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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Act I, Scene 1
The play opens with a mutinous crowd of Roman citizens on the verge of rebellion due to the scarcity of grain. It is one of the most tumultuous openings of all of Shakespeare’s plays. The citizens are armed with weapons and are hostile towards the patrician, Caius Marcius. The First Citizen emerges out of the crowd as the chief spokesman and tests the mob’s resolve to die rather than endure starvation. He voices the general opinion that Caius Marcius is the “chief enemy to the people ” and incites the mob to kill him so that they can have corn at their own price. The First Citizen further denounces the patricians whose subhuman treatment of the plebeians has become too much to bear. He states that their actions are motivated by “hunger for bread” and not by “thirst for revenge.” The First Citizen derogatorily dismisses Caius Marcius as “a very dog to the commonalty” and says that though he has performed great services to the state. Shouts are heard from within, and the mob realizes that there has been an uprising in another part of the city. This news further incites the mob, which is now about to rush towards the Capitol, but are stopped by the arrival of Menenius Agrippa.
Menenius attempts to convince the crowd that the patricians do have their welfare at heart by recounting a fable in which the members of the body revolt against the belly, but eventually realize that the belly sustains them all. He likens the Senate to the belly and the crowd to the mutinous members and alludes to the First Citizen as being “the great toe of this assembly.” At this point Caius Marcius enters and addresses the mob most disrespectfully as “dissentious rogues.” When he learns from Menenius that the crowd is rebelling because grain prices are high, Caius becomes enraged. He criticizes the mob’s presumptive attitude that prompts them to dispute the Senate. He threatens to slaughter them and reveals that the uprising in another part of the city has been quelled. He also explains that five tribunes have been appointed to protect the commoners’ interests. Caius is so infuriated by these appointments that he can only recall the names of two tribunes --- Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus.
A messenger rushes onstage with the news that the Volscians are in arms and intend to attack Rome. Marcius is overjoyed at this news and says that a war will disperse the mob. Soon a delegation of Roman Senators and Tribunes arrive. They include Cominius, Titus Lartius, Sicinius Velutus, and Brutus. The Senators reaffirm the news of the Volscian attack and ask Marcius to assist Cominius in the war, which he is eager to do. Marcius then praises the valor of the Volscian leader, Aufidius, describing him as a lion whom he is proud to hunt.
After everyone has departed except two of the tribunes, Sicinius tells Brutus that he is surprised that the proud Marcius is willing to be second in command to Cominius. Brutus shrewdly observes that the second in command is not a bad position; if the Romans are defeated, all the blame will fall on Cominius, and if they emerge victorious, Marcius will receive great praise for his valor and courage. The scene closes as the two tribunes leave for the Capitol.