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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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The Tribunes --- Brutus and Sicinius

The tribunes function as the antagonists on a simplistic level. Their first appearance in the play is unremarkable. They are not round characters and are almost indistinguishable from each other. Both of them hold similar views although Sicinius is the hotter headed of the two. Sicinius is an elderly demagogue, characterized by Coriolanus as an “old goat” and a “tongue o’the common mouth.” Sicinius is the one who poisons the commoners’ minds against Coriolanus and urges the commoners to revoke their election of Coriolanus as consul. Sicinius also stops the party of patricians making their way to the market place and delivers his “absolute shall” regarding Coriolanus. During the brawl scene in Act III, Sicinius is so vehement in his accusations and denunciation of Coriolanus as a traitor that Coriolanus has to be physically restrained from attacking him. Although his fanaticism is propelled by class hatred and an intense personal loathing of Coriolanus, he is also power hungry and wants to usurp some of the control of the Senate which the patricians have.


Brutus is the other of the two “bald tribunes” who inflame the Roman mob against Coriolanus. He is distinguished from the hotheaded Sicinius by his slyness and agrees with whatever Sicinius says. Even his seemingly honest sounding arguments have a double edge to them. An example is when he asserts that Coriolanus “hath served well for Rome.” His insincerity can be gleaned from the remark that “ Now we have shown our power, / Let us seem humbler after it was done / Than when it was a - doing.” He makes his political motives very clear when he argues that if Coriolanus becomes consul “our office may ... go to sleep”. His shiftiness is matched by an equal degree of cowardice. He shields himself behind Sicinius and is always the second one to speak. When Volumnia accuses the tribunes of plotting against her son, Brutus cowers behind Sicinius and leaves the task of warding off her attack solely to him. He has to flatter the hated patrician Menenius to intercede for Rome (“make trial what your love can do / For Rome”). After this he vanishes from the play until it is reported that the citizens have seized him in anger and have threatened to take his life if the women fail to dissuade Coriolanus from attacking Rome.

The tribunes are accurate judges of character and provide insightful remarks regarding Coriolanus. They are not as naive as the commoners and are better educated yet they are limited by their motives which are maligned. The dominating trait of their characters is their ability to manipulate events. They are self- serving men who are more concerned about the threat to their own office than about the commoners whom they represent. It is evident that they too despise the commoners as they speak to them in elevated language and criticize them behind their backs. They are shrewd politicians who only have their own interests at heart.

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