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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 3

Summary

Scene three opens in the market place (the Forum) where the citizens gather to meet Coriolanus. The conversation prior to the entrance of Coriolanus provides us with a glimpse of the public opinion. A discussion among the citizens reveals the discontent which Coriolanus provokes among the commoners. Although they admire him, they do not think he has their best interests in mind. This leads to general comments about the patricians, all of whom appear self-serving and disdainful towards them.

Menenius arrives with Coriolanus, who is wearing a gown of humility and has come to solicit the citizens’ votes by displaying his wounds. Coriolanus continues to complain to Menenius about the formalities, saying that he would rather mock the cowardice of the commoners who retreated in the war than falsely flatter; but he promises Menenius that he will be on his best behavior, hiding his true feelings. When Menenius leaves, Coriolanus attempts to ingratiate himself to the commoners and beg for their votes, but most of his comments sound condescending and reveal his distaste for them.


When Coriolanus is finally left alone, he enters into his first soliloquy in the play. He reflects that it is better to die than to solicit votes from the commoners and wear this “wolvish toge”. He consoles himself that only half of the ordeal remains. As other commoners enter, Coriolanus sarcastically solicits their votes. Finally Menenius enters with the tribunes; they announce that Coriolanus has gained the votes of all the citizens and says that now they can go to the Senate to complete the proceedings. Coriolanus says that he wants to change his garments before going to the Senate, and Menenius offers to go with him. The two tribunes are left alone to discuss the results of the vote.

When the citizens re-enter, they inform the tribunes that Coriolanus has gained their votes, but that public opinion has already started turning against him. As the citizens begin to recount their encounters with Coriolanus and his disdainful comments to them, a general dismay about him is revealed. Sicinius cleverly expresses disbelief over his behavior, which serves to further excite the commoners. Sicinius and Brutus then both emphasize Coriolanus’ excessive pride. Before long, the crowd has totally reversed its opinion of Coriolanus, and the two tribunes again reveal their insidious power play by begging the commoners to blame their decision to vote for him on them. The commoners now call Coriolanus their “chief enemy;” wanting to revoke their vote, they set off for the Capitol.

When the tribunes are again alone, Brutus comments that it is better for the citizens to rebel now than later. They also predict that Coriolanus will surely fly into a fit of anger when he learns that the citizens have changed their minds. The two men leave for the Capitol to witness Coriolanus’ next public outrage.

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