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Act V, Scene 4
The scene opens in a public place in Rome where Menenius and Sicinius are fearfully awaiting the outcome of Volumnia’s intercession with her son. Menenius is certain that there is no hope of success and feels sure that Coriolanus will attack Rome. He still blames the tribunes for causing the whole mess with Coriolanus. Sicinius wonders whether a man can alter so much in such a short period of time. Menenius replies that Marcius has been transformed from a man into a dragon, just like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.
A messenger enters advising Sicinius to seek refuge in his house if he cares for the safety of his life. He states that the commoners have seized his fellow tribune, Brutus, and have threatened to put him to death if the women fail to dissuade Coriolanus from attacking Rome. Soon a second messenger arrives with the good news that the women have been successful in their mission and that the Volscians have retreated. Coriolanus has gone to Corioli. Sicinius is amazed at this wonderful and unexpected turn of events. The citizens rejoice as trumpets and drums are sounded. Menenius declares that he will go and meet the ladies and exclaims that Volumnia is worth a whole city of consuls, Senators, patricians, and tribunes. Sicinius thanks the messenger for bringing the good news and also goes to greet the women.
The conversation between Menenius and Sicinius reveals how these men now perceive Coriolanus as almost superhuman. Menenius describes the new vengeful Coriolanus by saying, “When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his treading; . . .He wants nothing of a god but eternity and a heaven to throne in.” Menenius dehumanizes Coriolanus as a machine, because he no longer has any human relationship to him; Coriolanus has proven to them that he is totally self-sufficient.
When Menenius again blames the tribunes for making Coriolanus into the monster he has become, Sicinius no longer protests his innocence; he has nothing to protect now that Rome is about to be invaded.
Shakespeare intensifies the tension of the scene by the arrival of a messenger who warns Sicinius to seek safety. The citizens have seized Brutus and have threatened to put him to death. The commoners once again show themselves to be inconstant and irrational, just as Coriolanus had claimed. A second messenger soon arrives with the good news that Volumnia has succeeded in persuading Coriolanus not to attack the city. The mood immediately changes from one of worry and dread to joyousness. Menenius praises Volumnia as more worthy than all the patricians in Rome. He takes his leave to go and greet her. Sicinius endeavors to reestablish his position with the commoners, thanks the messenger for bringing the good news, and then also goes to greet Volumnia, which is ironic considering that he has been upstaged by her.
This scene provides a brief respite between the high theatrical emotion of the preceding scene and the tragedy of the concluding scene. It also allows the mood to change as the city transforms from despair to celebration.