Character Directory



Coriolanus, Martius Legendary figure and title character of Coriolanus,  a famed Roman warrior whose excessive pride leads him to dishonor and death. His pride is part of his sense of himself as a warrior and aristocrat, a self-image that he has acquired from a rigorous upbringing by his extraordinary mother, Volumnia. When the changing political world of Rome—represented by the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius—demands compromises that his pride will not accept, Coriolanus is driven from Rome and joins the city's enemies, the Volscians. Finally, when his mother persuades him to spare Rome, he is killed by the Volscian leader, his archrival Aufidius. 

Like Othello and Macbeth, Coriolanus is a successful warrior who finds himself in a situation—here, the political world of Rome—to which he is temperamentally unsuited and in which he can be manipulated by others. Politically unsophisticated and emotionally immature, he can neither strike political deals with the tribunes nor resist his mother's insistence that he do so. He is reduced to blind vengeance, but she blocks him in that direction as well. Under these pressures, his great strength can only destroy him. His fate contains the irony found in all Shakespeare's tragedies: with greatness comes great weakness. Coriolanus' pride makes him great, but it also brings about his downfall. 

Coriolanus' relationship with his mother makes him one of the most psychologically interesting of Shakespeare's protagonists. He is entirely Volumnia's creation, and thus Coriolanus is psychologically dependent on her good opinion, as is demonstrated in both of their crucial scenes. In 3.2 she bullies him into political compromise as his resistance collapses under her disdain: 'Thy valiantness was mine .. . but owe thy pride thyself (3.2.129-130). In 5.3 he cannot withstand another personal denial—'This fellow had a Volscian to his mother' (5.3.178)—and he abandons his life rather than suffer his mother's disapproval. She can manipulate him because when she created him she deprived him of all motives but one, his pride, which depends on her continuing approval. Though he avoids the psychological trauma of her rejection and saves his honor as a Roman warrior, by giving in to her he must accept an ignominious death at the hands of his enemy Aufidius. 

Nevertheless, Coriolanus is brave and ready to go beyond his duty as a soldier; he is clearly a noble figure. His name reminds us of this: he is known as Martius through the first eight scenes, and is renamed in honour of his military exploits at Corioles. The hero's nobility is made clear throughout the play, in the opinions of both the Romans—friends like Menenius all but worship him, and even the tribunes concede that he has 'served well for Rome' (3.3.84)—and of his enemy Aufidius, who calls him 'all-noble Martius' (4.5.107). Moreover, the play's final statement is that Coriolanus 'shall have a noble memory' (5.6.153). However, he lacks a genuine sense of himself, and Volumnia's inflexible creation becomes increasingly dehumanized under the pressure of developments. He is isolated from others—significantly, Shakespeare used the word 'alone' more often in this play than in any other. Strikingly, he characterizes himself as a 'lonely dragon' (4.1.30). By the time he has joined the Volscians, he is chillingly described as 'a kind of nothing, titleless, / Till he had forg'd himself a name o'th'fire / Of burning Rome' (5.1.13-15). He wilfully sheds his connection with humanity. 'Wife, mother, child, I know not' (5.2.80), he cries. However, he cannot distance his weakness. As he anticipates his fall, he cries out, 'I melt, and am not / Of stronger earth than others' (5.3.28-29), and he attempts to find strength by imagining himself to be parentless: 'I'll. . . stand / As if a man were author of himself / And knew no other kin' (5.3.35-37). 

In the final moments of the play, Shakespeare deftly reminds us of his protagonist's ultimate weakness. Coriolanus protests against being called a 'boy of tears' (5.6.101), and he cites his triumph at Corioles. 'Alone I did it' (5.6.116) he cries, and this 'Alone' only makes clearer the nature of his failure. His perverse dependence on his mother has made him unable to recognize and accept his need for involvement with others—first the people of Rome, and now the Volscians. The result is that his truly noble elements—his bravery and his warrior's achievements—are negated. It is because he has indeed remained a boy, emotionally, that he has been unable to avoid his final calamity. 

