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Summary Act 3


In the company of other nobles, while sharing his thoughts of Tullus Aufidius, Coriolanus makes his way to the market-place, where he is to be approbated consul, when the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius bar Coriolanus’ path, arguing that he—Coriolanus—would be wise to avoid the common citizens lest he put himself in harm’s way. Convinced that Brutus and Sicinius has ill-disposed the citizens against him, Coriolanus confirms the peoples’ suspicion that he has spoken ill of them, making starkly explicit what he might have previously only hinted at; namely, that the people have ill-gotten their corn, that they have extorted it from the nobility, and that they are without question a corrupt, ignoble and an incorrigible lot. Incensed, the tribunes exhort their followers to place Coriolanus under citizens’ arrest and to submit him to the people’s justice, i.e. to have Coriolanus hurled over the cliff. A melee ensues as the citizens and the nobility contend to decide Coriolanus’ fate. Menenius and Cominius, however, manage to have Coriolanus retire to his home for now, and in the meantime they try to reason with the tribunes as to Coriolanus’ worth. The nobles argue that the only way to resolve the situation is by the process of law, that to do otherwise would lead to bloodshed, chaos, and misrule. Somewhat appeased, the tribunes agree to let the nobles keep Coriolanus in custody. The tribunes warn, however, that if the nobles fail to have Coriolanus answer to the people, then the people will take it upon themselves to have Coriolanus submit. 


Though incredulous that his own mother would accuse him of letting his pride get the better of him, Coriolanus, nonetheless, reaffirms his scorn and contempt of the tribunes and the people, when Menenius and Cominius arrive to counsel Coriolanus to make amends lest his refusal to compromise create such discord as to cripple the Roman state. Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother, chimes in, at this point, exhorting her son to think nothing of ingratiating himself to the masses—that the necessity of the situation demands he step out of character. Approving of Volumnia’s words, Menenius argues that everything will turn out perfect if only Coriolanus would heed them, his mother’s words. Cominius seconds Menenius’ sentiment. Thus pressed from every side, Coriolanus can’t help but to relent and agree to do what he can to quell the unrest that he himself had been responsible for setting ablaze. Still, as he is led away, Coriolanus insists that he will be true to his natural disposition. Within reason, Cominius and Menenius counsel him.


Brutus and Sicinius discuss how they will go about the process of convicting Coriolanus, and to that end they instruct the Aedile, the Roman police, to prep the crowd so that the tribunes and the people can stage and coordinate Coriolanus’ guilty verdict—whatever it might be (death, exile, or torture)—without a hitch. By and by, Coriolanus, attended by Menenius, Cominius and his closest allies in the senate, emerges. Coriolanus is reminded by Menenius to check his pride. Alas, when the tribunes censor Coriolanus for being a traitor to the people, Coriolanus can’t help but to call the tribunes liars and to dismiss their claim that they--the tribunes--have nobly served Rome in their own fashion as laughable, prompting the people to demand that Coriolanus be put to death. The tribunes, however, make an allowance for the service that Coriolanus has rendered Rome and condemn him to exile instead. The people unanimously approve. Despite Cominius’ objection, the sentence stands. Undaunted, embracing his punishment, Coriolanus delivers a parting shot to the people, condemning them to their ignorance, ignorance that would have them--the people--foolishly punish their benefactors and reward their malefactors.

William Shakespeare