Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Before Coriolanus enters, citizens share their feelings of obligation to honor Coriolanus as the new consul. Coriolanus enters wearing the robe of humility. He tells Menenius how he dislikes the ritual he must perform. He says he does not need the judgment of citizens, some of whom were cowards in battle. Menenius cautions him not to speak that way to the citizens. Once the citizens enter and observe Coriolanus, they attest to his honor and agree to his elevation to consul, although he does not actually display his war wounds or explain how he got them. Nonetheless, Coriolanus criticizes two of the citizens, and they recognize his behavior as odd and disrespectful. One citizen comments that Coriolanus has never really cared for the people. After the citizens exit, Menenius and the tribune Sicinius tell Coriolanus he has fulfilled his duty. Coriolanus exits, and Brutus and Sicinius admit Coriolanus has done well by the people. But the plebeians enter and two of them share the disparaging comments made to them by Coriolanus. Brutus and Sicinius admonish the citizens for having approved of Coriolanus for consul. The two tribunes remind them that he disliked them when he had far less power and he would be worse when made consul. But they ask the people to say that they (Brutus and Sicinius) encouraged them to vote for Coriolanus and extolled his virtues, that the people have decided against him of their own volition, and if the public decides to support him, Brutus and Sicinius will take the blame for encouraging dissent.

Analysis

This scene indicates the power the people of Rome possessed. They actually had the power to declare war, but it was rarely the case. That power was typically left to the Senate and wealthy patricians. However, we see the democratic process in action with the plebeians' ability to accept or deny a man to become consul. This makes Coriolanus's disrespectful comments to the citizens equal to disparaging the democratic process. Coriolanus appears to value authoritarianism over a democratic republic. He sees the world through only his own values and desires to impose them on others.

One of the powerful symbols in the play is the robe of humility. It only appears in this scene, but it is a defining moment. Coriolanus is essentially forced to perform the customary ritual of humbling himself in front of the people. However, he neglects to actually show his wounds to the people. That he performs the ritual incompletely, with continued complaints and derision for the robe and the people, further enhances the theme of hubris. It shows Coriolanus's disconnection with the commoners who have been willing to change their opinion of him.

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