Shakespeare had long been interested in Coriolanus' tale, as we know from his use of it as a metaphor for revenge in Titus Andronicus 4.4.67-68, but in Coriolanus the playwright made a subtle but important change in the character he found in his source, Plutarch Lives. The ancient historian stated that Coriolanus' pride was the consequence of his father's early death and his resulting lack of guidance. Shakespeare, however, does not present his hero's failings as a function of neglect, but rather as the product of a Roman aristocratic ideal that is applied excessively. The commentary on the potential harm in this situation is strongly made and is one of the play's important themes. Though both Shakespeare and Plutarch believed Coriolanus' story to be historically accurate, modern historians realize that it was based on a pre Roman fable, probably Volscian, that may have told originally of the local deity who gave his name to Corioles.


Lartius, Titus is a Roman general. Lartius is a brave and capable officer who, despite earlier wounds, campaigns with Coriolanus against the town of Corioles, and leads the forces that join the heroic Martius after he has entered the city alone.  After the victory, 'busied about decrees' (1.6.34), he commands the occupied town. He delivers a brief elegy when Martius is believed dead, and an even briefer compliment after the hero has triumphed. He is inconsequential thereafter, a minor member of Coriolanus' entourage who disappears entirely after 3.1. Lartius helps establish our sense of the Roman military establishment; he represents the solid virtues of the Roman aristocracy in a play where the weaknesses of the class are more often seen. 

Lartius appears at Corioles in Shakespeare's source, Plutarch’s Lives, but much less prominently. Shakespeare invented his praises of Coriolanus, and, perhaps to make the praiser a more vivid figure, endowed him with the crutches he uses in 1.1.241. His spirited wager with Martius in 1.4.1-7 is also an addition, probably to the same end. Thus, Lartius offers an interesting example of the playwright's manipulation of a minor figure to develop the play's world.


Cominius is a Roman general and the commander of the Roman troops fighting against the Volscians at Corioles, and his friend Martius, is a general under him. Cominius is a discreet general who contrasts with the hero. He executes a sensible withdrawal in 1.6, before he is joined by Coriolanus who goads him on to a successful counterattack. In the same scene we see Cominius as the subject of Martius' bizarre enthusiasm. Excited by the fighting, Martius embraces him with the fervor, he says, of his wedding night. The commander accepts this as normal battlefield comradeship, however, and in 1.9 he praises Martius and proposes that he take the honorable name Coriolanus. In 2.2 he nominates Coriolanus to the consulate. However, in Act 3 he cannot prevent Coriolanus' obstinate pride from bringing about his own banishment, and in 5.1 he reports that he has been unable to persuade Coriolanus—now fighting for the Volscians—from his campaign against Rome. Cominius is a representative of the ineffectual aristocracy who cannot control events. 

Shakespeare took Cominius from his source, Plutarch’s Lives, but added the intimacy of his relationship with Coriolanus, and thereby established him as a foil to the protagonist. As Coriolanus' friend, Cominius helps us see Coriolanus at his problematical best, early in the play. We recognize his value to his fellows while we acknowledge that he is excessive in his enthusiasm for combat.


Menenius is a friend and adviser of the title character. Menenius is an elderly aristocrat who is distinguished by his canny political sense in a time of popular discontent in Rome. In 1.1 he defuses a riot with his clever speech, and he establishes a rapport with the people's tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius. Nonetheless, he cannot prevent Coriolanus from destroying himself politically by refusing to compromise his stern aristocratic ideals. In this respect, Menenius' actions are as futile as those of all the aristocrats. Their failure to control Coriolanus is fatal to the hero himself and almost to all of Rome.

Though Menenius' capacity for compromise makes him stand out, and a Citizen calls him 'one that hath always loved the people' (1.1.50-51), he nonetheless shares the aristocracy's disdain for the common people. He thereby contributes to the sense of a disturbed society that is one of the play's important themes. He cleverly deflects the mob with his 'belly speech' (1.1.95-153), an elaborate comparison of the body politic to the human anatomy that justifies the hierarchy of Roman society. This was an ancient political fable when it appeared in Shakespeare's source, Plutarch’s Lives, and it was still current in the playwright's time. However, Menenius goes on to dismiss the intelligent remarks of the First Citizen. He calls him the 'great toe' of society (1.1.154), and he insults the tribunes as 'the herdsmen of the beastly plebeians' (2.1.94-95). Like the other aristocrats, Menenius is too proud to contribute to the welfare of the entire city, and instead he contributes to the play's disasters. 

