by William Shakespeare

first reading



Coriolanus at War

Coriolanus in Rome

Scene 1: Coriolanus at War

Act I, Scene 6. Near the Roman camp.

The Romans are fighting against the Volscians, who have revolted. Martius, after taking the Volscian city of Corioles, almost single-handedly, for which exploit he will be given the honorific name of Coriolanus, joins the part of the Roman army led by the Roman general, Cominius.

Cominius:Who's yonder,
That does appear as he were flay'd? O gods
He has the stamp of Martius; and I have
Before-time seen him thus.

Martius:[Within] Come I too late?

Cominius: The shepherd knows not thunder from a tabour
More than I know the sound of Martius' tongue
From every meaner man.

Enter Martius
Martius: Come I too late?

Cominius: Ay, if you come not in the blood of others,
But mantled in your own.

Martius: O, let me clip ye
In arms as sound as when I woo'd, in heart
As merry as when our nuptial day was done,
And tapers burn'd to bedward!

Cominius: Flower of warriors,
How is it with Titus Lartius?

Martius: As with a man busied about decrees:
Condemning some to death, and some to exile;
Ransoming him, or pitying, threatening the other;
Holding Corioli in the name of Rome,
Even like a fawning greyhound in the leash,
To let him slip at will.

Cominius: Where is that slave
Which told me they had beat you to your trenches?
Where is he? call him hither.

Martius: Let him alone;
He did inform the truth: but for our gentlemen,
The common file--a plague! tribunes for them!--
The mouse ne'er shunn'd the cat as they did budge
From rascals worse than they.

Cominius:But how prevail'd you?

Martius: Will the time serve to tell? I do not think.
Where is the enemy? are you lords o' the field?
If not, why cease you till you are so?

Cominius: Martius,
We have at disadvantage fought and did
Retire to win our purpose.

Martius: How lies their battle? know you on which side
They have placed their men of trust?

Cominius: As I guess, Martius,
Their bands i' the vaward are the Antiates,
Of their best trust; o'er them Aufidius,
Their very heart of hope.

Martius: I do beseech you,
By all the battles wherein we have fought,
By the blood we have shed together, by the vows
We have made to endure friends, that you directly
Set me against Aufidius and his Antiates;
And that you not delay the present, but,
Filling the air with swords advanced and darts,
We prove this very hour.

Cominius: Though I could wish
You were conducted to a gentle bath
And balms applied to, you, yet dare I never
Deny your asking: take your choice of those
That best can aid your action.

Martius: Those are they
That most are willing. If any such be here--
As it were sin to doubt--that love this painting
Wherein you see me smear'd; if any fear
Lesser his person than an ill report;
If any think brave death outweighs bad life
And that his country's dearer than himself;
Let him alone, or so many so minded,
Wave thus, to express his disposition,
And follow Martius.

They all shout and wave their swords, take him up in their arms, and cast up their caps

Scene 2: Coriolanus in Rome

Martius, who has accepted the honor of his new name, Coriolanus, as a fitting designation for his valor, is now being considered for the position of Consul, the highest political office in Rome. Cominius, whom we have seen in the previous scene, and Menenius are friends of Coriolanus. Brutus and Sicinius are the newly-appointed tribunes, who represent the people.

Act II, Scene 2. The Roman Senate House.

Menenius: Worthy Man!

First Senator: He cannot but with measure fit the honours
Which we devise him.

Cominius: Our spoils he kick'd at,
And look'd upon things precious as they were
The common muck of the world: he covets less
Than misery itself would give; rewards
His deeds with doing them, and is content
To spend the time to end it.

Menenius: He's right noble:
Let him be call'd for.

First Senator: Call Coriolanus.

Officer: He doth appear
Re-enter Coriolanus

Menenius: The senate, Coriolanus, are well pleased
To make thee consul.

Coriolanus: I do owe them still
My life and services.

Menenius: It then remains
That you do speak to the people.

Coriolanus: 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: please you
That I may pass this doing.

Sicinius: Sir, the people
Must have their voices; neither will they bate
One jot of ceremony.

Menenius: Put them not to't:
Pray you, go fit you to the custom and
Take to you, as your predecessors have,
Your honour with your form.

Coriolanus: It is apart
That I shall blush in acting, and might well
Be taken from the people.

Brutus: [in an aside, to Sicinius] Mark you that?

Coriolanus: To brag unto them, thus I did, and thus;
Show them the unaching scars which I should hide,
As if I had received them for the hire
Of their breath only!

Menenius: Do not stand upon't.
We recommend to you, tribunes of the people,
Our purpose to them: and to our noble consul
Wish we all joy and honour.

Senators: To Coriolanus come all joy and honour!

Flourish of cornets. Exeunt all but Sicinius and Brutus

Brutus: You see how he intends to use the people.

Sicinius: May they perceive's intent! He will require them,
As if he did contemn what he requested
Should be in them to give.

Brutus: Come, we'll inform them
Of our proceedings here: on the marketplace,
I know, they do attend us.


Act II, Scene 3. The Forum.

Enter seven or eight Citizens
First Citizen: Once, if he do require our voices, we ought not to deny him.

Second Citizen: We may, sir, if we will.

Third Citizen: We have power in ourselves to do it, but it is a
power that we have no power to do; for if he show us
his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our
tongues into those wounds and speak for them; so, if
he tell us his noble deeds, we must also tell him
our noble acceptance of them. Ingratitude is
monstrous, and for the multitude to be ingrateful,
were to make a monster of the multitude: of the
which we being members, should bring ourselves to be
monstrous members.

