Sarah Kaump on Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Act 4

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

12. In Act 4, Scenes 4-5, describe Caius Martius' entry into the Volscian city Antium (4.4) and then his meeting with Aufidius (4.5). What does Caius expect will happen, and why? And in what regard does the Volscian Aufidius hold his old enemy Caius, now that the man has turned his back on Rome?

Caius Martius—Coriolanus—leaves Rome, exiled, headed for the Volscian city, Antium to seek out his old enemy Aufidius to become allies against their now common enemy: Rome. He is dressed humbly in rags so much so that three different servants in the household of Aufidius try to turn him away. They speak down to him rudely: "I'th'city of kites and crows? What an ass it is! Then thou dwelt with daws too?" the Third Servingman tells him (p. 199). From what I gather, it is my understanding that not only is this servant calling the great General Coriolanus an ass he is comparing him to a 'daw' which is a bird associated with foolishness in response to genuine answers from Coriolanus aimed at being granted an audience with Aufidius. The Second Servingman then beats at Coriolanus with a wooden spoon as if to shoo him away. (p. 199—201)

Now when he actually gets to meet with Aufidius, he is not recognized. After being asked his name three times he finally responds with quite a monologue. He begins this speech describing his exile and his naturally bitter feelings about the whole thing. (p. 201—203) Now he asserts that he doesn't have an agenda. He expects Aufidius to either kill him or join him in avenging their now common enemy while claiming that he does not care which. I am inclined to believe him as he has thus far proven to lack the charm, shrewdness, and talent for influence necessary to make him a successful politician in the first place. Also, his character lacks insight and inner conflict—what you see is what you get. As he has displayed no inner turmoil thus far I doubt he would start now. So he sees no reason for living other than to join the enemy of the country he has betrayed; therefore, if Aufidius does not accept his servitude, Coriolanus would rather die—he has nothing to live for.

Aufidius responds more than favorably. Immediately following Coriolanus' speech, he starts complimenting his old enemy and embraces him. Aufidius admits to envying Coriolanus. (p. 203) Here Shakespeare gets homoerotic.

I loved the maid I married; never man
Sighed truer breath. But that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold. Why, thou Mars, I tell thee
We have a power on foot, and I had purpose
Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn
Or lose mine arm for 't. Thou has beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,

And waked half dead with nothing… (p. 205)

I believe Shakespeare does this to describe the complicated relationship of protagonist and antagonist. When they are worthy foes it becomes all-consuming hate. They oppose each other so passionately that the lines become blurred: are we dealing with passionate hate or passionate love? One has to know his enemy intimately and feels failure and/or victory deeply. Aufidius of course agrees to team up to destroy Rome. It really is quite easy for these two sworn enemies to be exactly on the same page and set up a game plan. Aufidius is sympathetic to Coriolanus' feelings of betrayal and would love to facilitate his revenge almost as much as he'd just like to sack Rome for his own reasons. The servants are obviously shocked. They are surprised about the turn of events remarking on how Aufidius gives Coriolanus not just sanctuary but devotion and a high rank. (p. 209) This complex relationship has definitely taken a turn, but the situation is more delicate than the two now best friends portray it. The two men have been thrown off balance, as we will see in the coming scenes regarding Coriolanus' feelings toward the fate of Rome.