After 1.1 Menenius is merely a mildly amusing figure, in his own words a 'humorous patrician, and one that loves a cup of hot wine' (2.1.46-47) ('humorous' here meaning 'temperamental'). He idolizes the much younger Coriolanus and greets him with 'A hundred thousand welcomes. I could weep, / And I could laugh, I am light and heavy. Welcome!' (2.1.182-183). He rejoices girlishly over a letter from his hero, and fumes angrily when the tribunes belittle him. However, after Coriolanus has joined the Volscians and is besieging Rome, he goes to plead with him to spare the city. His rejection yields a moment of genuine pathos and stoic dignity as the elderly gentleman, heartbroken, turns away and says 'He that hath a will to die by himself, fears it not from another' (5.2.102-103).

Menenius Agrippa speaks his 'belly speech' in Plutarch but is otherwise unimportant. Shakespeare made him a paternal friend of his protagonist to lend pathos to the story. Despite Menenius' appearance in Plutarch and other ancient histories, modern scholars recognize him to be entirely legendary.


Junius Brutus is a tribune of Rome. Brutus shares power with Sicinius Velutus, another legendary tribune, but since they are very similar characters who always appear together (except for a brief final appearance by Sicinius in 5.4), they are both covered here.  The tribunes represent the common people's share in political power, and they reject their foe, the aristocratic Roman warrior Coriolanus. By orchestrating mob violence—and aided by Coriolanus’ foolish actions—they succeed in having him banished from Rome. They enjoy their triumph, but when the exiled Coriolanus attacks Rome, the tribunes deny their responsibility; 'Say not we brought it' (4.6.121), they retort, and insist that the aristocrats resolve the crisis The tribunes are stereotypes of scurvy politicians and are scarcely distinguishable from each other, but Shakespeare does vary their functions somewhat, with Brutus dominant in the first half of the play. 

The shortsightedness of the tribunes' campaign against Coriolanus certainly threatens the city. They are an example of the dangers that result when power is accorded to the common people an important theme of the play. At the same time,' however, they are concerned with the health of the city. Their offices were created as a result of the corn riots that open the play. The riots are attributed to the arrogance of Coriolanus and the other aristocrats in the face of the common people's hunger. As Sicinius observes in the wake of Coriolanus' banishment Rome enjoys 'peace / and quietness' as a result of their victory, while the aristocrats 'blush that the world goes well' (4.6.2-3, 5). When Coriolanus contemptuously asks Brutus, 'What do you prate of service?' the tribune replies with dignity, 'I talk of that, that know it' (3.3.84-85). Indeed, he seems to attempt more service for his people than does the foolish and treacherous warrior for his fellow aristocrats. Nevertheless the tribunes have a chiefly negative significance in'the play's political world, for in a properly run society—as Shakespeare conceived it—the common people would follow the leadership of their social superiors, and have no tribunes. However, Coriolanus' pride has promoted social disruption, of which the tribunes are a result. 

The social conflict enacted in Coriolanus— taken by Shakespeare from his source, Plutarch’s Lives—is representative of several such episodes that occured in the late 6th century B.C. as the Roman republic came into being. Though the story of Coriolanus is entirely legendary, Brutus may have been a real person. He appears as Junius Brutus in Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece, though as a very different character.  Shakespeare followed Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch and erroneously transcribed Sicinius' second name as Velutus, which Plutarch renders as Bellutus.  In any case, Plutarch's Sicinius is otherwise unknown in Roman legend, unless he is identifiable with Lucius Sicinius Dentatus, who appears in other sources and is said to have represented the plebeians, though at a somewhat later period.


Young Martius is the son of the title character. After Corionanus has been banished, he joins the Volscians and threatens Rome with destruction. His mother and wife go to beg him to desist, and they bring the Boy with them. Coriolanus addresses his son with a brief homily of the warrior's honor that he himself has lost: 'The god of soldiers . . . inform / Thy thoughts with nobleness, that thou mayst prove / To shame unvulnerable' (5.3.70-73). The Boy speaks only once. With both courage and good sense, he declares that his father 'shall not tread on me. / I'll run away till I am bigger, but then I'll fight' (5.3.127-128). Coriolanus is clearly touched and insists that he must listen no more to his family or  he'll give in. Eventually—at the play's climactic turning point—he does indeed surrender to their influence, to which the Boy has added his share. 

