Act V

The 'great issue' of the final act is whether Coriolanus will inflict his wrath upon Rome or underlying finer qualities will emulate the hero's pride and determination for vengeance. Under pressure from the fearful Tribunes, Menenius, though reluctant, is pressed into travelling to Coriolanus to attempt to dissuade the disgraced hero from sacking the city of his former pride. When Menenius fails in his mission, it is left to Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia, to engage her son and save Rome. Volumnia's success finally proves fatal for Coriolanus, as he returns not to Rome but to the Volscians, where Aufidius has conspired his downfall and assassination.

Act V, scene i

We begin with Menenius refusing to go to Coriolanus. The patrician advises sarcastically 'Go you that banish'd him / A mile before his tent fall down, and knee / The way into his mercy.' Cominius' attempts to dissuade his former comrade have already failed, and the commander is certain of the hero's determination to inflict revenge on the city:

' 'Coriolanus'
He would not answer to; forbad all names;
He was a kind of nothing, titleless,
Till he had forg'd himself a name o' the fire
Of burning Rome.'

Coriolanus has not only forsaken his title; the act is symbolic of the hero's repudiation of his past - the glory of Rome and its armies, and his family and home. Shakespeare reinforces this with references to Coriolanus as 'nothing' and 'thing'. War against, and the sacking of, Rome is 'useful' for Coriolanus at this point. In parallel to the opportunities for social cleansing of Rome's parasitic plebeians, war against the city will allow the hero to destroy his political and personal enemies, and prevent what he believes is an unconstitutional state of affairs there. The conflict of 'national' interests is exposed in the dispute between Menenius and the people. Menenius asks the Tribunes 'We must be burnt for you' (l.32). In reply, Sicinius calls upon Menenius' statesmanship: 'If you refuse your aid / In this so never-needed help, yet do not / Upbraid with our distress'. Beneath the façade of fear for Rome, Menenius is concerned that Coriolanus will reject his plea. Though Menenius is gradually persuaded, Cominius knows only Volumnia can save Rome.

Act V, scene ii

On his arrival at the Volscian army's camp, the guards refuse to admit Menenius, despite his insistence on his close ties with the hero. Coriolanus and Aufidius arrive as the guards are about to forcefully drive Menenius away. Menenius, in an attempt at forging a sort of paternal bond, calls the hero his 'son'; Coriolanus however upholds his commitment to his determination to exact revenge on Rome and the Volscian cause by rejecting Menenius. The Roman patrician is left to the guards' mockery. The First Watch's observation that Coriolanus' rage cannot be quietened by the 'easy groans of old women' or 'virginal palms of your daughters' anticipates, ironically, the embassy of women in the next scene. This expression of Volscian hero-worship is concluded when the First Watch declares of Coriolanus, 'He's the rock, the oak not to be wind shaken.'

Act V, scene iii

Coriolanus is however shaken, and this scene is the strongest example of the force of the maternal bond that overrides all other opinion for the fallen hero. The irony is heightened as Coriolanus prides himself on his steadfastness against Roman efforts at appeasement just as Volumnia's arrival is imminent.

'This last old man,
Whom with a crack'd heart I have sent to Rome,
Lov'd me above the measure of a father,
Nay goaded me indeed.'

Coriolanus' resolution to admit no more Romans to the camp is shattered by the arrival of Volumnia, Virgilia and his son. Ironically Coriolanus yields to his mother, the figure that has done more to shape the facets of the hero that have caused his present dilemma. Coriolanus acknowledges this when he describes Volumnia as 'the honour'd mould / Wherein this trunk was fram'd' (ll.22-3). Though he is still bent on exacting revenge on Rome, he has become uncertain, 'Like a dull actor'. Coriolanus kneels before his mother; Volumnia states that she feels it is she who should kneel before him. Coriolanus sees this as an inversion of natural order of things:

'What's this?
Your knees to me? to your corrected son?
Then let the pebbles on the hungry beach
Filip the stars. Then let the mutinous winds
Strike the proud cedars 'gainst the fiery sun,
Murd'ring impossibility, to make
What cannot be, slight work!'

The language looms close over the social and political turmoil of Rome. It also symbolises Coriolanus' revolt against Rome; at this point however he fails to perceive the meaning of his own words. Volumnia introduces

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