Coriolanus — Acts IV, V, Reveal
My name is Coriolanus, King of Kings! King Kong ain’t got nothin on me!
When we last left the Coriolanus formerly known as Marcius, he’d just been banished from Rome.
“All are banish-ed!” decreed the Verona priest. Just kidding.
Here, in Scene i, Coriolanus is still taking his sweet time getting outta Dodge. He has a drawn-out goodbye with his tearful mother, Volumnia; then is promised by his Captain and compadre, Cominius that he will accompany our anti-hero wherever the road may take him. That’s decent of Cominius!
Sicinius and Brutus are visited at the gates (of Rome?) by Volumnia, Virgilia (Coriolanus’s wife who has been surprisingly weak spirited in the shadow of his mother. She didn’t even offer to be banished with him. Harrumph.), and Menenius, this whole other guy everyone knows.
Volumnia shames Sicinius and Brutus for sending her boy, a war hero, away. But they could care less. They leave and Volumnia has some words about them with Menenius. He asked her to sup with him and she says
Anger’s my meat; I sup upon myself
And so shall starve with feeding.
Welp, everybody’s got a hungry heart, I guess.
An unarmed Roman… well that’s not entirely true — he’s billed as “Roman” — speaks to Volsces. But if my memory serves, Volsces is the name of the people Coriolanus fought with his fellow Romans, back when he was just Caius Marcius.
What I gather from this scene is that whomever this Roman is, he’s a trader. And he’s giving this Volsces chap valuable war information. Namely, that Coriolanus has been banished. And that would probably be news that’s worth something to his forever-rival, Aufidius. So ok.
Coriolanus is in disguise as he enters Aufidius’s house. Oh boy. Here come the fun.
Well, not just yet. But Coriolanus does have a rather pleasant-sounding soliloquy where he is basically shocked to learn of his great fortune — that he has unknowingly stumbled upon the very home of his enemy.
Enter comedy! It’s funny to me anyway. Three servingmen discover Coriolanus wandering the halls and ask him who he is and what he’s doing there. Fair questions, all. Coriolanus puts them off for as long as he can, giving silly, non-answers to their questions.
Where dwellest thou?
Under the canopy.
Under the canopy!
I' the city of kites and crows.
I' the city of kites and crows! What an ass it is! Then thou dwellest with daws too?
C’mon people! That is rich! Love it.
Aufidius enters and demands of the strange fellow’s name. You’d think he might recognize the man he fought a dozen times before.
Coriolanus has some fun playing with his mortal enemy, too. He says that his name is unpleasant to hear to a man such as Aufidius. And so forth. But then he reveals himself to be Caius Marcius, Aufidius’s sworn enemy.
What happens next is… quite unexpected and wonderful.
Coriolanus gives a great speech about how he is a man at the end of his rope, having been banished from his home, from Rome, he has nothing to live for. And by coming here, to his mortal ememy’s home, he now gives Aufidius his life, if he will take it. He just asks that Aufidius make quick work about it.
Aufidius is overjoyed to learn that he is in the presence of the greatest warrior he has ever faced… 12 times on the battlefield! And each of those 12 times, if I’ve read this correct, Coriolanus has defeated him. Yet here, as he is humbled before Aufidius, Coriolanus is no threat. Instead, he is a babe looking for shelter, for a new home. Aufidius opens his arms to him, both literally and figuratively. He turns Coriolanus into an instant turncoat, saying he can divulge a great wealth of knowledge to him and his army about the inner workings of the Roman Empire. Together, they exit.
Where the hell is Cominius by the way? Just checking.
The rest of the scene plays out between the three servingmen. They talk about Coriolanus and how Aufidius should still be at war with him but instead he’s got his eyes on Rome. The third servingman doesn’t just like war. He LOVES it!
Let me have war, say I;
it exceeds peace as far as day does night;
it's spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent.
Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible;
a getter of more bastard children than war's a destroyer of men.
Sicinius and Brutus are wondering where Coriolanus has gone. Eh, didn’t you like, just kick him out the front gate?
News comes fast and from different messengers that Coriolanus is … well come on now, we all know where he is! We’ve read Scene v!
The immediate danger becomes all the more, ehhh immediate, when Cominius enters to confirm everyone’s fears. Yes, Coriolanus has indeed joined with Aufidius and yes, they are waging war very close to Rome and coming this way!
Now, is Cominius supposed to be Coriolanus’ messenger here? Because last I knew of him, he was swearing to stay by Coriolanus’s side and then he vanished. I dunno. Maybe he was sent.
Pray, your news?--If Marcius should be join'd with Volscians,--
He is their god: he leads them like a thing
Made by some other deity than nature,
That shapes man better; and they follow him,
Against us brats, with no less confidence Than boys pursuing summer butterflies, Or butchers killing flies.