The Boy is described in 1.3.55-68 as an energetic lad who would rather play at war than go to school and who has a temper like his father's, which leads him to kill a butterfly with his teeth. This image is effectively reprised when Menenius describes the fearful approach of the Volscians—led by Coriolanus—who advance confidently, like 'boys pursuing summer butterflies' (4.6.95). The image contributes to the anti-war theme that runs through the play.


In 2.1 the Herald accompanies the army's return into Rome, and formally announces that Caius Martius has been awarded a new name. In honour of his extraordinary bravery in taking the city of Corioles, he is to be known henceforth as Coriolanus. The Herald speaks five grandiose lines and concludes with the cry, 'Welcome to Rome, renowned Coriolanus!' (2.1.165), that is repeated by the assembled crowd. Shakespeare provided the Herald to lend an air of pomp and circumstance to Coriolanus' reception. This heightens the dramatic irony when this same reception turns ugly later in the same act.


Tullus Aufidius is the leader of the Volscians and the murderer of Coriolanus. Aufidius is the oft-defeated rival of Coriolanus, and he vows that he will overcome him by dishonorable means, since he cannot win in com- bat. Therefore, when Coriolanus deserts Rome and joins the Volscians, Aufidius schemes to kill him. After Coriolanus is dissuaded by Volumnia from sacking Rome, Aufidius accuses him of treachery, and the Conspirators stab the Roman to death in the play's final scene. 

Shakespeare found Aufidius in his source, Plutarch’s Lives, but from a single brief mention of then rivalry he constructed the charged relationship of the play. The playwright's villain is a warped mirror image of his protagonist. Aufidius focusses directly on Coriolanus throughout the play, and neither man can forget the other for long. Like Coriolanus—though without his political difficulties—Aufidius is first and foremost a charismatic warrior, motivated by wholly personal, indeed, egotistical drives, and obsessively concerned with his own achievements. When Coriolanus joins the Volscians, the fellowship of warriors leads Aufidius to welcome his rival with the warmth of a lover. 'Let me twine / Mine arms about that body' (4.5.107-108), he says, and compares their encounter with his wedding night. The extraordinary sensuality of this passage offers bizarre evidence of the misplaced emotional thrust engendered by warrior culture. 

Frustrated, Aufidius decides to defeat Coriolanus dishonouably, and his grandeur becomes that of a villain rather than a great warrior. He undergoes this change in Act 1, after the siege of Corioles and he admits that his effort 'Hath not that honour m't it had' (1.10.13). In this respect he is a foil to Coriolanus, whose failing is that his pride will not permit him to sacrifice any aspect of his warrior's persona. Also, when compared with the treachery of Aufidius, Coriolanus' betrayal of Rome seems the lesser villainy.  However, after he has killed Coriolanus, Aufidius resumes something of his earlier nobility when he acknowledges his enemy's greatness. He grants him a warrior's funeral and declares, 'he shall have a noble memory' (5.6.153), in the play's final statement


Lieutenant is a Roman officer. In 1.7 the Lieutenant receives orders from Lartius to maintain control of Corioles, which the Romans have captured from the Volscians. He speaks only half a line in reply, in a episode whose purpose is to tell that the town has been captured.   

Lieutenant is a follower of Aufidius. In 4.7 the Lieutenant tells Aufidius that Coriolanus, who has deserted from the Romans, is growing in popularity among the Volscians. He regrets that Aufidius has permitted Coriolanus to command troops, because Aufidius is becoming overshadowed. The Lieutenant furthers the play's development with these remarks, for they inform us of Coriolanus' successes and spark Aufidius' hostile replies, which foreshadow the play's concluding episode.


Conspirators are followers of Aufidius. In 5.6 the Conspirators affirm that they will help Aufidius take revenge on Coriolanus. They encourage him in his anger and point out that Coriolanus is overshadowing him. When Aufidius accuses his enemy of treason, they lead the mob in demanding Coriolanus' death, a demand they then fulfill by killing him with their swords. Though the conspirators are designated First, Second, and Third, they are indistinguishable from each other, and their speeches are divisions of a single voice. The Conspirators help to illuminate one of the play's principal themes: the common people are susceptible to manipulation, and are thus an unstable and unreliable component of society. On the other hand, because they encourage—even goad—Aufidius to kill Coriolanus in such an ignominious fashion, they also help demonstrate the inadequacies of the warrior class.


