Tiffany Chau on Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Act 2

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

Question 1.

What reception does Caius Martius get when he returns to Rome along with Cominius and Lartius?

There are five different reactions that result from the victorious return of Coriolanus, Cominius and Lartius. The reactions are of Brutus and Sicinius, the general public, his mother and wife, as well as the upper-class tribune leaders. The first reactions are those of Sicinius and Brutus. Both tribune members do not like Coriolanus. They denounce him because of his great pride


He's poor in no one fault, but stored with all.


Especially in pride.


And topping all others in boasting (II.i.18-20) pg. 71

Brutus and Sicinius feel threatened by the prospect of Coriolanus rising to consul because they believe he would later undermine their own power, as made evident when Brutus says,

So it must fall out
To him, or our authority's for an end.
We must suggest the people in what hatred
He still hath held them; that to's power he would
Have made them mules, silenced their pleaders, and
Dispropertied their freedoms; holding them
In human action and capacity
of no more soul nor fitness for the world

Than camels in their war… (II.i.273-281)

In this passage not only do they express their fears of Caius Martius' ascension, but they also decide to plot against him. Brutus mentions that the public of Rome whom generally do not favor Martius have begun to "speak of him, and the bleared sights / Are spectacled to see him." (pg 85). In this passage, he tells Sicinius of the public becoming interested in Martius due to his victory. Brutus mentions how "stalls, bulks, windows / are smothered up…. / with variable complexions, all agreeing in earnestness to see him" as if he were a newfound celebrity. Though the public had put aside their dislike of Martius in the wake of his triumph, Brutus has not forgotten Martius' contempt for the plebeians. Brutus states in lines 257-262:

I heard him swear,
Were he to stand for consul, never would he
Appear I' th' marketplace nor on him put
The napless vesture of humility,
Nor showing, as the manner is, his wounds

To th' people, beg their stinking breaths. (p 87)

They know that Caius Martius looks upon commoners with great disdain, and could not submit himself to a display of humility because he has too great of pride. Knowing that the public would be furious at Caius' contempt for the lower classes, Brutus and Sicinius plan to exploit this weakness and use it against Caius Martius. Caius Martius' mother and wife welcome him home. Though his wife Virgilia is worried about the wounds, his mother seems to be more concerned about his rise in status. Caius shows deference to his mother by kneeling, which shows that he has great respect for her. So when she says "There's one thing wanting, which I doubt not but / Our Rome will cast upon thee" (pg 83) she's expressing her desire that Caius Martius take the role of consul.

The patricians and tribune leaders, inspired by Caius Martius' victory, gave him the title of Coriolanus. They also are considering making him a consul in Act II scene ii. Before doing so they listen to the account of the victory from Cominius. Cominius not only describes the conquest of Corioli, but he also tells the tribune leaders that Coriolanus doesn't care for the riches and spoils of war, but is content with his "deeds" (pg 99). The senate reacts favorably saying that Coriolanus is "right noble" (II.ii.148) pg 99. They are so "well pleased" that they want to make him consul as soon as he displays his humility and love to the common folk and obtain their votes for his rise.

How does he at first react to the news that he is to be made consul? Coriolanus first reacts to the news of being made consul by saying that he still owes his "life and services" to the Senate to which the Senate tells him he must "speak to the people" (pg. 99). Coriolanus, who in Act I Scene I has referred to the common folk as "curs " (pg 19) and "dogs" (pg 21), reacts negatively to this command from the Senate. He says on page 99:

I do beseech you,
Let me o'erleap that custom,, for I cannot
Put on the gown, stand naked, and entreat them

For my wounds' sake to give their suffrage. (II.ii.158-162) pg 99.

Coriolanus has so much pride that he's not the type to flout his wounds just to get votes. He has pride in his achievements and feels that he has no need to show his humility to the common folk. His disdain for the plebeians causes him to hesitate, but eventually he gives in and agrees to try gleaning votes from the public.