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He knew that his actions must command the good opinion of men; but his modesty shrunk from their open declaration of it; he could not bear to hear “his nothings monstered.”
“—Pray you, no more; my mother,
But yet his pride was his greatest characteristic—
“Which out of daily fortune ever taints
This it was that made him seek distinction from the ordinary herd of popular heroes; his honor must be won by difficult and daring enterprise, and worn in silence. It was this pride which was his overthrow, and from which the moral of the piece is to be drawn. He had thrown himself, with the noble and confiding magnanimity of a hero, into the hands of an enemy, knowing that the truly brave are ever generous; but two suns could not shine in one hemisphere; Tullus Aufidius found he was darkened by his light, and he exclaims—
“— He bears himself more proudlier,
The closeness with which Shakspeare has followed his original, sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch, will be observed upon comparison of the following passage with the parallel scene in the play, describing Coriolanus's flight to Antium, and his reception by Aufidius:–“It was even twilight when he entered the city of Antium, and many people met him in the streets, but no man knew him. So he went immediately to Tullus Aufidius' house; and when he came thither he got him up straight to the chimney hearth, and sat him down, and spake not a word to any man, his face all muffled over. They of the house spying him, wondered what he should be, and yet they durst not bid him rise; for, ill-favoredly muffled and disguised as he was, yet there appeared a certain majesty in his countenance and in his silence: whereupon they went to Tullus, who was at supper, to tell him of the strange disguising of this man. Tullus rose presently from the board, and, coming towards him, asked him what he was and wherefore he came. Then Martius unmuffled himself, and, after he had paused awhile, making no answer, he said unto him, ‘If thou knowest me not yet, Tullus, and, seeing me, dost not perhaps believe me to be the man I am indeed, I must of necessity discover myself to be that I am. I am Caius Martius, who hath done to thyself particularly, and to all the Volces generally, great hurt and mischief, which I cannot deny, for my surname of Coriolanus that I bear. For I never had other benefit of the true and painful service I have done, and the extreme dangers I have been in, but this surname; a good memory and witness of the malice and displeasure thou shouldest bear me. Indeed, the name only remaineth with me ; for the rest, the envy and cruelty of the people of Rome have taken from me, by the sufferance of the dastardly nobility and magistrates, who have forsaken me, and let me be banished by the people. This extremity hath now driven me to come as a poor suitor, to take thy chimneyhearth, not of any hope I have to save my life thereby. For if I feared death, I would not have come hither to put myself in hazard; but pricked forward with desire to be revenged of them that have thus banished me, which now I do begin, by putting my person in the hands of their enemies. Wherefore, if thou hast any heart to be wreaked of the injuries thy enemies have done thee, speed thee now, and let my misery serve thy turn, and so use it as my service may be a benefit to the Wolces; promising thee that I will fight with better good-will for all you, than 1 did when I was against you, knowing that they fight more valiantly who know the force of the enemy, than such as have never proved it. And if it be so that thou dare not, and that thou art weary to prove fortune any more, then am I also weary to live any longer. And it were no wisdom in thee to save the life of him who hath been heretofore thy mortal enemy, and whose service now can nothing help or pleasure thee."—Tullus, hearing what he said, was a marvellous glad man, and, taking him by the hand, he said to him, ‘Stand up, O Martius, and be of good cheer; for in proffering thyself unto us, thou doest us great honor: and by this means thou mayest hope also of greater things at all Volces’ hands.’ So he feasted him for that time, and entertained him in the honorablest manner he could, talking with him of no other matter at that present; but within a few days after they fell to consultation together in what sort they should begin their wars.” In the scene of the meeting of Coriolanus with his wife and mother, when they come to supplicate him to spare Rome, Shakspeare has adhered very closely to his original. He felt that it was sufficient to give it merely a dramatic form. The speech of Volumnia, as we have observed in a note, is almost in the very words of the old translator of Plutarch. The time comprehended in the play is about four years; commencing with the secession to the Mons Sacer, in the year of Rome 262, and ending with the death of Coriolanus, A. U. C. 266. Malone conjectures it to have been written in the year 1610.
CAIUs MARCIUs CoRioLANUs, a noble Roman.
Two Wolcian Guards.
Generals against the Volcians.
WolumniA, Mother to Coriolanus.
Roman and Volcian Senators, Patricians, AEdiles, Lictors, Soldiers, Citizens, Messenger, Servants to Aufidius, and other Attendants.
SCENE, partly in Rome, and partly in the Territories of the Volcians and Antiates.
C O RIO L A N U. S.
Enter a Company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
1 Citizen. BEFor E we proceed any further, hear me speak.
Cit. Speak, speak. [Several speaking at once.
1 Cit. You are all resolved rather to die, than to famish P
Cit. Resolved, resolved.
1 Cit. First, you know, Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.
Cit. We know’t, we know’t.
1 Cit. Let us kill him, and we’ll have corn at our own price. Is’t a verdict?
Cit. No more talking on’t; let it be done. Away, away.
2 Cit. One word, good citizens.
1 Cit. We are accounted poor citizens; the patricians, good. What authority surfeits on, would relieve us. If they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance: our sufferance is a gain to them.—Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes; for the gods know, I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge. 2 Cit. Would you proceed especially against Caius Marcius P Cit. Against him first; he’s a very dog to the commonalty. 2 Cit. Consider you what services he has done for his country P 1 Cit. Very well; and could be content to give him good report for’t, but that he pays himself with being proud. 2 Cit. Nay, but speak not maliciously. 1 Cit. I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say, it was for his country, he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud; which he is, even to the altitude of his virtue. 2 Cit. What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is COWetOuS. 1 Cit. If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition. [Shouts within..] What shouts are these ? The other side o’ the city is risen. Why stay we prating here P To the capitol. Cit. Come, come. 1 Cit. Soft; who comes here F
1 Good, in a commercial sense.
Enter MENENIUS AGRIPPA.
2 Cit. Worthy Menenius Agrippa; one that hath always loved the people.
1 Cit. He's one honest enough; 'would all the rest were so
1 “As lean as a rake” is an old proverbial expression. There is, as Warburton observes, a miserable joke intended:—“Let us now revenge this with forks, before we become rakes ;” a pike or pike-fork, being the ancient term for a pitchfork. The origin of the proverb is, doubtless, “as lean as a rache or rapcc.” (pronounced rake), and signifying a greyhound.