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Act I, Scene 4
This scene shifts quickly from the gentle domestic world to the brutal world of war. It depicts the events already mentioned by Valeria in the earlier scene. Marcius, Titus Lartius, and a group of soldiers arrive before the city of Corioli to the sound of beating drums. When a messenger is spied, Marcius bets his horse that the messenger will bring news that Cominius has met Aufidius and is engaged in battle with him. When the messenger says that Cominius has not yet met Aufidius, Titus Lartius jestingly claims Marcius’ horse, for he has won the bet.
The messenger states that Cominius and his army and the Volscian army are both within a mile and a half of Corioli. When Marcius sends out an alarm to Corioli, the Senators of the city appear on the walls. They defiantly tell Marcius that they are not afraid of him and the Romans. In fact, they believe that Aufidius has been victorious aver Cominius. When Lartius orders ladders to be placed against the Corioli wall so a Roman foray can be made, the Volscians respond by attacking the Romans and pushing them back to their trenches. Marcius is infuriated by the Roman retreat and denounces the army for their faintheartedness, calling them “shames of Rome” and a “herd of boils and plagues.” When Marcius commands his soldiers to follow him into the city in pursuit of the retreating enemy, nobody complies. Marcius himself is shut inside the city gates, which have been drawn closed; it is assumed he will not come out alive. Lartius is so certain he will never see Marcius again that he gives a funeral oration for him, saying, “Thou wast a soldier. . . Thou mad’st thine enemies shake, as if the world were feverous.” As Lartius finishes, the gates of the city open, and Marcius emerges, “bleeding, assaulted by the enemy.” This amazing sight of Marcius single-handedly fighting the enemy rallies the Roman soldiers; they come to his aid and capture the city.
In this first of several battle scenes, Marcius single-handedly fights the Volscians, proving he is courageous and does not fear death. It is truly on the battlefield, and not in the Senate, where Marcius feels comfortable.
Before the battle begins, Marcius seems light-hearted and ready. He even participates in some playful betting and loses his horse in the process. Once he is challenged by the Volscians, he is enraged and vehemently denounces the Roman soldiers for their cowardice in retreating to the trenches. He is horrified when he commands his soldiers to follow him into the city and sees that they do not respond. As a result, he is alone in Corioli when the gates are drawn, and he alone fights valiantly for the Romans until he is sent out of Corioli, bleeding. His single-handed bravery rallies the other soldiers to join him, and they take the city.
The Romans prove they do not have adequate faith in Marcius. When the gates close behind him, they all assume he will never be seen again. Lartius even delivers a funeral oration for him, praising Marcius as a heroic warrior. When Marcius emerges alive from Corioli, he proves he truly is a hero, which makes his later downfall even more tragic.