Citizen is a resident of Antium. In three brief lines the Citizen directs Coriolanus to the home of Aufidius. He serves merely to advance the plot.


Volumnia is the mother of the title character. Volumnia an aristocratic Roman matron, has raised her son to be a proud warrior above all else. She dominates her son for she has so thoroughly bred her own values in him that he is psychologically dependent on her approval and cannot oppose her. As she claims, -There's no man in the world / More bound to's mother' (5 3 158-159). Desiring that Coriolanus receive the consulate Rome’s highest honor, Volumnia bullies him until he agrees to sacrifice his pride and solicit the approval of the common people. This is one of Shakespeare's most Machiavellian passages—3.2.41-86. However because Coriolanus is what Volumnia has made him' he cannot restrain his proud contempt, with the result that he is banished from Rome. When he joins the Volscians, Rome's enemy, and threatens to sack the city, Volumnia again uses her influence over him with an elaborate appeal in 5.3, a virtuoso passage that is the high point of the play, dramatically. She convinces him to withdraw his forces, though he knows this means he will be killed by the Volscians. 

Volumnia controls her son by withdrawing her approval: in both 3.2 and 5.3 she disdainfully disowns him— Thy valiantness was mine ... but owe thy pride thyself (3.2.129-130), and -This fellow had a Volscian to his mother' (5.3.178). While her advice to him is sound it is only necessary because her influence has made him incapable of functioning sensibly. Because he has only the rigorous pride she has developed in him, he goes to his destruction. He is a tragic hero precisely because his greatness is mingled with his weakness. He is incapable of being anything except what his mother has made him. The influence of Volumnia is thus central to the play. 

Volumnia is correct when she boasts to Coriolanus Thou art my warrior: / I holp to frame thee' (5.3 62-63). Her upbringing of him has made him both the charismatic warrior who becomes a great Roman hero and the inflexible aristocrat who sparks the hatred of the Roman people. Her rigorous martial code is revealed on her first appearance, in 1.3, where she delights in Coriolanus' return to combat. She sternly rejects the concern for his safety displayed by his wife Virgilia, and rejoices in the prospect of her son's wounds, or even his death, for the sufferings of war are badges of honor to her mind. 

Volumnia's moral code—and thus that of Coriolanus —is seriously flawed, and this is made clear in Shakespeare's depiction other warped sense of maternal love. In 1.3 her thirst for glory leads her to equate her joy at Coriolanus' birth with her pleasure in his highlighting and she compares the beauty of a mother's breast to that of a head wound. This obviously pathological attitude helps demonstrate the unhealthiness of the rigorous aristocratic ideal that Volumnia upholds, and it is part of the play's critique of the aristocracy. We are not surprised when the results of Coriolanus' upbringing prove catastrophic. 

Shakespeare invented all of Volumnia's appearances save that in 5.3—her dramatic appeal to save Rome—which occurs in the play's source, Plutarch’s Lives. When he devised a powerful mother-son relationship to account for Coriolanus' submission, Shakespeare not only added psychological weight to his protagonist's sudden reversal, he found a basic component of his tragedy.


Virgilia is the wife of Coriolanus. When we first see her in 1.3, Virgilia makes her strongest impression, as she worries over her husband's return to war. She can only respond feebly to the martial enthusiasm of her powerful mother-in-law, Volumnia, who calls her weak because she fears for her husband's safety. Virgilia has the inner strength, however, to refuse to continue her social life. She speaks very little in the remainder of the play—Coriolanus calls her his 'gracious silence' (2.1.174)—but though her role is small, her modesty offers a distinct and significant emotional note that contrasts with and emphasises the more strident tone of her husband and her mother-in-law.

Virgilia acts as a foil to Volumnia and makes clear that her mother-in-law's war-loving, masculine nature is not the only one possible for a Roman matron—rather, we see that Volumnia is not normal. Virgilia is also a foil to Coriolanus: in contrast with her, he seems crude. This is especially obvious when he returns from combat in 2.1 and he jokes with her about coffins and death. He is clearly not aware of her sensibilities, which we have been exposed to just a few scenes earlier.