First Citizen: And to make us no better thought of, a little help
will serve; for once we stood up about the corn, he
himself stuck not to call us the many-headed multitude.

Third Citizen: We have been called so of many; not that our heads
are some brown, some black, some auburn, some bald,
but that our wits are so diversely coloured: and
truly I think if all our wits were to issue out of
one skull, they would fly east, west, north, south,
and their consent of one direct way should be at
once to all the points o' the compass.

Second Citizen: Think you so? Which way do you judge my wit would

Third Citizen: Nay, your wit will not so soon out as another man's
will; 'tis strongly wedged up in a block-head, but
if it were at liberty, 'twould, sure, southward.

Second Citizen: Why that way?

Third Citizen: To lose itself in a fog, where being three parts
melted away with rotten dews, the fourth would return
for conscience sake, to help to get thee a wife.

Second Citizen:You are never without your tricks: you may, you may.

Third Citizen: Are you all resolved to give your voices? But
that's no matter, the greater part carries it. I
say, if he would incline to the people, there was
never a worthier man.
Enter Coriolanus in a gown of humility, with Menenius
Here he comes, and in the gown of humility: mark his
behavior. We are not to stay all together, but to
come by him where he stands, by ones, by twos, and
by threes. He's to make his requests by
particulars; wherein every one of us has a single
honour, in giving him our own voices with our own
tongues: therefore follow me, and I direct you how
you shall go by him.

All: Content, content.
Exeunt Citizens

Menenius: O sir, you are not right: have you not known
The worthiest men have done't?

Coriolanus: What must I say?
'I Pray, sir'--Plague upon't! I cannot bring
My tongue to such a pace:--'Look, sir, my wounds!
I got them in my country's service, when
Some certain of your brethren roar'd and ran
From the noise of our own drums.'

Menenius: O me, the gods!
You must not speak of that: you must desire them
To think upon you.

Coriolanus: Think upon me! hang 'em!
I would they would forget me, like the virtues
Which our divines lose by 'em.

Menenius: You'll mar all:
I'll leave you: pray you, speak to 'em, I pray you,
In wholesome manner.

Coriolanus: Bid them wash their faces
And keep their teeth clean. [Re-enter two of the Citizens]
So, here comes a brace. Re-enter a third Citizen.
You know the cause, air, of my standing here.

Third Citizen: We do, sir; tell us what hath brought you to't.

Coriolanus: Mine own desert.

Second Citizen: Your own desert!

Coriolanus: Ay, but not mine own desire.

Third Citizen: How not your own desire?

Coriolanus: No, sir,'twas never my desire yet to trouble the
poor with begging.

Third Citizen: You must think, if we give you any thing, we hope to
gain by you.

Coriolanus: Well then, I pray, your price o' the consulship?

First Citizen: The price is to ask it kindly.

Coriolanus: Kindly! Sir, I pray, let me ha't: I have wounds to
show you, which shall be yours in private. Your
good voice, sir; what say you?

Second Citizen: You shall ha' it, worthy sir.

Coriolanus: A match, sir. There's in all two worthy voices
begged. I have your alms: adieu.

Third Citizen: But this is something odd.

Second Citizen: An 'twere to give again,--but 'tis no matter.
Exeunt the three Citizens

Re-enter two other Citizens
Coriolanus: Pray you now, if it may stand with the tune of your
voices that I may be consul, I have here the
customary gown
Fourth Citizen: You have deserved nobly of your country, and you
have not deserved nobly.

Coriolanus: Your enigma?

Fourth Citizen: You have been a scourge to her enemies, you have
been a rod to her friends; you have not indeed loved
the common people.

Coriolanus: You should account me the more virtuous that I have
not been common in my love. I will, sir, flatter my
sworn brother, the people, to earn a dearer
estimation of them; 'tis a condition they account
gentle: and since the wisdom of their choice is
rather to have my hat than my heart, I will practise
the insinuating nod and be off to them most
counterfeitly; that is, sir, I will counterfeit the
bewitchment of some popular man and give it
bountiful to the desirers. Therefore, beseech you,
I may be consul.

Fifth Citizen: We hope to find you our friend; and therefore give
you our voices heartily.

Fourth Citizen: You have received many wounds for your country.

Coriolanus: I will not seal your knowledge with showing them. I
will make much of your voices, and so trouble you no further.

Both Citizens: The gods give you joy, sir, heartily!


Coriolanus: Most sweet voices!
Better it is to die, better to starve,
Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
Why in this wolvish toge should I stand here,
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to't:
What custom wills, in all things should we do't,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heapt
For truth to o'er-peer. Rather than fool it so,
Let the high office and the honour go
To one that would do thus. I am half through;
The one part suffer'd, the other will I do.
Re-enter three Citizens more
Here come more voices.
Your voices: for your voices I have fought;
Watch'd for your voices; for Your voices bear
Of wounds two dozen odd; battles thrice six
I have seen and heard of; for your voices have
Done many things, some less, some more your voices:
Indeed I would be consul.

Sixth Citizen: He has done nobly, and cannot go without any honest
man's voice.

Seventh Citizen: Therefore let him be consul: the gods give him joy,
and make him good friend to the people!

All Citizens: Amen, amen. God save thee, noble consul!


second reading selection from Coriolanus

Coriolanus Questions

Guide to unit 2

back to unit 2