Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The tribunes Brutus and Sicinius accuse the absent Coriolanus of being too proud and boastful. Menenius defends him and admonishes the two tribunes, saying they should look into themselves before judging the warrior. He continues by implying that plebeians hear only what they want to hear and are too affected by their present dispositions. Before Volumnia, Virgilia, and Valeria enter, he refers to Brutus and Sicinius as "herdsmen of the beastly plebeians."

Volumnia shares a letter stating that Coriolanus is returning home. Menenius is overjoyed with the news and asks if he is wounded. Though Virgilia replies he isn't, Volumnia boastfully proclaims he is and thanks the gods for it. Menenius agrees with her as long as the wounds are not severe. Volumnia tells Menenius exactly where on the body Coriolanus was wounded and the two discuss his numerous scars, each of which they say marks the death of an enemy.

Cominius and Lartius enter with Coriolanus, and the crowd hails him and his new title. Yet he says their praise is unwarranted and is offensive to him. He kneels respectfully to Volumnia, who asks him to rise and acknowledges his honorable achievement.

After Coriolanus exits, Brutus shares with Sicinius how many people are praising Coriolanus. But Sicinius says the commoners will soon forget Coriolanus's exploits. Brutus says he has heard Coriolanus may become consul but will refuse to show his war-scarred body to the people, which is the custom. He claims the people need to be reminded of Coriolanus's hatred of them and his willingness to oppress them. Finally, a messenger enters and states Coriolanus is indeed to become consul and that the people are showering him with adoration.

Analysis

We learn that Coriolanus will become consul, the most elevated of political positions at the time in Rome. This position would give him leadership of the military and would effectively make him king for one year until new elections were held. This is important because Coriolanus, who has shown such contempt for the common citizens, will now be their supreme leader. This is a wonderful bit of irony, though it is not a fabrication of Shakespeare's. Plutarch's account of the rise of Coriolanus also describes his rise to power despite having little concern for anyone but himself and the wealthy patricians.

Narrative tension mounts as the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius plot to discredit Coriolanus. It is becoming clear that Coriolanus is deeply isolated, with enemies both at home and abroad. By denying the praise of the citizens, Coriolanus continues to raise himself above Roman society. This is an act of hubris that is one of the key themes throughout the play. How can the Roman commoners adore a man who openly mocks the traditions of their society? Coriolanus is setting himself above the criticism of the people whom he is supposed to defend and represent. Brutus and Sicinius answer this by planning to remind the commoners of their disdain for the leader.

This scene is filled with the strong symbolism of references to scars and wounds. This symbolism enhances the traditional Roman perspective of uplifting warfare and physical sacrifice for the sake of the state. Menenius and Volumnia even recount the number of wounds they remember seeing on Coriolanus's body. This confirms the scars make the man and no sacrifice is too great. Each scar is in effect important. The cumulative effect of the scars is an undeniable testament to a man's honor despite any actions or words he may hurl at the commoners.

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