You have made good work,
You and your apron-men;
you that stood so up much on the voice of occupation and
The breath of garlic-eaters!
He will shake Your Rome about your ears.
Hard to say what’s going on with him but now I am of the notion that I read his first intention wrong and that he was sent with Coriolanus by the senators to keep a watchful eye on him and report back… which is what he’s just done.
Anyway, everyone is scared to death of Coriolanus’ wrath and they all fly away, away! To their homes, to the senate, to wherever they feel safety in numbers and/or political discourse.
A camp at a small distance from Rome.
Aufidius speaks with a Lieutenant in his army about Coriolanus. Because of course, everybody in this play speaks of Coriolanus. He’s literally the only subject on everyone’s mind 24/7.
The Lieutenant wishes Aufidius had not joined forces with his forever-enemy. Aufidius figures there was no other way about it. He believes Coriolanus at his word, that he intends him no harm anymore. And (here’s the rub), I believe Aufidius plans on betraying his new friendship should the time present itself that makes it beneficial to do so. In other words, if Coriolanus wins the battle with Rome for him, he will no longer be necessary. And then, Aufidius will strike the final blow and at last defeat and conquer the warrior who so often (12 times prior, if you recall) bested him.
Or maybe I’ve read too much out of Aufidius’ last speech? I don’t know. Let’s bring it on home.
Brutus, Sicinus, Cominus, and Menenius sit around and wonder if their lives would be easier if only they’d been born with better names. Kidding! Brutus isn’t so bad, but the rest — yucko!
Actually, they are pondering their futures as it pertains to, you guessed it, Coriolanus. He’s a wild card, y’all! No one knows what he will do next. So I suppose in this scene, the boys are figuring what to do with the different scenarios and outcomes that may present themselves.
Menenius leaves to have a word with Coriolanus. I think he’s going to try to talk some sense into him. Perhaps bring him home to Rome? It’s weird because they just banished him so I’m sure I have this wrong. Sigh.
Menenius has jet packed to the entrance of the Volscian camp. He talks with some senators who refuse to let him in. He goes as far as to say he has been Coriolanus’ lover in the past! So ok. I’m sure he doesn’t mean that literally. Not in today’s sense of the word. Does he, Will?
They argue incessantly til Coriolanus shows up, hand in hand with Aufidius. Ha, kidding again. Sorry. But they might as well be.
Corio, sweet Corio hands Menenius his butt and tells him to get lost. He’s made the trip for nothing, which is what Menenius’ boys basically told him. Coriolanus defends the Volscian senators, saying they were right to send Menenius away. He will not hear what the man has to say. He presupposes he knows it all anyway. Menenius and his brethren believe the Volscian army, led by the Coriolanus/Aufidius superpower, will easily destroy Rome. So Menenius has come to try and put a stop to the bloody battle before it begins. No such luck.
He is going on about how Menenius loves him more than a father ever could. Yet in the end, the man threw him out of Rome. Aufidius nods. He’s an understanding guy.
Enter Virgilia and Volumnia, Coriolanus’ wife and mother. They’ve brought his son along to plead their case. Coriolanus is not moved, even by all this. Even when his wife kneels before him.
Volumnia tells Virgilia to get up and stop embarrassing herself. She takes a different approach, telling her son that should he march on Rome, his home, all will be lost to him, and the ones he loves will probably die. If not in body, then they will surely be dead to him. Here comes the tragedy, I fear.
But wait! There is a sea change! Coriolanus is at last moved by his mother’s pleas! She convinces him to make peace! So he turns to Aufidius and asks, “Hey, are you moved by all this?” And Aufidius says he is. And they all enter the peace tent to discuss terms of peace.
I am skeptical, to say the least.
Scene iv, v
Rome. A public place.
Menenius and Sicinius don’t yet know that Coriolanus has been softened by the women. Wait… now they do. A messenger delivers the news that the war is over. There will be peace between the Volscians and Rome.
And oh look who’s riding into town! It’s the troupe of lovely ladies responsible for this wonderful turn of events. Let use shower them with praise!
Antium. A public place.
Aufidius has had a change of heart of his own. Or maybe he was always of the backstabbing mindset, he just plays a really good game. In speaking with three characters subtly named “First, Second, and Third Conspirator” they decide to kill Coriolanus when he least expects it. Aufidius says he will run him through with his long sword. I guess being defeated 12 times by Corio has done little to make Aufidius want to be BFFs.
Before the senators, Aufidius calls Coriolanus a traitor and he is aghast at hearing it. When Aufidius next calls him Marcius, the shock hits even harder.
“Well I never!” Coriolanus doesn’t exclaim, because this isn’t Golden Girls. In truth though, he is quite hurt. I guess he thought he’d found a true friend in his forever enemy. Nopers!
