Coriolanus: Novel Summary: Act IV Scenes v-vii & Act V Scene i

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  Act IV Scenes v-vii & Act V Scene i


Act IV, scene v
Coriolanus tries to gain admission to Aufidius's house. The servants do not recognize him but do not like his rough appearance and refuse to let him in. They fetch their master, who also does not recognize Coriolanus. Coriolanus identifies himself and offers his services to Aufidius to gain his revenge on Rome. He asks that if Aufidius does not wish this, then he is welcome to cut his (Coriolanus's) throat, as he is tired of life.

Aufidius is moved. He greets Coriolanus as a friend, in spite of their former enmity. He hands Coriolanus control of half his army to lead against Rome. The two men dine together, and the servants discuss the prospect of another war with Rome.

Act IV, scene vi
In Rome, Sicinius and Brutus are congratulating themselves on the peacefulness of life since Coriolanus was banished. Menenius arrives, and tells them that neither he, nor Coriolanus's wife or mother have heard from him.

An Aedile enters with the news that the Volscians have invaded Roman territories and are destroying all that lies before them. Menenius points out that Aufidius is only able to do this because Coriolanus has been banished from Rome. Brutus orders the Aedile to be whipped, as he cannot believe that the Volscians would break the peace treaty they recently signed with Rome. A second messenger enters and reports that not only is the Aedile's news true, but that Coriolanus has joined with Aufidius and is leading an army against Rome. A third messenger arrives and says that the invaders have already burned and destroyed some of the Roman territories. Cominius and Menenius reproach the tribunes for having brought this disaster upon them. Menenius says that there is no hope unless Coriolanus decides to show mercy, but he and Cominius agree that the people of Rome, who drove him out, do not deserve it.

A crowd of plebeians enters, fearful at the news. Menenius blames them for the coming attack. The citizens now claim they only consented to Coriolanus's banishment against their will. The tribunes leave for the Capitol.

Act IV, scene vii
In the Volscian camp near Rome, a Lieutenant is telling Aufidius that the Volscian soldiers hero-worship Coriolanus and that Aufidius's standing has suffered as a result. Aufidius admits that Coriolanus is proud, but says he can do nothing while he depends on him for the attack on Rome. He hints at something Coriolanus has done that will enable the Volscians to dispose of him when he is no longer useful to them. In the meantime, he believes that Rome will fall under Coriolanus's attack.

Act V, scene i
In Rome, the tribunes are arguing with the patricians about who should go to Coriolanus to beg for mercy. Menenius is unwilling to go, as Cominius has already tried and failed. Menenius finally agrees, planning to meet Coriolanus after dinner, when he is well fed and more likely to be flexible. Menenius leaves. Cominius thinks Menenius's mission will be in vain, though he has some hope that Volumnia and Virgilia, who are planning to beg Coriolanus to relent, will succeed.

The encounter between Coriolanus and Aufidius is extraordinary for its homoeroticism. Aufidius responds to his former enemy like a lover, asking, "Let me twine / Mine arms about that body?(IV.v.102?03) and comparing Coriolanus favorably to his own wife. The mood is reinforced by his account of his dreams about Coriolanus: "We have been down together in my sleep, / Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat / And waked half dead with nothing.?(IV.v.120?22).

While this scene lends itself to psychoanalysis with reference to the fine line between bitter enmity and sexual attraction, it has another function, too. Aufidius, in his speech to Coriolanus, acquires the romantic air of a woman in love. This impression is strengthened by the Third Servant's observation of how Aufidius "turns up the white o?the eye to his [Coriolanus's] discourse?(IV.v.188?89); this is the attitude not of a valiant soldier to his comrade in arms, but of an adoring female to her masterful lover. It would appear that Aufidius has abandoned his duty as a military leader and has become woman-like. This situation should raise alarms for Coriolanus because of the undercurrent of fickleness. While Shakespeare's works have their share of faithful female characters, there are also references (markedly in the Sonnets) to the supposed fickleness and changeability of female hearts relative to those of men. Certainly, there was a popular assumption in Shakespeare's time that this was so. If Aufidius had greeted Coriolanus like a man and fellow soldier, perhaps the audience would be reassured that here was a firm basis for an honest and lasting friendship. But the element of erotic fascination raises the question: how long will this infatuation last, and when it ends, as it must, what will replace it? Similarly, how long will it be before Aufidius loses interest in playing the submissive lover and resumes his usual role of military commander? Can there be two commanders of an army? The current mood seems dangerously unsustainable.

The feeling of suspense around the relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius intensifies in Act IV, scene vii, when it is revealed that Aufidius is growing jealous of being supplanted in his soldiers?affections by Coriolanus. Already, Aufidius has a plan in place to dispose of Coriolanus when he is no longer useful. Aufidius is as if casting aside a lover with whom he has grown tired; his jealousy and resentment already outweigh his love and loyalty for Coriolanus. Aufidius's fickleness mirrors that of the Roman plebeians, who also disposed of Coriolanus when they no longer viewed him as useful.

The plebeians continue to show their fickleness. Now that an attack on Rome is imminent, they claim they never wanted Coriolanus to be banished. The tribunes, meanwhile, are blind to reality, congratulating themselves on the apparent peacefulness of life and refusing to believe that another Volscian attack is coming even when they are told of it. Their political skills, which made them triumphant in the time of peace, are useless at this time of war. They have no solutions to the coming crisis, which they have created. Both the plebeians and their representatives are revealed as incapable of governing Rome.

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