remarks in bad part, to accuse Coriolanus of trying to destroy the city, to refuse to let him become consul, to call him traitor, and to clamour for his death. Unable to brook the disgrace of arrest by an aedile, Coriolanus finally draws his sword, swearing some of them have already seen him fight and that he will now give the rest a chance to see what he can do. In the midst of the confusion caused by Menenius’ cries for peace, and the tribunes’ clamours to have Coriolanus arrested, a fight ensues, in which Coriolanus and the patrician party succeed in defeating the plebeians. This being accomplished, Menenius entreats Coriolanus to return home, while some of the other patricians bid him stand fast and hold his own. Although Coriolanus would feel no compunctions were he dealing only with foes, he yields to Menenius and Cominius when they urge him to forbear, and goes off with them, while a patrician sagely concludes he has ‘marred his fortunes,’ because his nature is too noble to stoop to flattery.
The tribunes soon return, heading a rabble demanding the traitor who spoke ill of the Roman people, as they wish to throw him down from the Tarpeian Rock like a common criminal. Even Menenius’ remonstrances are not heeded, and when he states that Coriolanus, as consul, cannot be touched, the cry arises he shall never hold office, as the people won’t be governed by him. If he cannot be executed, the tribunes demand his banishment, although Menenius begs them to overlook Coriolanus’ hasty words. All his eloquence can obtain is permission to seek the hero, and prevail upon him to apologise in the Forum, in which case the people will consider whether they can forgive him.
The curtain next rises in a room of Coriolanus’ house, where, conversing with Menenius and the patricians, he vehemently declares that, although they pull his house down over his head, or hurl him from the Tarpeian Rock, he will never truckle to plebeians again! To his great surprise, however, his mother does not approve of these sentiments, although she fostered this intense pride; in fact, when he asks whether she would see him false to her teachings, she opines he should have held his feelings in check until invested with authority. Next Menenius urges that unless he apologise, their good city will ‘cleave in the midst, and perish,’ an opinion seconded by the rest, which determines Coriolanus to be influenced by his friends, and humbly accept his mother’s suggestions in regard to the style of address he is to make. Thus schooled, the senators and Cominius escort him to the Forum, warning him every step of the way to restrain his wrath and speak ‘mildly’ because meanwhile the tribunes have been steeling the people’s hearts against him.
We are next transferred to the Forum once more, where the tribunes are eagerly plotting to charge Coriolanus with affecting tyrannical powers, and with not justly distributing the spoil. They are soon joined by an aedile, announcing that Coriolanus is coming, accompanied by the patricians who favour him. He adds that the disaffected people have been assembled and duly instructed, and seems glad when the tribunes state at their mention of fine, banishment, or death, the plebeians will take up the cry, until there will seem no appeal against the popular sentence. These measures settled, the asdile withdraws, while one of the tribunes arranges to irritate Coriolanus by repeated contradictions, thus forcing him to speak out so boldly and intemperately that he will be condemned by his own mouth.
When Coriolanus, therefore, reluctantly appears, the aedile ushers in the citizens, whom the tribunes invite to draw near so as to hear what Coriolanus has to say. Then, in the presence of the mob, the tribunes demand that the consular candidate submit to lawful censure for his behaviour. But while Menenius tries to turn the tide by mentioning Coriolanus’ services and wounds, the hero himself unwisely pronounces them trifling matters, and by such bluntness further antagonises the commoners, although Menenius reminds him to keep calm and conciliate them. When openly accused by one of the tribunes of treachery, Coriolanus, unable to restrain his wrath, publicly calls him a liar, which insult the tribune bids the people note. Thereupon cries arise, ‘to the rock, to the rock with him!’ until the tribune calls for silence, stating that, although Coriolanus deserves death for opposing the laws, his services in behalf of Rome entitle him to certain consideration.
This statement proves so offensive that Coriolanus declares he would rather be sentenced to death or exiled than have anything more to do with ungrateful people. Whereupon the tribune immediately pronounces the sentence of banishment, and, as prearranged, the people shout Coriolanus shall leave Rome under penalty of death! In spite of all Cominius can do, these shouts become so persistent that the banishment is decreed, while Coriolanus fiercely avers he is glad to leave a place where he is so misunderstood. Ere he departs, however, he reviles both tribunes and people, showing them how he despises them, and reminding them that, when he has turned his back upon the city, they will be defenceless. When Coriolanus has departed with the patricians, the plebeians and aediles shout for joy, thinking they are rid of a foe, and the tribunes decide it will be well to see Coriolanus safely out of the city. They, therefore, bid the citizens accompany them, a duty these men perform with enthusiasm, calling upon the gods to preserve their noble tribunes!
