Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Coriolanus enters Aufidius's residence while the Volscian is hosting a feast. He argues with the servants, who question his presence. Aufidius enters and does not recognize Coriolanus, who eventually reveals himself. After Coriolanus explains who he is, he tells Aufidius of how Rome has banished him. He tells that he has lost his love for the city and regrets the hatred he once had for Aufidius and the "tuns of blood out of thy country's breast" he has spilled. He expresses his desire to side with the Volscians against Rome. Aufidius is moved by Coriolanus's words and says his joy is like ash wood that "hath broke / And scarred the moon with splinters." He declares himself more thrilled to have his former enemy before him than he was to see his bride on their wedding night. After they exit, a few serving men share the news of Coriolanus's alliance with the Volscians, which renews their hopes of victory over Rome.

Analysis

This scene is a major turning point. Coriolanus's disdain for the Roman citizens has now been channeled into an assault against them. The blood he was willing to shed for his country seems unimportant: rather, so long as he as at war, it doesn't seem to matter much with whom. The scene also reveals Coriolanus and Aufidius to be one of a kind: although their ambitions are great, their loyalties—and sworn hatreds—seem to be fairly shallow.

Coriolanus refers to the blood Rome has shed in conflict with the Volscians. He uses wounding as a symbol of sacrifice to argue he is sorrowful for it and now wishes to side with his previous enemy. Coriolanus's ambivalence with wounds and blood creates uncertainty regarding his motives and values. However, one possible interpretation is that Coriolanus will do or say anything that suits his aims at the moment. He may well be a Machiavellian character who justifies any means to reach an end. The term is derived from the Renaissance author and statesman Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527). He promoted ruthless win-at-all-cost tactics in his book The Prince. But whether or not he is sincere in this moment, what clearly matters most for Coriolanus is a personal victory over whomever he perceives as an aggressor—not glory for Rome, as he claimed earlier in the text.

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