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This opening scene is grand in scope and tense in mood, as it presents a mutinous mob poised on the verge of a revolt. From the very beginning, the tragic outcome of the play is foreshadowed by an impending sense of foreboding and doom caused by the restless plebian crowd. In this introductory scene, all the major conflicts of the play are presented; the audience sees the class antagonism between the patricians and the plebeians, the inordinate pride of Marcius, and the contrast between Marcius’ contemptuous attitude towards the commoners and the sympathy of Menenius Agrippa. Most of the major characters are also introduced, either in person or through conversation.
The commoners are united by their anger towards the patricians, especially over the lack of grain for them to purchase; but they are depicted as somewhat irrational and brutish, lacking any strategy in their demands. The First Citizen, the spokesman of the mob, is a rabble-rouser. He tests the mob’s emotion by asking, “You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?” The mob answers with an affirmative cry in unison. The question serves to highlight the desperateness of the situation in which the commoners find themselves. The mention of Caius Marcius by the First Citizen as the “chief enemy of the people” elicits a violent response from the crowd. It is obvious that the commoners hate this proud and haughty leader. Largely through his mother’s urging, Marcius has become an ambitious, self-righteous, and single-minded individual, disgusted by weakness or inconsistency
When Marcius actually appears before the crowd, he insultingly addresses the mob as “dissentious rogues” and “curs.” He accuses them of lacking courage in battle and of being fickle and inconstant. He obviously has a great contempt for the commoners, believing their only use in life is as reinforcements during war; it is no wonder that he is greatly hated by the plebeians, for he is not afraid to show his dislike for them. In contrast to his feeling for the commoners, Marcius believes that the patricians are the agents of 2the gods and that without their rule, there would be a total collapse of law and order in society. As a result of his feelings, Marcius is terribly upset that tribunes have been appointed to act as representatives in the Senate for the commoners; he does not believe they are worthy of a voice in government.