The fourth act opens before the gates of Rome, where Coriolanus is taking leave of family and friends, urging his mother, Volumnia, to remember her own teaching, for she has always told him that ‘extremity was the trier of spirits,’ and has striven by wise precepts to steel him against fate. The tears of his wife, however, almost unman him; still, when his mother curses the Romans, he reminds her she is not acting in a patriotic manner. Then Coriolanus pities Menenius, whose tears are far more bitter than those of a young man, and refuses Cominius’ proffered company for a month, although he seems glad to accept his escort a short distance. After exchanging touching farewells with his wife, mother, and friends, Coriolanus departs, saying they shall hear from him often, but ‘never of me aught but what is like me formerly.’
A little later the two tribunes and an asdile are seen on the street gloating over the fact that they have seen the last of Coriolanus. But, although triumphant, they deem it best to show humility and bid the a?dile dismiss the mob which is no longer needed. Then, seeing the women return from the gate, the tribunes try to avoid them, but are unable to do so. When they come face to face, Volumnio. vehemently reviles her son’s enemies, although Menenius tries to restrain her, and silencing every remark the tribunes try to make, declares her noble son as far exceeds them as the Capitol does the meanest house in Rome.
We next behold a highway between Rome and Antium, where a Roman and Volscian, meeting, begin to converse about public affairs. On hearing the Roman report Coriolanus has been banished, and that the two political parties in Rome are divided, the Volscian expresses great delight, since his general means to take advantage of this unfortunate state of affairs to attack Rome. He predicts that, knowing his worst enemy, Coriolanus, has been banished, Aufidius will surely be victorious in this campaign.
The succeeding scene is played in Antium before Aufidius’ house, whither Coriolanus arrives disguised as a beggar, and mutters that having made so many widows in this city, it will be best not to make his presence known. Accosting a passing citizen, therefore, Coriolanus merely enquires for Aufidius’ house, and is surprised to learn he is standing directly before it, and that the general is entertaining the senators that night. But, when his interlocutor passes on, Coriolanus bitterly muses on the change in his fortunes, for he, who was once Aufidius’ greatest foe, has come hither to join forces with him for the sake of revenge!
A moment later he has penetrated into the hall of Aufidius’ house, where servants pass to and fro, while music is heard in an inner apartment. Repeatedly dismissed by the servants, who take him for a beggar, and bid him begone, Coriolanus, in spite of these orders, presses on to the hearth, whence, not daring to oust him, they call their master to turn him out. A moment later Aufidius, seeing a beggar on his hearth, enquires who he is. Removing the folds of his mantle, Coriolanus, as Aufidius does not recognise him, prepares him for the announcement of his name, by stating it is unmusical to Volscian ears. Then the exile makes himself known, adding he has been driven out of Rome and has come here to seek revenge. When he grimly proposes to join the Volscians and help Aufidius in his present undertaking, the general exclaims in delight, and offers him one-half of his command so he may lead a force against his native city. Then he leads him off to introduce him to the senators in the banquet hall, where a warm welcome awaits him.
When Coriolanus and Aufidius have left the stage, the servants claim they noticed something imposing in the stranger’s bearing, and are delighted not to have followed their first impulse to turn him out of doors. The alliance just concluded between Aufidius and Coriolanus wins their full approval, and they rejoice at the prospect of great victories, when one of their companions reports how gladly the senators are welcoming him.
We are now transferred to the public square in Rome, where the tribunes congratulate themselves upon the peaceful mood of the people, but wonder no news has been heard of Coriolanus. While they are talking, Menenius appears, and when they taunt him, saying his friend is not missed, he warns them they may yet have cause to regret their action, although he admits neither wife nor mother has heard from the banished man. The people around him are showing great adulation to the triumphant tribunes, when an asdile joins them, stating a slave has just been imprisoned for reporting the Volscian armies have entered Roman territory. While Menenius deems Aufidius’ forces have been emboldened by Coriolanus’ absence, the tribunes discredit these tidings and exclaim the slave should be whipped. But, before measures can be taken to inflict such a punishment, or to question the man as Menenius suggests, another messenger proclaims that all the senators are hastening to the Capitol, with sober faces, owing to ominous news received.
