Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



Outside the walls of Corioles, the Romans prepare for battle with the Volscians. Martius places a bet with fellow warrior Titus Lartius that the Roman general has already met with the Volscians. A messenger proves Martius wrong. The men had bet one another their horses; Martius offers to buy his back, but in a friendly jest Lartius says he will loan him the horse for the next 50 years.

The Volscians advance and push the Romans back to the trenches. Martius berates his own men for retreating and says he will treat any deserter as the enemy. He then rallies some of the men to storm the city once the gates are open. Other soldiers who stayed back wonder if Martius has been killed. In the end he returns from the city bloodied, which incites the rest of the army to invade the city.


This scene shows two very different sides of Caius Martius. There is the friendly male bonding between himself and Lartius and the ruthless leadership of his fellow soldiers. Honor appears in his willingness of commitment to the bet with Lartius, even if it were somewhat in jest on Lartius's behalf. Martius's refusal to accept retreat also exemplifies Volumnia's values of honor in battle at all costs. Retreating to save one's life appears to be nothing more than cowardice; to be cowardly in battle is equivalent to being an enemy.

Again wounding is referred to with the reference to blood. It symbolizes sacrifice of the highest order. It also provides the visual inspiration for the rest of the Roman soldiers to complete the attack against Corioles.

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