Her presence also sheds light on her husband in a subtler fashion. He doesn't understand her or perhaps even perceive her clearly, but his recollection of their farewell kiss, 'Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge' (5.3.44-45), is touching, if also twisted. That his demure wife inspires such affection suggests to us a softer, undeveloped aspect of Coriolanus' nature. Virgilia stands for a world that might have been, and the latent presence of that world makes the dramatic reality of the tragedy more wrenching.


Valeria is a friend of Virgilia. Valeria is a cheerful, but somewhat insensitive young noblewoman who visits Virgilia in 1.3. Her bland acceptance of the Roman aristocratic ideal, combined with her charming vivacity, contrasts forcefully with the melancholy of her friend, who is distressed by the martial fervor of her mother-in-law, Volumnia. Valeria describes the Boy, son of Coriolanus and Virgilia, in 1.3.57-65, and she is not aware that she presents a disturbing picture of the Boy killing a butterfly with his teeth. She does not speak in the three remaining scenes in which she appears, having served her function as a foil for Virgilia. 

Valeria accompanies Volumnia and Virgilia on their crucial mission to dissuade Coriolanus from invading Rome, and though she does not speak, she is described in 5.3.64-67 as a particularly noble Roman woman. This allusion reflects the greater role that Valeria plays in Shakespeare's source, Plutarch’s Lives, where she stirs Volumnia to action. However, the playwright preferred to have Volumnia stand alone, and Valeria's role remains minor.

Gentlewoman Gentlewoman is an attendant to Virgilia and Volumnia. In 1.3 the Gentlewoman announces the arrival of Valeria and then escorts her on stage. She speaks only a single line and serves to indicate the prestige and wealth of the ladies she serves.

Senator Any of several characters in Coriolanus, lawmakers of Rome. The Senators appear in 1.1 to summon Coriolanus to fight for the city against the Volscians, and in 2.2 they honor him by nominating ; him to be a consul. In all three scenes of Act 3 they fruitlessly attempt to calm Coriolanus in his encounter with the tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus. After Coriolanus is banished, takes arms against Rome, and is dissuaded from destroying the city by the arguments of his wife and mother, two of the Senators welcome the women back from their successful intercession, in 5.5. These lawmakers are ineffectual aristocrats, and their presence in the play serves to illustrate the weakness of authority in a disordered society.

In the First Folio edition of the play, the stage entrance at 2.2.36 designates the Senators as 'the Patricians', and speech headings for a Senator at 3.1.252 and 259 specify 'Patri'. 'Noble' also appears in 3.2. Shakespeare knew the terms were not interchangeable—they are used separately in 4.3.14 and 5.4.54-so this minor carelessness simply indicates his aware-ness that the Roman Senators were aristocrats.  

Senator lawmakers of the Volscians, enemies of Rome.  In 1.2 the Senators confer with the general Aufidius; two of them, designated First and Second Senator, do most of the talking. They agree that Aufidius should command the field army, while they govern the besieged Corioles, their capital. In 1.4 the Senators ineffectually defy the Romans. The presence of the Senators makes clear that the Volscians have a viable state, rather like that of Rome, and their role as Aufidius' nominal superiors helps establish the general's position as Coriolanus' opposite.


In 1.1, 1.4, and 1.6, Messengers who are apparently military men (or perhaps the same man each time), bring reports on the advancing Volscians to Coriolanus or Cominius. In 2.1, 4.6, and 5.4, other Messengers who are apparently civilians (or, again, perhaps a single person), bring news of events in Rometo the tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius. The Messengers serve to announce plot developments.


Noblemen of Antium. In 5.6 Aufidius presents the Lords of the City, as they are designated in the stage directions, with his evidence that Coriolanus has betrayed the Volscian army, which he had joined when he was banished from Rome. Aufidius' inflammatory speech rouses the crowd into a lynch mob, while various Lords—designated as First, Second, and Third Lord—attempt to keep order without effect. Like MENENIUS in Rome, the Lords are peaceable men whose efforts to control the mob are ineffective when faced with a leader who can manipulate the shifting moods of the common people. Thus, they help demonstrate an important point of the play: that the common people are unreliable participants in political life.


