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Coriolanus is the protagonist and clearly dominates the play as his flamboyant personality conflicts with much of the behavior of leaders in the Roman republic. He is obstreperous, arrogant, excessive, and unyielding. Unable to conform to the proper behavior adopted by most leaders, he soon facilitates his own downfall with the help of some disreputable politicking by the tribunes. The action of the play charts his degeneration from a war hero to a soldier in exile.
Coriolanus’ antagonist, or tragic flaw, is his own pride, characterized by uncontrollable anger, inflexibility, and contempt for the commoners. These traits cause his downfall and lead to his assassination.
On another level, the tribunes serve as the villains of the play. They realize the inflammability of Coriolanus’ temper and utilize his rage against him. They teach their followers how to provoke his bursts of anger. By following their leaders’ instructions, the mob is able to easily incite his anger, thereby proving he is an ineffective leader. The simple plan works. Sicinius accuses Coriolanus of being a traitor, a charge which enrages him. He hurls curses against the tribunes and the commoners. When he calls them a “common cry of curs,” he is banished from Rome. Although the tribunes incite him, it is really Coriolanus’ inability to control his pride and temper that defeats him.
The action rises by a series of climaxes to a central climactic moment in Act V, Scene 3. The clemency of Coriolanus to Rome draws all the bustle of the play together to its zenith. From this point onwards, it is obvious that Coriolanus has defeated himself by his inability to control his anger and curb his inordinate pride. His murder seems inevitable.
Outcome: The play ends in tragedy and total darkness with the assassination of Coriolanus in Act V, Scene 6. Aufidius arouses his anger and manipulates it to his undoing. The tragic end of Coriolanus does not involve any other character apart from himself. He dies alone in the enemy city of Corioli, where he had originally seen victory.