Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Lartius tells Coriolanus that the Volscians are reorganizing and could attempt another attack on Rome. Cominius doubts that given their weakened state. Lartius informs that Aufidius is now in Antium. Coriolanus wishes he could go there and confront him personally.

Brutus and Sicinius enter and inform Coriolanus the citizens are now against him. Coriolanus (accurately) blames the tribunes for the public's change of heart, although they claim innocence. He views their work as a plot to overthrow the nobility. Cominius complains the behavior of the people is not in keeping with Roman values, and says kowtowing to them and giving them power will eventually lead to rebellion. Brutus reproaches him, saying Coriolanus speaks like a god over the people. Coriolanus mentions how the citizens of Greece, who had "absolute power" over their government, were responsible for ruining the ancient state. He says the Roman citizens did not deserve corn given to them for free since they offered no service in return. Sicinius accuses him of treasonous speech, and the two tribunes announce he will be punished.

Sicinius and the citizens attempt to seize Coriolanus while Cominius tells them to desist and Menenius pleads for tolerance on all sides. They bring Coriolanus to the plebeians, and Sicinius urges the death penalty. Coriolanus draws his sword in self-defense as Brutus orders he be taken to the Tarpeian rock (an ancient Roman execution site located on a cliff on the southern side of Capitoline Hill) to be put to death. Coriolanus accuses the mob of plebeians of acting like barbarians, not civilized Romans. Coriolanus and Cominius exit. Menenius defends Coriolanus's character. Brutus, Sicinius, and plebeians return, looking for Coriolanus and planning eagerly to kill him as the will of the people demands. Menenius struggles to defend Coriolanus in his absence, saying "his nature is too noble for the world." His pleas move the tribunes to allow Coriolanus another meeting, threatening the death penalty if he is not brought forth.

Analysis

Coriolanus continues his self-centered, authoritarian approach by first stating he would like to battle Aufidius one on one. Then he states the people did not deserve to be given corn to survive since they did not earn it. On each count Coriolanus escalates himself above the judgment of and duty to others. His leadership role is nothing more than an empty title to him.

Coriolanus denies the importance of his wounds. Then he boasts of the blood he has shed as evidence of his worthiness to be consul and be beyond reproach. This admission is a self-defeating move. It is especially self-defeating for a man who has up until now declined to have the citizens even acknowledge the physical sacrifices he has endured. It lays bare Coriolanus's nature as being truly self-absorbed.

The Tarpeian rock is mentioned as the place where Coriolanus is to be executed. This rock was an infamous place of many executions in which the accused was flung from the summit to his or her death. In addition to dying horribly, the person and relatives suffered the indignity of being put to death at that particular spot. It is interesting that Volumnia does not appear in this scene. She would certainly be incensed by the accusations of treason. She would be horrified by the prospect of her honorable son being executed in the same place as thieves and murderers.

In addition, there is a subtle yet powerful omission of Coriolanus's honorific title by Brutus in the final lines of the scene. This denotes his refusal to acknowledge Coriolanus's heroics or status as consul.

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