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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act IV, Scene 1

Summary

Volumnia, Virgilia, Menenius, Cominius, and several young patricians bid Coriolanus farewell at the city gates. Coriolanus has regained his composure and bids his friends not to weep at this parting. He sadly says that “the beast/With many heads butts me away,” referring to the commoners. As his mother weeps, losing her “ancient courage,” Coriolanus tries to comfort her. He reminds her that she used to say that hard times tested men’s spirits. Virgilia is so grief-stricken that she cries out in agony, “O heavens! O heavens!” As Coriolanus tries to comfort the women, he lapses into poetry, saying that he goes alone like a “lonely dragon” who will be feared and talked about more during his absence. He comforts Volumnia by saying that he will yet perform some marvelous feat unless he is defeated by treachery. When Cominius offers to accompany him for a month, Coriolanus refuses this generous offer of help and says that he prefers to go alone. He again entreats his family and friends to bid him farewell with smiles and promises that they will again hear of his deeds.


Notes

As expected, Coriolanus displays courage at his parting. He comforts his wife and promises his mother that she will hear of his great deeds again. He reminds her that she has taught him that hard times test men’s spirits. In being banished from Rome, Coriolanus is losing a nation, but he has not lost himself; he still has great self- confidence and assumes he will make a mark for himself in the future. In describing himself as a lonely dragon, he recognizes in himself what the audience has perceived all a long. When Cominius offers to come with him for the first month of his exile, Coriolanus is appreciative of the offer, but turns it down. Although slightly more humble in this scene than he normally is, Coriolanus still shows great strength of character.

Virgilia is crushed by the banishment of her husband and can do little beyond beseeching heaven for help. Surprisingly, Volumnia appears as a mother who is genuinely concerned about the welfare of her son, rather than his glory. She does not hold any grudges against him for breaking his promise to speak modestly and transfers her anger to the tribunes and the commoners. She earnestly worries about where Coriolanus will go and begs him to take his friends along as a help to him. Both Menenius and Cominius, loyal to Coriolanus until the end, offer to accompany him, but the lonely dragon will not hear of it. Every aspect of the scene is poignant; its emotional intensity sharply contrasts with the confusion of the earlier scenes.

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