“A feast of literary and historical information.”—The Wall Street Journal
Coriolanus (Signet Classic Shakespeare Series)by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's last tragedy explores the career and death of a brilliant and arrogant Roman general. This is an ambitious and intriguing story of heroism.
“A feast of literary and historical information.”—The Wall Street Journal
Read an Excerpt
Act 1 Scene 1 running scene 1
Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs and other weapons
FIRST CITIZEN Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
ALL Speak, speak.
FIRST CITIZEN You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
ALL Resolved, resolved.
FIRST CITIZEN First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people.
ALL We know't, we know't.
FIRST CITIZEN Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price. Is't a verdict?
ALL No more talking on't: let it be done: away, away.
SECOND CITIZEN One word, good citizens.
FIRST CITIZEN 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.
SECOND CITIZEN Would you proceed especially against Caius Martius?
ALL Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.
SECOND CITIZEN Consider you what services he has done for his country?
FIRST CITIZEN Very well, and could be content to give him good report for't, but that he pays himself with being proud.
ALL Nay, but speak not maliciously.
FIRST CITIZEN 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.
SECOND CITIZEN What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.
FIRST CITIZEN If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations: he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition.
What shouts are these? The other side o'th'city is risen: why stay we prating here? To th'Capitol!
ALL Come, come.
FIRST CITIZEN Soft, who comes here?
Enter Menenius Agrippa
SECOND CITIZEN Worthy Menenius Agrippa, one that hath always loved the people.
FIRST CITIZEN He's one honest enough: would all the rest were so!
MENENIUS What work's, my countrymen, in hand? Where go you
With bats and clubs? The matter, speak, I pray you.
SECOND CITIZEN Our business is not unknown to th'senate: they have had inkling this fortnight what we intend to do, which now we'll show 'em in deeds. They say poor suitors have strong breaths: they shall know we have strong arms too.
MENENIUS Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,
Will you undo yourselves?
SECOND CITIZEN We cannot, sir, we are undone already.
MENENIUS I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state, whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it, and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you, and you slander
The helms o'th'state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.
SECOND CITIZEN Care for us? True, indeed, they ne'er cared for us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain: make edicts for usury, to support usurers: repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will: and there's all the love they bear us.
MENENIUS Either you must
Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
Or be accused of folly. I shall tell you
A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it,
But since it serves my purpose, I will venture
To stale't a little more.
SECOND CITIZEN Well, I'll hear it, sir: yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an't please you, deliver.
MENENIUS There was a time when all the body's members
Rebelled against the belly, thus accused it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I'th'midst o'th'body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labour with the rest, where th'other instruments
Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
And, mutually participate, did minister
Unto the appetite and affection common
Of the whole body. The belly answered-
SECOND CITIZEN Well, sir, what answer made the belly?
MENENIUS Sir, I shall tell you: with a kind of smile,
Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus -
For look you, I may make the belly smile
As well as speak - it tauntingly replied
To th'discontented members, the mutinous parts
That envied his receipt: even so most fitly
As you malign our senators for that
They are not such as you.
SECOND CITIZEN Your belly's answer: what?
The kingly crownèd head, the vigilant eye,
The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,
Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter,
With other muniments and petty helps
In this our fabric, if that they-
MENENIUS What then?
Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? What then?
SECOND CITIZEN Should by the cormorant belly be restrained,
Who is the sink o'th'body-
MENENIUS Well, what then?
SECOND CITIZEN The former agents, if they did complain,
What could the belly answer?
MENENIUS I will tell you,
If you'll bestow a small - of what you have little -
Patience awhile, you'st hear the belly's answer.
SECOND CITIZEN You're long about it.
MENENIUS Note me this, good friend:
Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers, and thus answered:
'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,
'That I receive the general food at first
Which you do live upon: and fit it is,
Because I am the storehouse and the shop
Of the whole body. But, if you do remember,
I send it through the rivers of your blood
Even to the court, the heart, to th'seat o'th'brain,
And through the cranks and offices of man,
The strongest nerves and small inferior veins
From me receive that natural competency
Whereby they live. And though that all at once' -
You, my good friends, this says the belly, mark me-
SECOND CITIZEN Ay, sir, well, well.
MENENIUS 'Though all at once cannot
See what I do deliver out to each,
Yet I can make my audit up, that all
From me do back receive the flour of all,
And leave me but the bran.' What say you to't?
SECOND CITIZEN It was an answer: how apply you this?
MENENIUS The senators of Rome are this good belly,
And you the mutinous members: for examine
Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly
Touching the weal o'th'common, you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds or comes from them to you
And no way from yourselves. What do you think,
You, the great toe of this assembly?
SECOND CITIZEN I the great toe? Why the great toe?
MENENIUS For that, being one o'th'lowest, basest, poorest
Of this most wise rebellion, thou goest foremost:
Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run,
Lead'st first to win some vantage.
But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs:
Rome and her rats are at the point of battle:
The one side must have bale.
Enter Caius Martius
Hail, noble Martius.
MARTIUS Thanks. What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?
SECOND CITIZEN We have ever your good word.
MARTIUS He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
Where he should find you lions, finds you hares:
Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no,
Than is the coal of fire upon the ice,
Or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue is
To make him worthy whose offence subdues him
And curse that justice did it. Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate, and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead,
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another?- What's their To Menenius
MENENIUS For corn at their own rates, whereof they say
The city is well stored.
