NovelGuide: Coriolanus: Character Profiles

Character Profiles

Caius Martius (also known as Coriolanus) :  Caius Martius is a member of the Roman nobility or patrician class and also a Roman general who is given the name Coriolanus after leading the Roman army to victory against the Volscian city of Corioli. He is honest, loyal, a great warrior, and a man of integrity, but he is also proud and contemptuous of the plebeians - qualities he does not trouble to hide. As a consequence, while the plebeians honor him as a war hero, they view him as "chief enemy to the people" (I.i.5-6). His pride and lack of public relations skills make it easy for the tribunes to manipulate the plebeians against him, with the result that Coriolanus is banished from Rome.
Coriolanus is not proud, however, when it comes to boasting of his martial exploits. He cannot bear to be publicly praised. This is one of the qualities that makes him a complex character, full of contradictions.
Coriolanus's chief weakness is his submissive relationship to his mother, Volumnia. On two occasions, she persuades him to act against what he knows is right, with disastrous consequences for him. In relation to Volumnia, this otherwise strong man is an immature child, unable to maintain his integrity.
Tullus Aufidius:  Tullus Aufidius is the general of the Volscian army. He is an effective military leader but not the equal of Coriolanus. Defeated by Coriolanus several times in battle, Aufidius hates Coriolanus as his mortal enemy and longs to conquer him. When the exiled Coriolanus appears on his doorstep offering an alliance against Rome, Aufidius's hatred rapidly turns to love and admiration, with a strongly homoerotic undertone. But Aufidius proves fickle, and when his soldiers begin to show more affection for Coriolanus, his friendship changes again to envy and malice, and he plots to rid himself of Coriolanus. When Aufidius's Conspirators kill Coriolanus, Aufidius cannot resist standing on his corpse - a gesture of the dominance over Coriolanus that he has craved for so long.
Menenius:  Menenius is an elderly patrician and a friend of Coriolanus. He loves Coriolanus like a son, and loyally defends him against the hostile comments of the plebeians and tribunes. Unlike Coriolanus, however, Menenius is a skilled politician who is able to convince the plebeians that he is on their side. He uses his wit and diplomacy to calm them down when they rise in anger against the patricians. The plebeians call Menenius "one that hath always loved the people" (I.i.41-42), in spite of there being no evidence that he has ever helped them as, for example, Coriolanus has, by defending them in battle. After Coriolanus allies himself with Aufidius, Menenius calls on their close friendship to convince him not to attack Rome, and is heartbroken when Coriolanus disowns him.
Brutus and Sicinius:  Brutus and Sicinius are tribunes, or magistrates chosen by the plebeians as their representatives. They are clever politicians who are skilled in manipulating the plebeians against Coriolanus, whose power as consul, they fear, would threaten their own. They succeed in having Coriolanus banished from Rome. Their cunning serves them well in peacetime, but as soon as a Volscian attack is imminent, they are helpless.
Volumnia:  Volumnia is a Roman noblewoman and Coriolanus's mother. She has always been ambitious for Coriolanus and has brought him up to be a great warrior. She takes an excessive and callous pride in his battle wounds, since they add to his reputation. She dominates Coriolanus and twice persuades him to act against his true nature: first, when she convinces him to humiliate himself before the plebeians in exchange for their votes; and second, when she wins him over to calling off his and Aufidius's planned attack on Rome. It is emblematic of Volumnia's ascendancy over her son that it is she, and not Coriolanus, who is hailed as the savior of Rome.
Virgilia:  Virgilia is Coriolanus's wife. In contrast to Volumnia, she fears for Coriolanus's life when he is at war and is horrified when he is wounded.
Valeria:  Valeria is a Roman noblewoman and a friend of Virgilia and Volumnia.
Cominius:  Cominius is a patrician of Rome and a former consul. He is a friend of Coriolanus and one of the generals who leads the Roman army against the Volscians.
Titus Lartius:  Titus Lartius is a Roman patrician who is appointed, with Cominius, as a general against the Volscians.
Young Martius:  Young Martius is Coriolonus and Virgilia's son.
Citizens:  The Citizens, or plebeians, constitute a character in themselves. As Rome has recently changed from a monarchy to a Republic, they are negotiating power with the patricians,

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who, with King Tarquinius (617-579 BC), were formerly in charge. Shakespeare portrays them as often good-hearted - they agree to give Coriolanus their votes to make him consul in spite of his proud attitude - but as dangerously irrational and fickle. Easily manipulated, they repeatedly change their minds about Coriolanus under the influence of the tribunes. While they are shown as having valid grievances against the patricians (for example, they are kept short of food while the patricians hoard grain) they are also revealed as unfit to have any place in government.

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