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Caius Marcius (Coriolanus) is an inflexible, arrogant heroic warrior, whose fortitude and perseverance win every match on the battlefield; outside of war, however, his basic characteristics cause him problems and lead to his downfall. Much of Marcius’ behavior is motivated by his mother’s demands. She has trained him to be an honorable and willful soldier, sending him off to war at age sixteen. When he is challenged to be something other than a military leader, however, he is unable to rise to the occasion.
Coriolanus has a hot temper. His bursts of anger get him into trouble throughout the play; he provokes class antagonism, causes his own banishment from Rome, and even makes his fellow patricians lose faith in him. He is also filled with pride. He disrespects the commoners, feeling they are not as smart as the patricians and are unfit to even be represented in the government. Because they do not share his values, Coriolanus refuses to hide his contempt for them. But then, Coriolanus is always brutally honest and speaks his mind. He believes the commoners are inconstant and cowardly, and he clearly tells them so. He calls the tribunes, and then Aufidius, liars, angering them to the point that they must rid themselves of this arrogant warrior.
In spite of his obvious intelligence, Coriolanus lacks insight into himself. He never realizes the affect that he is having on people, until it is too late. Largely due to his outspokenness, he angers the tribunes, the Senators, the common people, and even his family. He also fails to see how inflexible that he is; but he can never make a concession or see another’s point of view. As a result, he fails miserably in the world of politics.
Coriolanus’ inflexibility, impatience, pride, uncontrollable anger, and inability to judge situations ultimately lead to his downfall. His enemies realize his weakness and manipulate him to their advantage. They know that once he is aroused, his fury will be unstoppable. Sicinius accurately observes that it is as easy to incite Coriolanus “as to set dogs on sheep”. When the tribunes accuse him of being a traitor, he cannot restrain himself and hurls insults at them and the commoners, calling them “common curs.” Such insults infuriate them and cause them to sentence Coriolanus into exile. Aufidius too perceives Coriolanus’ pride as a weakness and uses it to his advantage. In the last scene of the play, Aufidius calls him a “traitor” and dismisses him as a “boy of tears”. This leads Coriolanus to remind the Volscians of their humiliating defeat at his hands at Corioli and gives Aufidius an excellent opportunity to kill him.
The play reveals how Coriolanus cannot win at the game of politics, for he lacks the ability to wear many guises. By being true to himself, he enrages those around him. If nothing else, he is a singular human being, and his aloneness is restated throughout the play. Loyal to none but himself, yet lacking inner resources, in the end he resorts to the only role he knows, that of the warrior and therein lies his demise.