Although the tribunes ascribe this perturbation to the slave’s false report, the messenger affirms it has been ascertained Coriolanus has joined forces with Aufidius, and that both are about to attack Rome. His news is confirmed by another man, who reports the troops are advancing in two columns, one led by Coriolanus in person. After the tribunes have hurried away, Cominius and Menenius vehemently reproach the plebeians for their share in the recent troubles, predicting that if Coriolanus has really joined the Volscians, Rome will be destroyed. Before, dispersing, the terrified citizens blame their tribunes for misleading them, declaring they were opposed to Coriolanus’ banishment, and would fain have him recalled. For that reason, the tribunes ruefully comment on the variability of popular moods as soon as they leave the stage, but privately admit that the news they have heard is alarming indeed.
The scene is now transferred to a camp near Rome, where Aufidius asks his lieutenant whether people are still flocking to Coriolanus’ standard. This man rejoins there must be witchcraft in the Roman, and that Aufidius has obscured his own reputation by accepting so powerful an ally. Although ruefully admitting he has made a mistake, Aufidius cannot change matters now, and tries to excuse Coriolanus’ haughty bearing as innate. He adds that their new ally is faithfully doing all he can for the Volscian people, that it is likely he will soon take Rome and lay down the law there to those who judged him, and that, after this consummation is reached, his former foe and present ally will be wholly in his power.
The fifth act opens on the public square in Rome, where two tribunes, Menenius, and Cominius meet with sundry others. All are talking excitedly and we soon gather that Cominius has vainly entreated Coriolanus to spare the city. Although admitting the banished man often termed him ‘ father,’ Menenius refuses to go forth to plead with him in his turn. Instead, he reproaches the tribunes for having stirred up this trouble, and consents to intercede only after repeated entreaties on their part, although he cherishes little hope of success.
Knowing human nature, he decides it will be best to approach Coriolanus after dinner, when he will feel more inclined to mercy. But after Menenius has departed, Cominius sadly avers he doesn’t expect him to succeed, as the hero is brooding on revenge, and after listening coldly to him, dismissed him, vowing unless Rome subscribed to his conditions her fate was sealed. The consul adds that Coriolanus’ mother and wife are about to go forth to solicit his mercy, and that he trusts their prayers may avail even if all the rest fail.
The next scene occurs in the Volscian camp, where sentinels check Menenius’ approach, although he proclaims he is an emissary from Rome to their general. It is only after a lengthy parley, and after angry assurances that they will be punished if they deny him access, that the noise of this discussion attracts Coriolanus and Aufidius. Boasting that the sentinels will now see in what honour he is held, Menenius approaches Coriolanus, whom he addresses as his son, pleading, with tears, in Rome’s behalf. In reply, Coriolanus states he does not know the Romans any longer, and hands Menenius a letter he had intended to send him. Then, turning to Aufidius, Coriolanus bids him note what reply he makes to such attempts to soften his heart and how true he remains to Volscian interests. After this Coriolanus and Aufidius depart, the latter complimenting his ally upon his ‘constant temper,’ while the sentinels slyly taunt Menenius for having less influence than he supposed with their general, thus calling down upon their heads the vehement curses of the departing senator.
We next behold the interior of Coriolanus’ tent, where he is explaining to Aufidius and other commanders the plans he has made, stating that on the morrow they will be before the walls of Rome. At Coriolanus’ request, Aufidius bears witness to his fidelity to the Volscians, and to his steadfastness in repelling all intercessions. Just as Coriolanus has vowed he will listen to no further pleading, his wife, mother, and little son are ushered in with their friends, having come hither to implore him to spare his country. On seeing them, Coriolanus realises with a pang that those he loves best are about to besiege his heart. Still he tenderly embraces his wife, assuring her he has not kissed any one else since they parted, and falls on one knee before Volumnia, who bids him stand and let her kneel, since she has come as a suppliant. Although Coriolanus feels the stars must have fallen from their orbits since positions are so reversed, he courteously greets Valeria at his mother’s request, and when his little son is made to kneel before him, perceives how they are trying to soften him by every means in their power. He, therefore, sternly assures them that it will be vain to ask him to dismiss his soldiers or make peace with the plebeians, since he is now an ally of the Volscians and obliged to serve them. Then, seeing Aufidius and the other chiefs draw suspiciously aside, he bids them listen to all that is said, for he wishes them to see he is wholly devoted to their interests.