MARTIUS Hang 'em! They say?
They'll sit by th'fire, and presume to know
What's done i'th'Capitol: who's like to rise,
Who thrives and who declines: side factions and give out
Conjectural marriages, making parties strong
And feebling such as stand not in their liking
Below their cobbled shoes. They say there's grain enough?
Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, I'd make a quarry
With thousands of these quartered slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance.
MENENIUS Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded:
For though abundantly they lack discretion,
Yet are they passing cowardly. But I beseech you,
What says the other troop?
MARTIUS They are dissolved: hang 'em:
They said they were an-hungry, sighed forth proverbs
That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,
That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not
Corn for the rich men only: with these shreds
They vented their complainings, which being answered,
And a petition granted them, a strange one -
To break the heart of generosity,
And make bold power look pale - they threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o'th'moon,
Shouting their emulation.
MENENIUS What is granted them?
MARTIUS Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,
Of their own choice. One's Junius Brutus,
Sicinius Velutus, and I know not. 'Sdeath,
The rabble should have first unroofed the city,
Ere so prevailed with me: it will in time
Win upon power and throw forth greater themes
For insurrection's arguing.
MENENIUS This is strange.
MARTIUS Go get you home, you fragments. To the Citizens
Enter a Messenger hastily
MESSENGER Where's Caius Martius?
MARTIUS Here: what's the matter?
MESSENGER The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.
MARTIUS I am glad on't: then we shall ha' means to vent
Our musty superfluity. See, our best elders.
Enter Sicinius Velutus, Junius Brutus, Cominius, Titus Lartius, with other Senators
FIRST SENATOR Martius, 'tis true that you have lately told us:
The Volsces are in arms.
MARTIUS They have a leader,
Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to't:
I sin in envying his nobility,
And were I anything but what I am,
I would wish me only he.
COMINIUS You have fought together!
MARTIUS Were half to half the world by th'ears and he
Upon my party, I'd revolt to make
Only my wars with him. He is a lion
That I am proud to hunt.
FIRST SENATOR Then, worthy Martius,
Attend upon Cominius to these wars.
COMINIUS It is your former promise. To Martius
MARTIUS Sir, it is,
And I am constant: Titus Lartius, thou
Shalt see me once more strike at Tullus' face.
What, art thou stiff? Stand'st out?
LARTIUS No, Caius Martius,
I'll lean upon one crutch and fight with t'other,
Ere stay behind this business.
MENENIUS O, true-bred!
FIRST SENATOR Your company to th'Capitol, where I know
Our greatest friends attend us.
LARTIUS Lead you on.- To Cominius
Follow Cominius, we must follow you, To Martius
Right worthy your priority.
COMINIUS Noble Martius.
FIRST SENATOR Hence to your homes, be gone. To the Citizens
MARTIUS Nay, let them follow:
The Volsces have much corn: take these rats thither
To gnaw their garners. Worshipful mutineers,
Your valour puts well forth: pray follow. Exeunt
Citizens steal away. Sicinius and Brutus remain
SICINIUS Was ever man so proud as is this Martius?
BRUTUS He has no equal.
SICINIUS When we were chosen tribunes for the people-
BRUTUS Marked you his lip and eyes?
SICINIUS Nay, but his taunts.
BRUTUS Being moved, he will not spare to gird the gods.
SICINIUS Bemock the modest moon.
BRUTUS The present wars devour him: he is grown
Too proud to be so valiant.
SICINIUS Such a nature,
Tickled with good success, disdains the shadow
Which he treads on at noon: but I do wonder
His insolence can brook to be commanded
BRUTUS Fame, at the which he aims,
In whom already he's well graced, cannot
Better be held nor more attained than by
A place below the first: for what miscarries
Shall be the general's fault, though he perform
To th'utmost of a man, and giddy censure
Will then cry out of Martius 'O, if he
Had borne the business!'
SICINIUS Besides, if things go well,
Opinion that so sticks on Martius shall
Of his demerits rob Cominius.
Half all Cominius' honours are to Martius,
Though Martius earned them not: and all his faults
To Martius shall be honours, though indeed
In aught he merit not.
SICINIUS Let's hence, and hear
How the dispatch is made, and in what fashion,
More than his singularity, he goes
Upon this present action.
BRUTUS Let's along. Exeunt
[Act 1 Scene 2] running scene 2
Enter Tullus Aufidius with Senators of Corioles
FIRST SENATOR So, your opinion is, Aufidius,
That they of Rome are entered in our counsels
And know how we proceed.
AUFIDIUS Is it not yours?
Whatever have been thought on in this state,
That could be brought to bodily act ere Rome
Had circumvention? 'Tis not four days gone
Since I heard thence: these are the words: I think
I have the letter here: yes, here it is. He reads the letter
'They have pressed a power, but it is not known
Whether for east or west: the dearth is great,
The people mutinous: and it is rumoured,
Cominius, Martius your old enemy,
Who is of Rome worse hated than of you,
And Titus Lartius, a most valiant Roman,
These three lead on this preparation
Whither 'tis bent: most likely 'tis for you:
Consider of it.'
Meet the Author
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was a poet, playwright, and actor who is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language. Often referred to as the Bard of Avon, Shakespeare's vast body of work includes comedic, tragic, and historical plays; poems; and 154 sonnets. His dramatic works have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
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