Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
This scene, which resolves the action of the play, contains the anticipated tragic outcome for Coriolanus. With the Volscian commoners calling for his death, it is reflective of the earlier scene in the play when the Roman commoners also called for the death of Coriolanus. This time, however, the call for death comes to fruition. Although Aufidius and his conspirators actually kill Coriolanus, the responsibility for the hero’s downfall comes from his inability to hold his temper and deny accusations against him with more prudence. It must be remembered, however, that in both instances where Coriolanus is inspired to rage, he has been set up by cunning forces keen on seeing him fall. Previously it was the tribunes who made sure he was insulted and angered; in Corioli, it is Aufidius and his conspirators who cause his rage. Coriolanus, therefore, is not the only one to blame for his tragic ending, but also the politicians who plan his demise.
The scene opens with Aufidius’ return to Corioli. It is immediately clear that he seeks revenge for the wrongs done to him by Coriolanus. He tells his co-conspirator that he has been “by his own alms empoison’d / And with his own charity slain.” He further claims that Coriolanus has “seduced” his friends through “flattery.” Finally, he states that the proud Coriolanus has treated him as an underling. In truth, Aufidius is filled with envy because Coriolanus has usurped his position as head of the army and has become much loved by the Volscians.
Coriolanus greets the lords on his arrival and sets out his achievements. He assures them of his loyalty to the Volscians, but Aufidius accuses him of being a “traitor”. This sounds exactly like the false charges of Sicinius and Brutus against him, and Coriolanus immediately becomes enraged and lashes out at Aufidius.
When he mentions his earlier triumph at Corioli, Aufidius grabs this opportunity to incite the mob against the warrior, whom he calls an “unholy braggart.” The conspirators stir the mob further, reminding them of their kinsmen who have died at Roman hands. As the crowd calls for his death, Aufidius and the conspirators fall upon Coriolanus and stab him to death.
When the mob realizes what has happened, there is much remorse. Like the commoners in Rome, they are portrayed as a very inconstant and fickle group. When Coriolanus entered the town, they greeted him like a hero. Then swayed by Aufidius and the conspirators, they call for the death of the warrior. Now that he has been killed, they feel sad and fearful. They try to cast blame away from themselves, saying it was Coriolanus’ own actions that caused his death.
In truth, Coriolanus’ greatest weakness may be that he does not have the insight to see how he is being provoked. This was the cause of his demise from Rome, and here again in Corioli, he is guilty of the same thing; he falls for the bait which Aufidius holds out to him. His pride is such that it prevents him from acting with prudence; he reacts to the malicious lies cast against him with a violent rage. The result is that he incenses the crowd, who calls for his death. As a result, he is easy for Aufidius and the conspirators to fall upon Coriolanus and accomplish what they have already planned to do. As the crowd watches him being stabbed to death, it is truly a tragic end to a great warrior, who could never be anything but a military man.