The conspirators and even the people chime in. “Kill him! He killed my father! He killed my son! He killed my uncle’s amnesiac mongoose!”
The Conspirators draw, and kill CORIOLANUS: AUFIDIUS stands on his body.
If I had to express just one complaint about Shakespeare, I wouldn’t be able to stop just there. But for the sake of where we are right now, I will say this: I know there’s not a whole lot you can do with stage directions. They are intended to flatly describe the action that takes place so that a good director and troupe can pull together a moving interpretation of the words. That said, these major beats that define Shakespeare’s greatest plays occur in a vacuous hole. If you blink, you might miss them in the reading. I’m digressing greatly and this should probably be a bloggy for another day. Let’s just wrap up the commentary and say the most major, most inevitable part of this play feels wanting. What’re ya gonna do?
Where were we? Oh yeah, Coriolanus is dead. Long live Aufidius.
It does make sense that it is the conspirators that killed him, and not his arch rival. In the end, Aufidius is robbed of his vengeance. Poor lad.
That’s about it. Aufidius says he will take Coriolanus’ body on a walking tour of the city. “My rage is gone,” he says. So at least there’s that. “He shall have a noble memory.”
Hey guess what? I pretty much nailed this one. I’m so proud of myself!
Here’s what I didn’t know that maybe I should have:
Caius Marcius a.k.a. Coriolanus was a real dude in history. Of course, when he was alive and rockin’, it was his present. Bygones. I probably should have recognized that this was, for all intents and purposes, based on a true story. But then again, Hamlet is a fiction, as is Romeo and Juliet. So maybe I’ll give myself a break on that one. Not all tragedies are real.
The character portrayed and explored in this play is a tough cookie for readers to pinpoint. He’s a man with political aspirations who tosses them aside on a whim. He’s a war hero who turns sides at the drop of a hat. And he’s a husband and father who, by my calculations, ain’t worth a damn. Then again, I don’t think men back in Roman times gave much thought to throwing the ol’ pigskin around with their sons in the backyard.
As much as the play is about Coriolanus, the character himself does not divulge much in the line of self-analyzation. Whereas Hamlet won’t shut up with his inner monologues, Coriolanus wears his one-sided personality on his sleeve. Everyone kinda hates him, even as they are praising him. He’s not a likable fellow. yet for some reason, his story is intriguing.
When Coriolanus is ousted from Rome and goes to Aufidius, his mortal enemy, he asks the Volscian warrior to kill him there on the spot. So yeah, our misguided hero is also a giver-upper of the highest degree. This is the point in the play where the reader suffers his first whiplash from flip-flopping. I guess poor Corio had nowhere else to go and he respected his enemy enough to allow his own death to come at Aufidius’ hands. But it still seems like an odd choice. I don’t know for sure still if he “stumbled upon the Volscian army” quite by accident or if that was his intended destination. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Aufidius eventually kills Coriolanus anyway, thereby ending all the unnecessary flim flam shimmy shamming in Rome and beyond.
And the people rejoice!
Next month I’ll be reading Cymbeline! Anyone know what’s the dealy-o with this one? I can only surmise it’s about a lovestruck drummer who, in a fit of passion, takes his own life by hitting himself repeatedly with a … wait for it … cymbal.
Oh. Oh no.
Can’t wait for your next Shakespeare fix?
Here’s a few other play dissections to wet your Willie:
All's Well That Ends Well ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
Antony and Cleopatra ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
As You Like It ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
Comedy of Errors ~ Acts I, II, III ~ Acts IV, V, Reveal
And here’s where we’re going with all this. To the future!
The Plan’s The Thing
Up next: Cymbeline ~ October 28, 30
Henry IV, Part I (December)
Henry IV, Part II (January 2020)
Henry V (February 2020)
Henry VI, Part I (March 2020)
Henry VI, Part II (April 2020)
Henry VI, Part III (May 2020)
Henry VIII (June 2020)
Julius Caesar (July 2020)
King John (August 2020)
King Lear (September 2020)
Love's Labour's Lost (October 2020)
Macbeth (November 2020)
Measure for Measure (December 2020)
Merchant of Venice (January 2021)
Merry Wives of Windsor (February 2021)
Midsummer Night's Dream (March 2021)
Much Ado about Nothing (April 2021)
Othello (May 2021)
Pericles (June 2021)
Richard II (July 2021)
Richard III (August 2021)
Romeo and Juliet (September 2021)
Taming of the Shrew (October 2021)
Tempest (November 2021)
Timon of Athens (December 2021)
Titus Andronicus (January 2022)
Troilus and Cressida (February 2022)
Twelfth Night (March 2022)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (April 2022)
Winter's Tale (May 2022)