Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: Ancient Rome.
Act I, Scene 1: Rioting Romans seek the death of Martius, a leading aristocrat who is known for his pride. Menenius stalls them with a humorous fable that justifies the aristocracy. Martius arrives, and his scathing anger quiets the rioters. He reports that the rioting has resulted in a concession to the commoners: the people have been allowed to elect their own judges, called tribunes, two of whom are Sicinius and Brutus. News arrives that Rome is threatened by a neighboring tribe, the Volscians. A municipal delegation—the generals Cominius and Lartius, some Senators, and the new tribunes seek Martius' support in repelling the invaders. He agrees, and remarks on his desire to fight the noble Volscian general, Aufidius, who is a former foe. The aristocrats all depart to prepare for war and leave the tribunes, who talk of their hatred of Martius.
Act I, Scene 2: At Corioles, the Volscian Senators meet with Aufidius to plan their campaign. Aufidius will take the field, and the Senators will defend Corioles.
Act I, Scene 3: Martius' mother, Volumnia, berates his wife, Virgilia, because she is not pleased that he has gone to war. She declares that her son's honorable death would bring her more joy than his birth had. She describes the wounds she hopes her son will receive, which will increase his honor, and she mocks Virgilia's revulsion. Virgilia's friend Valeria appears, and they discuss the son of Martius and Virgilia, who resembles his father. Valeria brings the news that Martius and Cominius have Corioles under siege.
Act I, Scene 4: At Corioles, a delegation of Volscian Senators defies the Romans, and combat begins. The Romans retreat. Martius curses them and charges alone through the city's gates. The Romans believe he has been killed, but he emerges from Corioles, chased by Volscians, and the Romans rally to his defense.
Act I, Scene 5: Corioles has been taken, and Martius insists, despite his wounds, that he join Cominius who is fighting Aufidius.
Act I, Scene 6: Martius arrives as Cominius withdraws against superior forces. Full of enthusiasm for battle, Martius insists that he resume the fight and face Aufidius.
Act I, Scene 7: Lartius places a Lieutenant in charge of Corioles and goes to join Cominius and Martius.
Act I, Scene 8: Martius and Aufidius fight. Several Volscians arrive to assist their general, but Martius drives them all away. Aufidius cries out that he has been shamed by their support.
Act I, Scene 9: Martius modestly objects to hearing his deeds praised amidst the cheers of the soldiers. Cominius proposes that in honor of his courage at Corioles, he shall hereafter be known as CORIOLANUS.
Act I, Scene 10: Aufidius rages against Martius, who has now defeated him five times. He swears that next time he will not lose even if he must resort to treachery rather than velour.
Act II, Scene 1: Menenius berates Sicinius and Brutus for their animosity towards Martius, and he scorns the bad judgment of the common people they represent. Martius, now Coriolanus, returns and is formally welcomed and taken by the aristocrats to the Capitol to receive further honors. The tribunes voice their resentment of Coriolanus, who will now be nominated as consul, the highest office in Rome. However, they reflect that his pride will probably prevent him from displaying his scars to the commoners—as tradition requires—and that as the commoners' representatives, they can then oppose him and keep him from the office.
Act II, Scene 2: An Officer and his two fellows speculate that Coriolanus' pride will lead to his rejection as consul, though they believe him worthy of the office. Coriolanus is nominated for the consulate, but he asks to be excused from exhibiting himself to the common people. The tribunes refuse to accept the idea, and the aristocrats attempt to persuade Coriolanus to go through with it. Though uneasy, he agrees and goes with them to perform the ceremony.
Act II, Scene 3: A group of citizens decide to support Coriolanus if he will formally ask them to. Coriolanus arrives, dressed in the traditional humble garb, and he asks groups of citizens for their support, though in a surly, begrudging manner. They agree to support him, and Menenius and the tribunes confirm his election. Coriolanus and Menenius leave, and the tribunes upbraid the citizens for supporting the proud Coriolanus. They convince them to rescind their approval before Coriolanus' formal installation as consul.
