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Act I, Scene 6
This scene opens with Cominius and his soldiers taking a break after they have retreated. Since they have heard nothing from Marcius and Lartius, Cominius prays for their success. A messenger then enters bearing the old news that the Romans have been forced to retreat back to their trenches. When Cominius learns that it has taken the messenger more than an hour to arrive, he hopes that the situation in Corioli has taken a turn for the better.
Marcius enters; he is bleeding so profusely from his wounds that for a moment Cominius cannot recognize him. He then informs Cominius of their victory. When Cominius asks him for the details, Marcius impatiently tells him that the time is not right for telling stories and questions Cominius about why they are not fighting. Marcius is disgusted when Cominius tells how he has been forced to retreat. Marcius then inquires about Aufidius and learns that he is head of the army. Marcius pleads for permission to attack Aufidius without any further delay.
Marcius orders four offices to select the most valiant soldiers. He leads them into the battlefield with the cry, “O me alone! Make you a sword of me!”
This scene provides a stark contrast between the characters of Marcius and Cominius. It opens with Cominius taking a break from the fighting, revealing himself to be a cautious warrior who is able to accept retreating from the battlefield as justifiable. He is portrayed as a calm and experienced soldier, who can praise his soldiers and instill confidence in his army even when they have been driven back by Aufidius. This is very different picture from the frenzied fighting led by Marcius in the earlier scenes. When his soldiers retreated from Corioli, he shamed them and called them names. He then proceeded to fight on his own, instead of inspiring his men.
When Marcius appears, he is so smeared with blood that Cominius cannot recognize him for a moment. In spite of his wounds, he greets Cominius joyously with language steeped in romantic imagery and tells of his victory over Corioli. He questions Cominius about why he is not fighting. When he learns they have retreated, Marcius rallies the soldiers to immediately go into the battle again. This warrior has one thing on his mind - to defeat Aufidius. He leads the soldiers out to battle with the cry, “O me alone! Make you a sword of me!” The metaphor emphasizes that he is not just a fighting man but a lethal weapon.
As the scene draws to a close, a mercenary side of Cominius is revealed; he encourages his men to fight by promising them the plunders of war. This is a sharp contrast to Marcius, who denounces the soldiers in Corioli for ransacking the city. Cominius is obviously the more realistic of the two military leaders. He understands that soldiers need material rewards to motivate them; Marcius cannot understand this, because for him, the battle is the reward, the reason for being. Although Marcius is a better solitary warrior, Cominius is a better general-in-chief, for he can sympathize with and encourage his soldiers.