His mother now describes how they have spent their time since his departure in tears, her eloquent speech being backed by Virgilia’s trembling hands raised in entreaty, and by a defiant speech from the child when his grandmother exclaims his father is about to tread on their hearts. Unable to endure longer the torture of such prayers, Coriolanus rises as if to leave, but his mother clings frantically to him, vowing he shall not depart until he has shown mercy. The united eloquence of mother, wife, and child, finally prevails, for, exclaiming his mother doesn’t know what she has done in winning this victory for Rome, Coriolanus turns to Aufidius, promising to conclude an honourable peace, and challenging him to act differently in his stead.
Although admitting the women’s prayers touched him, Aufidius, when Coriolanus announces he will never march on to Rome, mutters in an aside that since mercy and honour are at difference in his ally, he’ll take advantage of this fact to work out his own fortunes. Addressing the women, meantime, Coriolanus promises to give them a treaty to bear back to Rome, adding that they deserve to have a temple built in their honour, for ‘all the swords in Italy, and her confederate arms, could not have made this peace.’
The curtain next rises on the Forum in Rome, where Menenius is assuring a tribune it would be easier to displace a corner-stone of the Capitol than to change Coriolanus’ heart. When the tribune urges that Coriolanus is devoted to his mother, Menenius retorts ‘there is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger.’ Terrified by this assurance, the tribune starts when a messenger runs in, bidding him flee for his life, for the people have seized his fellow in office, and swear that, unless the women return with news of peace, they will slay the men who devised Coriolanus’ banishment. A moment later another messenger joyfully announces the ladies have prevailed, news the tribune refuses to credit until loud trumpet blasts confirm it. Greatly relieved, Menenius prepares to go and meet the ladies, who have done more for Rome than tribunes, senators, and people put together. Not to remain behind at a time of joy, the tribune accompanies the patricians, who hasten off in a body to meet the bearers of good tidings.
Further on, in a street near the gate, two senators soon appear escorting Volumnia and the other ladies back to the city, calling out to the people as they pass that the peace is due to these ladies, who are, therefore, entitled to honour and acclamation.
We next behold the public square at Antium, where Aufidius arrives, saying he wishes the lords of the city apprised of his return, as it is his duty to denounce a man who will soon enter the city. Soon after he is joined by a few members of his faction who come with eager offers of assistance. When they suggest that the fall of Coriolanus will leave him sole wielder of the power, Aufidius doubts whether it is advisable to resort to drastic measures, and describes how Coriolanus appealed to him, and how bravely they marched together toward Rome. This was already within their grasp, when, influenced by women’s tears, Coriolanus concluded the peace for which he is to die!
The noise of trumpets and cheers noW heralds Coriolanus’ approach, and the conspirators exclaim that if Aufidius wishes to remain master he must get rid of his rival. While he is trying to silence them, the lords of the city appear, and begin to reproach him for yielding to Coriolanus’ desire for peace.
Just then this Roman joins them, vowing he is as true to their interests as ever, and tendering the peace he has concluded with all due regard to Volscian interests. Imploring all present not to read it, Aufidius hotly denounces Coriolanus as a traitor, who has abused the people’s confidence and betrayed them at his mother’s request.
Such a statement necessarily provokes a quarrel, during which Aufidius treats Coriolanus with such contempt, that the hero proudly rehearses his great deeds, including the taking of Corioli, and demands whether such are the deeds of a ‘boy’. This reminds the Volscians that he has slain many of their kin, and, rousing their passions, makes them clamour for his death. Under pretence of obeying these angry people, the conspirators now rush forward, and repeatedly stab Coriolanus, who falls lifeless at Aufidius’ feet, while the Volscian lords stand by appalled.
Standing on the corpse of his fallen foe, Aufidius promises an explanation which will cause all to rejoice that a threatening danger has been averted. Then the Lords of Corioli order the body removed with all honour, Aufidius adding: ‘Though in this city he hath widow’d and unchilded many a one, which to this hour bewail the injury, yet he shall have a noble memory.’