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Summary Act 2

SCENE 1

As it’s likely that his good friend, Marcius, will be soon returning to Rome a victor, Menenius finds himself in a good mood only to have to deal with Brutus and Sicinius whose inveterate hostility of Marcius set them at odds. Irked, Menenius tweaks their conversation so as to make its topic the reputations of the interlocuters as opposed to allowing Brutus and Sicinius to slander Marcius. By and by, Brutus and Sicinius are informed that they themselves are insufferably proud. Menenius argues that whereas Marcius’ pride is justly earned that their pride—Brutus’ and Sicinius’—is the product of ingratiating themselves to the fickle masses on whose rash anger they prop themselves up. Brutus and Sicinius counter, accusing Menenius of being a well-fed patrician convive who has no real power or influence in the senate. They are thus at it when Volumnia, Virgilia and Valeria emerge on the scene with definitive news of Marcius’ arrival in Rome. Volumnia avers that her son’s arrival is a triumphant one, that the wounds he has sustained will attest to the honors he has earned. Menenius wishes the wounds sustained will be many, Virgilia not so much. By and by, a Herald announces the return of the Roman army, singling out the exploits of Caius Marcus which has earned him the wars’ tutelary title Coriolanus. All hail Coriolanus, embarrassing Coriolanus who pleads for a measure of sobriety. Anon, Coriolanus greets his mother, wife, Menenius, and Valeria, and together they go in triumph to the Capitol. Meanwhile, envious of the accolades that are showered upon Coriolanus, Brutus and Sicinius sulk, but not for long as they regain their smugness, prognosticating that Coriolanus’ pride will eventually assert itself to his—Coriolanus’—detriment. 

SCENE 2

While preparing the Capitol for Coriolanus’ reception, two officers share their thoughts about Coriolanus being elected consul and about the pluses and minuses of Coriolanus’ scorn and contempt of the common people. Anon, the Capitol fills up with the dignitaries and it isn’t long before Menenius sets the stage for Cominius to expatiate at length on Coriolanus’ valor. At this point, loath to be praised ad nauseam, Coriolanus excuses himself. Cominius proceeds with his personal account of Coriolanus’ valor at Corioli but not before reminding the dignitaries of Coriolanus’ dread exploits, while he was a mere sixteen year old, against the Roman dictator Tarquin. Needless to say, Cominius’ account and eulogy seals the motion to nominate Coriolanus a consul of Rome. Coriolanus is summoned and informed of his nomination. The nomination obliges Coriolanus to address the people whose implied consent is necessary to elect him consul. Though honored to be nominated, Coriolanus pleads that he be spared from performing this aspect of the process, arguing that he doesn’t have the stomach to ingratiate himself to the multitudes. The tribunes Brutus and Sicinius object, and Menenius himself insists that Coriolanus cannot forego this aspect of the process. Eventually Menenius prevails upon his friend to do as tradition dictates. Meanwhile, Brutus and Sicinius repair to the people to ill-dispose them to Coriolanus.

SCENE 3

Simultaneously inclined and disinclined to elect Coriolanus consul, the citizens are of two minds, when reluctantly, in a gown of humility, Coriolanus appears, attended by Menenius and the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius. Prodding Coriolanus to put his best foot forward, Menenius, along with Brutus and Sicinius, recedes into the background. The citizens approach in pairs and Coriolanus addresses them in the only manner he knows how, i.e. bluntly and honestly. Surprisingly, the citizens give Coriolanus their unanimous consent. Menenius congratulates Coriolanus, and they head off to the Senate House for the final step in the process: the approbation. Meanwhile the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius conduct a survey of the people. All but one citizen feels as if Coriolanus had belittled him. Taking this as a cue, Brutus and Sicinius exhort the people to repeal their unanimous consent. As if awakened from a state of lethargy natural to them, the citizens rally to the tribunes’ rabble rousing words. They are instructed to tell the senators, that urged on by Brutus and Sicinius who had sang Coriolanus’praises, that they had mistakenly given their unanimous consent for Coriolanus to be consul, and that having come to their senses they now realize they could never give their consent for Coriolanus to be consul as Coriolanus has been and will always be the people’s enemy.

William Shakespeare