Serving-man In 4.5 when Coriolanus arrives at Aufidius' home disguised as a poor man, the Serving-men—designated as First, Second, and Third—attempt to throw him out. He beats one of them, who runs out of the room before Aufidius arrives and the other two Serving-men withdraw. At the close of the scene, two of them reappear to discuss the stranger. They pretend to have recognized Coriolanus' worth from the beginning, and, comically, they hesitate to speak before sounding each other's opinion. The Third Serving-man reappears with news of Coriolanus' identity and of his defection to the Volscians, for whom he will fight against Rome. The Serving-men are pleased with the prospect of an easy triumph and welcome the coming war. They make humorously greedy predictions of excitement and loot. 

In the opening of 4.5 the Serving-men fill an ancient role of foolish servants who emphasize the nobility of their social betters when they mishandle a situation. The episode may have seemed more humorous to its original audiences than it does today, for the beating of servants was a traditional comic routine, dating back to Roman Drama. At the close of the scene the Serving-men's comical nature is more evident. Their pleasure at the prospect of war is a sharp piece of social satire that keeps our attention on the political themes of the play.


Citizen are residents of Rome. The Citizens are chiefly important for their fickleness, as their opinions of Coriolanus change repeatedly under the influence of various other characters. In this they symbolize a political doctrine that Shakespeare espoused in a number of plays: the common people, however sympathetic as individuals, are politically irresponsible as a class.   

The Citizens are most distinguishable as individuals in 1.1. Amid a riot, the First Citizen introduces the play's most important motif: the excessive pride of Coriolanus. He recommends killing him, but the Second Citizen opposes this suggestion, and points out the great services that Coriolanus has performed as the military genius of Rome. He thereby introduces the counter-theme and prepares us for the tragedy that will constitute the main plot, as the noble hero falls victim to his own pride. The riot is halted as the Citizens listen to the aristocrat Menenius justify the powers of the aristocracy with a simplistic fable—his famed 'belly speech' (1.1.95-153)—and though the First Citizen offers sensible objections, the crowd as a whole is diverted from its original intentions. The arrival of Coriolanus cows them altogether, and they depart in an initial demonstration of their malleability. 

Thereafter, the Citizens serve chiefly to further the same point. They are manipulated by the aristocrats, who influence them to vote for Coriolanus in Act 2, and by their own representatives—the tribunes Brutus) and Sicinius—who organize them as a mob in Act 3, and bring about the banishment of Coriolanus. Lastly, in 4.6 some Citizens thank the tribunes for getting rid of their enemy, but when word arrives that the banished Coriolanus is marching on Rome with the army of the Volscians, they reappear to declare that they had had misgivings about the banishment all along. With the exception of the First Citizen in 1.1, the Citizens are not portrayed as individuals and serve only as pawns, both of the tribunes and the playwright. 

Servants Aedile are subordinates of the Roman tribunes Sicinius and Brutus. The Aediles serve chiefly as messengers for the tribunes. They summon the crowds to rally against Coriolanus in 3.1; they announce Conolanus' approach and are instructed in coaching the crowd in 3.3; and an Aedile brings the tribunes the first report of the Volscians advance against Rome in 4.6. They demonstrate the institutional power that the tribunes command.

Either of two minor characters that are petty officials who prepare for a meeting at which Coriolanus is to be honored. They speak of Coriolanus' nomination to the post of consul, and remark on the possibility that the general may be rejected by the commoners of Rome because of his aristocratic disdain for them. As the First Officer puts it, 'he's vengeance proud, and loves not the common people' (2.2.5-6). They remark on the fickleness of the crowd and on the obstinacy of Coriolanus, but they agree that the warrior hero's long record of extraordinary service makes him more worthy of the post than the politicians who achieve the office by currying favour with the electorate.

Like a Chorus, the Officers are anonymous and outside the action of the play. They interrupt the progress of the plot to provide a commentary on the merits and faults of Coriolanus and on the Roman political situation. Their interruption breaks the intensity of the political developments and thereby promotes a more objective attitude in the audience, permitting us to see both sides of the issue.


Volsce is a spy who receives information for his tribe, the Volscians, from a Roman. In 4.3 the Volsce, named Adrian, meets the Roman, named Nicanor, from whom he has gathered intelligence before. He learns of the banishment of Coriolanus. The episode emphasizes the atmosphere of intrigue that pervades Coriolanus' world, and prepares us for his defection in the next scenes.


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