Catherine Bruno on Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Act 1

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

2. In Act 1, Scene 1, what can we infer about Caius Martius (later called Coriolanus) from his comportment and words towards the plebeians (common citizens) of Rome? If his state of error or flawed quality is becoming apparent, what is it?

If we compare Caius Martius to his quick-witted counterpart Menenius, we can infer that Caius has no rhetorical skills or speech giving ability. His only weapon is to sputter curses and insults, which we get a taste of in his speech on pages 17 and 19 lines 179 to about 183, where he states:

"What would you have, you curs, that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you; the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you, where he should find you lions, finds you hares; Where foxes, geese".

In this small portion of the speech, Caius's immaturity, brash character, and his lack of any sort of eloquence and public relations experience is apparent.

And now for the second part of the question, if his state of error or flawed quality is becoming apparent, what is it? We know from act 1 that Caius has good qualities and bad qualities. He is brave, fearsome in battle, and in a sense honorable. However, he is also stubborn, inflexible, and immature. And ultimately it is his overly aristocratic pride combined with his obvious contempt for the commonalty that is his flawed quality and will eventually lead to his downfall.

4. In Act 1, Scenes 4-10, how does Caius Martius manage his battle duties, and how does he handle the praise that comes his way in the struggle's aftermath?

In Act 1, Scenes 4-10, Caius Martius manages his battle duties with fearlessness and a headstrong personality. On page 41 lines 32 to 38, we get a sense of leadership when he commands his fellow soldiers to be brave and go forth to defend their country:

"They fear us not but issue forth their city. Now put your shields before your hearts, and fight with hearts more proof than shields. Advance, brave Titus. They do disdain us much beyond our thoughts, which makes me sweat with wrath. Come on my fellows!"

Caius is gutsy and fearsome. He knows what needs to be done and he gets it done. In scene 4, we also see a willingness to do things that the other soldiers are not. Caius single handedly opens the gates to Corioles, and though it would appear that he is covered in his own blood, charges forth and continues the fight against the enemies army:

"So, now the gates are ope. Now prove good seconds! 'Tis for the followers fortune widens them, not for the fliers. Mark me, and do the like".

Although we have seen a strong character in Caius we also see a softer side when he accepts his praise following the struggle's aftermath with modesty. He proves noble in his victory, belittling his own achievements and commending the other soldiers for their valor. We can see a little of this on page 59 lines 18 to 23:

"I have done as you have done that's what I can; induced as you have been that's for my country. He that has but effected his good will hath overtaken mine act".

He shows generosity on the battlefield, the hero at his best. However it is a quality that he is unable to carry over into his politics.