Coriolanus Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Coriolanus: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "He's a very dog to the commonalty.?(I.i.23) The First Citizen blames Coriolanus more than any other for the grain shortage, as he has the reputation of being proud and contemptuous towards the people.
  2. "What's the matter, you dissentious rogues That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, Make yourselves scabs??(I.i.150?52) Coriolanus addresses the plebeians with his customary scorn. He dismisses their legitimate grievances as argumentativeness, and speaks of their views as a skin disease that they themselves are aggravating by their attitude. The metaphor refers to the major metaphor of the body politic that runs throughout the play, whereby a well-ordered state is compared with a healthy human body and a disordered state with a diseased or incomplete body.
  3. "What must I say? ?br> 'I pray, sir??Plague upon't! I cannot bring My tongue to such a pace. Look, sir, my wounds. I got them in my country's service, when Some certain of your brethren roared and ran From th?noise of our own drums.?(II.iii.45?0) Coriolanus rehearses with Menenius what he should say to the plebeians to win their votes for him to be consul. He cannot bear the notion of pleading with people he considers his inferiors, or the idea of boasting about his military record by showing his battle wounds. He feels contempt for their whole class because of the many common Roman soldiers who showed cowardice when they served under him in the war against the Volscians.
  4. "Hear you this Triton of the minnows? Mark you His absolute 'shall??(III.i.89?0) Coriolanus rebukes the tribune Sicinius for stating that Coriolanus shall never be consul. Triton was a fish-shaped god, the trumpeter of the sea god Neptune. Minnows are tiny fishes, so Coriolanus is suggesting that Sicinius is in charge of people who are too insignificant to matter.
  5. "Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'st it from me;?(III.ii.129) Volumnia tells Coriolanus that he inherited from her the martial valor for which he is famed. Volumnia has lived out her martial ambitions through her son. It later turns out that his valor is hers in another sense, too: so dominated is he by her that he is prepared to set aside valor's demands in accordance with her will.
  6. "You common cry of curs! Whose breath I hate As reek o?th?rotten fens, whose loves I prize As the dead carcasses of unburied men That do corrupt my air, I banish you.?(III.iii.119?22) Coriolanus responds to Brutus and Sicinius's informing him that he is banished from Rome for being a traitor to the people. Coriolanus's pride quickly rises, and he insists that it is he who banishes them, just as he would wish to banish a bad smell. He refers to them as a "cry of curs,?a pack of dogs, showing that he thinks of the plebeians as being so low that they are barely human.
  7. "The beast With many heads butts me away.?(IV.i.1) Coriolanus tells his family that the plebeians have banished him. "The beast with many heads?is a reference to the Hydra, the mythical many-headed water snake, which was difficult to fight because when one cut off one of its heads, another or several more grew in its place. Coriolanus means that the plebeians are as destructive and unpredictable as the fabled monster, and as ungovernable.
  8. "Under the canopy ?I?the city of kites and crows.?(IV.v.34?8) Coriolanus responds to Aufidius's servant's question as to where he lives. His reply has a double meaning. First, he means that he is homeless, and dwells under the open sky with the birds. Second, he is referring to Rome insultingly as a city of kites (birds of prey and scavengers) and crows (famously ugly and cunning birds which are also scavengers).
  9. "Know thou first, I loved the maid I married: never man Sighed truer breath. But that I see thee here, Thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart Than when I first my wedded mistress saw Bestride my threshold.?(IV.v.109?14) Aufidius welcomes his former enemy, the banished Coriolanus, who has turned up on his doorstep and thrown himself on Aufidius's mercy. Though Aufidius has predicted that if he were to meet Coriolanus again, they would fight to the death, he is moved, and his former hostility turns to love. In an extraordinary speech with a strong homoerotic undertone, Aufidius compares his feelings for Coriolanus favorably with those he had for his newly-wed wife.
  10. [Stage direction] Aufidius stands on him This is one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespeare's plays. Aufidius has engineered Coriolanus's murder, claiming that he had to die for breaking his word to the Volscians and calling off the attack on Rome. In truth, however, Aufidius's motive was mean-spirited envy of Coriolanus's popularity with the Volscian soldiers. Aufidius cannot resist a final gesture of dominance over Coriolanus, whom he was always unable to conquer in battle, and stands on his corpse.


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