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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 1

Summary

Back in Rome, a conversation ensues between Menenius and the two tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, as they anticipate Marcius’ return. The tone of their conversation soon changes from playful jesting to vindictive anger. Menenius tells the tribunes that a fortuneteller has predicted that significant news of the Roman army will come tonight. But the news will not be in accord with the wishes of the people since they hate Marcius. Sicinius adopts a hostile tone and replies that Nature herself teaches beasts to know their friends. Menenius denounces the plebeians as wolves who would devour the noble Marcius. The situation is fraught with animosity. Menenius then lures the two tribunes into cataloguing Marcius’ faults. Sicinius and Brutus state that Marcius is a braggart; Menenius responds by deriding the ambition of the tribunes themselves and charging them of being proud. He calls them “a brace of unmeriting, proud, violent, testy magistrates --- alias fools”

Before they can retaliate, Menenius relates his own faults, acknowledging that he is a “humorous patrician ” who enjoys drinking and women, is imperfect as a judge, and inclined to show favors. He also grants that he is short-tempered and gets irritated hearing people criticize him. Despite all these faults, he says that he is a man of integrity who speaks his own mind and spends his “malice in (his) breath.” He then criticizes the tribunes for their exploitation of the common people despite the fact that they are supposed to serve their interests. Menenius draws this spiteful conversation to a close by remarking that even priests would become mockers if they encountered the likes of Sicinius and Brutus and by emphasizing that Marcius is worth all of their ancestors.


As he leaves the tribunes, Menenius runs into Volumnia, Virgilia, and, Valeria who are rushing off somewhere in a great hurry. Menenius’ tone undergoes a complete change as he greets the ladies respectfully and courteously. When Volumnia informs him that Marcius is coming home and with “ most prosperous approbation”, Menenius declares his amazement and disbelief. They tell him that letters have been sent telling of the news of the Roman victory. Menenius is overjoyed.

A discussion follows about the wounds that Marcius has received. Virgilia, with typical wifely concern, shudders at the thought; in contrast, Volumnia thanks the gods for Marcius’ wounds. Menenius even admits that wounds are the proud marks of a true soldier. As Volumnia boasts about Marcius’ achievements, Menenius shouts out the news of Marcius’ triumph to the tribunes, who are standing aside. Suddenly there is a shout and a flourish, signaling the approach of the victorious Roman army.

Accompanied by Cominius, Titus Lartius and the soldiers, Marcius enters to the sound of trumpets. A Herald makes a public proclamation of Coriolanus’ brave deeds, saying “that all alone Marcius did fight/ Within Corioli gates: where he hath won / With fame, a name . . .Coriolanus.” Embarrassed by this public display, Marcius silences the crowd. Then spying his family, he kneels deferentially to his mother and gently admonishes his wife for crying. Volumnia expresses her happiness and says that this day marks the fulfillment of her dreams and anticipates the consulship that will be bestowed on him. Coriolanus modestly states that he would rather serve the state as a soldier than be a part of the governing body. He then he leaves for the State.

The two tribunes, again alone, gossip with envy about the recent developments. Brutus dislikes Rome fawning over Coriolanus, and Sicinius fears that he may be made consul, diminishing the tribunes’ influence and power. Sicinius insists that Marcius is temperamentally unfit to assume the office of consulship and will not be able to retain his office if elected. He claims that the plebeians will soon forget his services to the state when he shows his insolence and denounces them. The two tribunes plan Marcius’ downfall, agreeing to make him show his disdain for the commoners. A messenger enters with reports of the public praise for Coriolanus. He also informs them that their presence is required at the Capitol because it is rumored that Marcius is to be made consul.

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