Scene 1: Coriolanus at War
1. What is Coriolanus' (Martius') attitude toward war? What does
he mean when he keeps asking if he has come too late?
2.To what concerns or passions does Coriolanus appeal when he urges
the soldiers to follow him to battle?
3. What aspects of Roman nobility emerge in Shakespeare's portrait
of Coriolanus in this scene? What does Coriolanus value? Why would
it be incorrect to describe him simply as a violent man?
Scene 2: Coriolanus in Rome
1. What does Cominius mean when he says that Coriolanus "rewards
his deeds with doing them"? Does he mean it as praise? Would
there be any dangers in the character that Cominius describes with
2. Why does Coriolanus hesitate to ask the people to approve his
3. Why does the Roman custom require that the man who becomes consul
show his wounds to the people n the public square? Why does Coriolanus
disdain doing this?
4. What attitudes do the three citizens express? What do they reveal
of themselves in this scene?
5. What does this custom that Coriolanus would like to "o'erleap"
indicate about Roman politics, and the kind of city Rome is? Who
6. The citizens indicate that Coriolanus has requested that he
speak to the people "by ones, by twos, and by threes"
rather than "all together." Why does he do so? Would this
not simply prolong what he regards as an onerous duty?
7. Why does Coriolanus refuse to say that "desires" to
become consul? Does he not desire to hold this office?
8. One of the citizens claims that Coriolanus has not deserved
nobly of his country because he does not love the common people.
Is there any evidence that Shakespeare is sympathetic to or disdainful
of this claim? Do the citizens represent the common people, and
how are they presented in this scene?
9. What is the significance of the change of Martius' name to Coriolanus?
Who or what is the source of his new name?
Scene 3: Honor and policy
1. Volumnia urges Coriolanus "to seem the same you are not."
What does she mean by this? Why is it so difficult for Coriolanus
to do so?
2. Responding to his mother's request that he be "milder,"
Coriolanus asks whether she would have him be "false to my
nature," and claims that he would "play the man I am."
Does his response manifest his lack of freedom, or is a sign of
his freedom? Would Coriolanus be more or less free if he yields
to his mother's request?
3. Volumnia implies that Coriolanus "strives" to be the
man he is. What does she perceive about her son's character in making
4. Are honor and policy "unsever'd friends" either in
war or in peace? How does the play demonstrate a conflict between
5. Volumnia claims that Coriolanus derived his "valiantness"
(his valor) from her, but his pride from himself. Is it possible
to separate the two in this way?
6. Volumnia argues that it is honorable to dissemble when fortunes
and friends require it. Is this the best argument to make to Coriolanus,
or does it make it more difficult for him to appease the people?
Can you think of a better argument?
Scene 4: Coriolanus Attacks Rome
1. Coriolanus wishes "to stand as if a man were author of himself
and knew no other kin." In what ways is this wish a sign of
2. When Coriolanus asks Virgilia to "forgive [his] tyranny,"
to what might he be referring? Is it consistent for him to ask his
wife to forgive his tyranny but for him to refuse to forgive the
3. Coriolanus seems to take pride in "hear[ing] nought from
Rome in private"? What does this reveal about him?
4. Why do Volumnia and Virgilia bring Coriolanus' son, young Martius,
along with them to talk to Coriolanus? What effect does his presence
5. Why does Coriolanus yield to his mother?
6. Yielding to his mother, Coriolanus proclaims that she has gained
"a happy victory" for Rome, but predicts that for him
her prevailing has been most dangerous, "if not most mortal
to him."Why does he foresee his death?
7. Aufidius thinks that in yielding to his mother, Coriolanus has
chosen mercy over honor. Is he correct in thinking that Coriolanus'
decision is dishonorable?
8. Why does Coriolanus not accompany his family back to Rome? Why
does he remain with the Volscians?
1. Urging Coriolanus to appease the people after he has offended
them, a senator claims that this is the only way to prevent their
"good city" from cleaving in two and perishing. So too
does Menenius urge Coriolanus to appease the people as "physic
for the whole state." To what extent does Coriolanus' very
presence in Rome cleave the city? Is his death the only physic?
2. Discuss the character of the ruling class in Rome as it is illustrated
in the play in such characters as Cominius, Menenius, the patrician
who also advises Coriolanus in the "Honor and Policy"
scene, Coriolanus' mother Volumnia, and Coriolanus himself. Would
this ruling class confirm Jefferson's reservations about the "pseudo-aristoi,"
or does it have truly good and noble qualities?
3. If Tocqueville had viewed this play, would he have found in
it confirmation of his views on equality and ambition, or reason
to reconsider them?
4. When Cominius says that Coriolanus "is content to spend
the time to end it" (Act II, scene 2), he seems to mean that
Coriolanus is content to pass his time in killing time. What does
he capture about Coriolanus in this statement? To some extent this
statement would also characterize the person whom Rousseau describe
who is moved by "self-love" (amour de soi) rather than
by selfishness (amour-propre), but Coriolanus seems in most ways
come closer to the latter than to the former. Discuss.
5. Echoing Aristotle, Volumnia asks her son whether it is the part
of a noble man to remember wrongs. To what extent does Shakespeare'
Coriolanus live up the magnanimous individual whom Aristotle describes?
To what extent does he illustrate the problems underlying magnanimity?
6. Does Volumnia prevail with Coriolanus in the way that Thetis
as Aristotle describes her prevail with Zeus? Discuss the differences.
How do Volumnia's pleas illustrate her son's humanity as well as
7. Does Coriolanus' nobility and pride have more in common with
Rousseau's description of "selfishness" (amour-propre)
or Aristotle's description of magnanimity?