Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
At the Roman gates, Coriolanus tries to comfort all those mourning his banishment: his mother, wife, Menenius, Cominius, and others. “The beast / With many heads butts me away” (IV.i.1-2). He predicts, “I shall be lov’d when I am lack’d” (IV.i.15), and he turns down Cominius’ offer for a month’s travel with him.
The tribunes disperse the citizens, and they try to avoid Volumnia, insisting, “They say she’s mad” (IV.ii.9). But Volumnia (and even Virgilia this time) will not let them off the hook: “‘Twas you incens’d the rabble” (IV.ii.33). Menenius keeps trying to calm everyone down. When the tribunes have left, Volumnia admits, “Anger’s my meat; I sup upon myself, / And so shall starve with feeding” (IV.ii.50-51).
On the road, a Roman serving as a Volscian spy, Nicanor, tells his Volscian contact Adrian of the Roman unrest and that Aufidius should attack now, though he uses odd associative reasoning: “I have heard it said, the fittest time to corrupt a man’s wife is when she’s fall’n out with her husband” (IV.iii.31-33). The two merrily go off together.
“More important is the totally calm, matter-of-fact attitude of the soldiers to the events in which they are involved. This Roman is a traitor to his country — but an entirely cheerful one…. That this Roman is a traitor means nothing at all to him. But his exit is immediately followed by the entrance of his great superior, Coriolanus” (Wells 317).
In Antium, disguised “in mean apparel,” Coriolanus learns that he is near Aufidius’ home. “In his only real soliloquy, Coriolanus meditates on the change by which he, too, has come to change his allegiance and is now entering the town whose widows he has made, preparing to offer comradeship to his greatest enemy” (Wells 317): “O world, thy slippery turns!” (IV.iv.12). “There is little inwardness in Caius Martius” (Bloom 578), so it makes sense that he does not have more soliloquies. But here,
What happened? According to the previous scene, it looked as though there were a conspiracy to bring Coriolanus back, even with Voscian help. Nothing further of that is mentioned in the play…. It would almost seem, then, as though there were a missing scene here. Perhaps there should be a scene in Rome after the meeting of the Roman and Volsce, one in which the patricians are meditating treason. The news of the Volscian invasion comes, and after some soul searching, Cominius might rise and insist that the city must come before class and that even Coriolanus must be sacrificed in the greater need of the defense of Rome. And with that the conspiracy would collapse. (Asimov 243)
For why in the next scene “‘dastard nobles?’ How have they ‘forsook’ him?” (Asimov 244).
At any rate, Coriolanus resolves to propose an alliance. If he’s killed, it’s logical; if Aufidius is willing, Coriolanus will “do his country service” (IV.iv.26).
“Coriolanus should indeed have gone into exile; he might then have matured in ‘a world elsewhere.’ Instead, as Hazlitt noted with grim satisfaction, Coriolanus goes to the Volscians, and leads them against Rome, hardly an honorable enterprise, unless ‘honor’ means only the battle prowess of the individual, whatever his cause” (Bloom 580).
“Coriolanus embraces the role of actor [now], presenting himself in rags at Aufidius’s door, but only to remove his costume and show himself as himself” (Garber 793). He enters Aufidius’ house and is abused by servants until Aufidius speaks with him. “Unmuffling,” Coriolanus announces that if Aufidius does not recognize him, “necessity / Commands me name myself” (IV.v.56-57). He reveals his identity, at some length, and eventually requests either that they join forces or that Aufidius kill him.
The extreme dangers, and the drops of blood
Shed for my thankless country are requited
But with that surname — a good memory
And witness of the malice and displeasure
Which thou shouldst bear me. Only that name remains….
Aufidius is exceedingly overjoyed to welcome him — happier to see him than his own wife when they were newlyweds (IV.v.113ff)! They discuss attack plans.
“Perhaps Southampton had offered his services to Essex against an England ruled by Cecils as Coriolanus offered his to Aufidius against the Rome of Sicinius and Brutus, and for the same reason”; and/or “perhaps Essex was simply using him” (Ogburn and Ogburn 966).
Meanwhile, the servants express their awe for Coriolanus, insisting that they sensed all along that he was superhuman (IV.v.149ff). The servants are also looking forward to war: “This peace is nothing but to rust iron, increase tailors, and breed ballad-makers” (IV.v.219-220).
Sicinius and Brutus gloat, and Menenius reports that neither he nor the women have had any word from Coriolanus. But news trickles in that the Volsces are attacking. There’s even a rumor that Coriolanus is in charge of one of the enemy armies, and Brutus wants the “rumorer whipt” (IV.vi.48), but Menenius thinks the rumor is “unlikely: he and Aufidius can / No more atone than violent’st contrariety” (IV.vi.72-73). More announcements of Volscian victories motivate the tribunes’ call to the Senate.
Cominius confirms the rumors of Coriolanus joining the Volscians:
He is their god; he leads them like a thing
Made by some other deity than Nature,
That shapes man better; and they follow him
Against us brats with no less confidence
Than boys pursuing summer butterflies,
Or butchers killing flies.
Expecting mercilessness, he assures the Romans that they brought this on themselves. Menenius curses a crowd of citizens too, but they deny having demanded his banishment: “though we willingly consented to his banishment, yet it was against our will” (IV.vi.144-145)! — yet another sentence whose ending has forgotten its beginning.
A soldier tells Aufidius that the Volscian army idolizes Coriolanus. Aufidius recognizes the problems of Coriolanus’ personality and his own being eclipsed: “I cannot help it now, / Unless by using means I lame the foot / Of our design” (IV.vii.6-8). Coriolanus is a fine commander, and Aufidius won’t settle old scores until after a victory over Rome.
So our virtues
Lie in th’ interpretation of the time,
And power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair
T’ extol what it hath done.