Coriolanus goes to meet the people against the advice of the Tribunes who warn him that the mood among the citizens is against him. The Tribunes have treated the citizens to goad Coriolanus' temper. When tested, Coriolanus is impatient and speaks in terms the Tribunes construe as treason. The Tribunes coerce Coriolanus into revealing his true feelings, and he is then banished from Rome in disgrace.Act III, scene i
The scene begins with a discussion of the Volscians between Lartius and Coriolanus. Lartius reveals Aufidius has returned to Antium and regrouped his army. Coriolanus enquires 'At Antium lives he?' before revealing his animosity towards his arch- enemy, 'I wish I had a cause to seek him there, / To oppose his hatred fully.' (ll. 17- 20) This sets up another incident of dramatic irony, as what Martius means at this point is a cause in the glory of Rome, not as the banished traitor.
The focus quickly becomes Roman political affairs as the Tribunes arrive. Coriolanus' social prejudice is evident in his scorn for Brutus and Sicinius - he reveals 'tongues o'th' common mouth. I do despise them' before noting their pretensions to power, and how it tests the nobles: 'Against all noble sufferance' (ll.22- 4). The Tribunes attempt to dissuade Coriolanus from going to the marketplace, where, they reveal, 'The people are incens'd against him.' (l.30)
As the Tribunes had hoped, Coriolanus is provoked into revealing his true feelings and ambitions for Rome. Coriolanus' opinion of the extension of political power to the citizens is clear:'...in soothing them, we nourish 'gainst our senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition,
Which we ourselves have plough'd for, sow'd and scattr'd,
By mingling them with us...'
Turning to the patricians, Coriolanus exclaims 'You are plebeians / If they be senators' (ll. 100-1). Coriolanus expresses his disdain for the Tribunes, which he believes was a hasty concession made during the popular tumult. Now, he argues, it should be removed, as the lower orders are not fit for government. He argues unless this is done, it will feed 'The ruin of the state' (l.116-36).
The Tribunes interpret Coriolanus' outburst as treason - 'Has spoken like a traitor, and shall answer / As traitors do.' (ll.161-2). A mob of plebeians arrives and urges Coriolanus' arrest, though his resistance threatens to spark violence. Sicinius addresses the people: 'You are at point to lose your liberties: / Martius would have all from you' (ll.192-3) Coriolanus reiterates that the Tribunes threaten to bring down the social order. Now we see that Menenius' fable of the belly has no foundation in the socio-political realities of Rome - the divisions of class in the state destroy any notion of organic unity the patrician had entertained. Coriolanus stands to restore the imbalance of power to the nobles; thus the Tribunes urge his death. Menenius' belated attempts at quelling the situation fail as Coriolanus draws his sword. In the resultant struggle, though outnumbered, the patricians manage to fend off the Tribunes and the plebeians.
Reluctantly, Coriolanus heeds advice to leave with Cominius. Menenius remains to assess the situation; the patrician concludes that 'His nature is too noble for the world' and that this has prevented his rise to political power. Here Menenius' speech is full of irony.
Menenius' speculation is interrupted by the return of the mob. Sicinius demands, 'Where is this viper / That would depopulate the city and / Be every man himself?' (ll.261-3) - the Tribune's use of 'viper' here is important, as Coriolanus has earlier portrayed the citizens as a many-headed monster, 'multitudinous tongue', 'bosom multiplied' or hydra. Whereas Coriolanus perceives himself as the Herculean hero who will decapitate the venomous menace to Rome, Sicinius believes him to be a traitor who endangers the security of the city, but more his own position as a Tribune. Menenius manages to regain his rhetorical abilities and argues that Coriolanus is not a disease to Rome that is in need of 'surgery' - 'he's a limb that has but a disease: / Mortal, to cut it off; to cure it easy.' (ll.293-4) In the language of the body politic Menenius invokes, recalling his martial endeavours Coriolanus is too precious for Rome to discard, and more, he believes the hero can be reformed, or at least controlled.
The Tribunes are persuaded to accept more constitutional means of punishing Coriolanus; they do however realise their dilemma - 'To eject him hence / Were but our danger, and to keep him here / Our certain
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