Act III, Scene 1: Coriolanus hears that Aufidius has expressed a desire to fight with him, and he wishes for a war. The tribunes report that a mob has risen against Coriolanus. Despite the efforts of the aristocrats to calm him, Coriolanus angrily declares the commoners unworthy of a voice in the selection of a consul. The tribunes declare him a traitor to the laws of Rome and summon the mob. The mob follows Sicinius' lead and demands that Coriolanus be killed. Coriolanus draws his sword, but the aristocrats take him away. Brutus and Sicinius continue to raise the mob's fury, but Menenius convinces them to follow legal procedures and try Coriolanus for treason in the tribunes' court. He promises to get the general to attend it.
Act III, Scene 2: Volumnia helps the other aristocrats convince Coriolanus to swallow his pride and apologies to the commoners as a matter of practical politics. After lengthy argument, he finally agrees.
Act III, Scene 4: Brutus and Sicinius instruct a subordinate to prepare the crowd to support whatever line they take in the trial of Coriolanus, who they plan to provoke to anger. Coriolanus and his friends appear, and at first Coriolanus mildly makes the recantation demanded by the tribunes. When Sicinius calls him a traitor, however, he responds wrathfully and rejects the authority of the common people in insulting terms. The tribunes convict him of treasonous hostility to the people's justice and declare him banished from Rome; the mob takes up the cry. Coriolanus replies angrily that he shall be glad to leave a city controlled by such ignorant commoners, and he departs. The tribunes encourage the mob to follow him out the gates of the city.
Act IV, Scene 1: Coriolanus bids farewell to his family and friends and departs for exile.
Act IV, Scene 2: Volumnia rages furiously at the victorious tribunes.
Act IV, Scene 3: A Roman (2) gives information to a Volsce, telling him of Coriolanus' banishment. He recommends that the Volscians strike against the city now that it has lost its most illustrious general.
Act IV, Scene 4: Coriolanus, disguised a poor man, arrives in Antium and is directed to Aufidius' house.
Act IV, Scene 5: Coriolanus finds Aufidius and tells him bitterly of his banishment; he offers to fight for the Volscians against Rome. Aufidius is ecstatic at encountering his great enemy and agrees enthusiastically. Aufidius' servants marvel that their master has accepted a poor wanderer, but when one of them learns the truth they rejoice at the prospects for a successful war.
Act IV, Scene 6: The tribunes refuse to believe the news that the Volscians are again attacking Roman territory, led by Coriolanus. A crowd arrives, and the citizens declare that they had had misgivings about the banishment all along. The worried tribunes hope that the news will prove untrue.
Act IV, Scene 7: A Volscian Lieutenant worries that Aufidius will be overshadowed by Coriolanus' growing popularity among their soldiers. Aufidius confides that he intends eventually to turn against the Roman.
Act V, Scene 1: Cominius reports that Coriolanus, whose Volscian army threatens the city, has refused to meet with him. The tribunes convince Menenius to attempt to beg mercy for the city. Cominius declares that Menenius will also fail, and that their only hope lies in Coriolanus' mother and wife.
Act V, Scene 2: Volscian guards declare to Menenius that Coriolanus has specifically refused entry to any Roman. When Menenius insists that he is an old friend and will be accepted, they mock him. Coriolanus appears and pointedly rejects Menenius.
Act V, Scene 3: Volumnia appears, accompanied by Virgilia, Valeria, and a Boy—Coriolanus' son. Coriolanus becomes increasingly upset as he hears and rejects their petitions for mercy. Finally, a long speech by Volumnia convinces him to make peace with Rome. Aufidius, in an aside, observes that he now has the means to get revenge on Coriolanus.
Act V, Scene 4: Menenius and Sicinius despair for the city, but news arrives of Volumnia's success and the withdrawal of the Volscian forces.
Act V, Scene 5: The Senators thankfully welcome Volumnia and the other women back to Rome.
Act V, Scene 6: Aufidius consults with a group of Conspirators. They agree to support his charges of treason against Coriolanus and then to help him kill his enemy. Coriolanus appears, followed by an enthusiastic crowd of Volscians. Coriolanus presents his treaty with Rome as a conquest, but Aufidius accuses him of treachery. He calls him unmanly because he has given up the city in response to a woman's plea. Coriolanus angrily threatens to beat him, but Aufidius turns the crowd against him. When the mob loudly demands that Coriolanus be lynched as an enemy, the Conspirators attack him in a group and kill him. Aufidius defends the killing as motivated by patriotic rage, but he goes on to observe that Coriolanus was a great warrior and stipulates that he should have a noble funeral.
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