11% of the text is displayed below. If you wish to view the entire text, please click here

Scœna Prima.

The Tragedy of Coriolanus Pope: The whole history is exactly followed, and many of the principal speeches exactly copied from the life of Coriolanus in Plutarch.—Malone: This play I conjecture to have been written in the year 1610. [See Appendix: Date.] It comprehends a period of about four years, commencing with the secession to the Mons Sacer in the year of Rome 262 [492 B. C.], and ending with the death of Coriolanus A. U. C. 266 [B. C. 488].—Coleridge (iv, 100): This play illustrates the wonderful impartiality of Shakespeare's politics. His own country's history furnished him with no matter but what was too recent to be devoted to patriotism. Besides, he knew that the instruction of ancient history would seem more dispassionate. In Coriolanus and Jul. Cæs. you see Shakespeare's good-natured laugh at mobs. Compare this with Sir Thomas Brown's aristocracy of Spirit.

Actus Primus. Scœna Prima. Miss C. Porter (First Folio Sh.): During this act use of the entire stage space available is indicated. During Scœna Prima, including what Rowe first called ‘scene ii,’ the action passed to and fro upon the ample fore-stage, which in the Globe Theatre jutted far out into the pit and gave room for the stalking about of the Mutinous Citizens, and later served, during what was first marked by Rowe as scene iv, and scenes vi, vii, ix, and x, so first marked by Capell, for the frays of Romans and Volscians, simulating warfare.

Scœna Prima Mrs Griffiths (p. 431): The nature and reasoning of all mutinous caballers are fully shown in this short scene. The common people are apt to impute all national grievances or calamities to the fault of their rulers, tho' ever so unavoidable from the nature of things, failure of seasons, or other

incidental misfortunes whatsoever. If freedom of speech and the liberty of the press were not restrained in Turkey, I make no doubt but a Mussulman populace would charge the plague to the account of their Sultans or their Viziers. In the same scene that abatement of esteem and praise, which is the natural consequence of persons appearing to over-rate their own merits, more especially when this is betrayed by showing pride or contempt to others, is very justly remarked on.— Courtenay (ii, 212), who cares in general but little for dramatic effect as compared with historic accuracy, here remarks that the secession of the Plebeians to the Mons Sacer was in protest at the actions of the Patricians and that ‘the opening of the play (though placed in a street in Rome) is evidently meant to represent this occurrence. But Shakespeare has not followed Plutarch as to the cause of this separation, or mutiny, as he represents it. The dearth of corn of which the citizens complain did not occur at this time; the present cause of complaint arose of the severe laws of debtor and creditor, which while all the wealth was in the hands of the patricians, enabled them to oppress with cruel severity those plebeians who had been compelled to become their debtors, and who were consequently liable to be claimed as their slaves. And it was on this occasion that Menenius Agrippa related the celebrated fable of the Belly and the Members, and also that Tribunes of the people were first appointed. The complaint was not of power usurped, or arbitrarily used by an aristocracy privileged by birth so much as of “the rich men who had driven them out of the city . . . and that they were hurt with continual wars and fighting in defence of the rich man's goods.” It was the moneyed aristo<*>racy by which they were oppressed. And though the old man, in the moral of his fable, likens the nourishment afforded by the belly to the wholesome counsels of the Senate, yet the fable itself rather describes the possessors of wealth, who were said “to send it out again for the nourishment of other parts.”’— Wordsworth (Hist. Plays, i, 115): Courtenay's objection [to the locality of this scene] is obviated when we consider that Shakespeare has plainly intended to combine the two causes of insurrection. See the First Citizen's speech in this scene (ll. 81-87). In point of fact, according to Livy, when the second insurrection took place (through want of corn) Menenius was dead.—Verity (Student's Sh.): This first scene is a singularly comprehensive introduction. It shows us the political conditions at Rome, focuses interest straightway (l. 11) on the protagonist of the tragedy, and illuminates his character and motives in a few phrases which practically epitomise what ensues. ‘Chief enemy to the people’; ‘he pays himself with being proud’; ‘he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud,’ these are key-notes, ‘leading motives,’ introduced in the overture and repeated at intervals through the piece. And when Coriolanus himself appears we have an immediate example of his pride and enmity to the people, and a foreshadowing of that military prowess which accentuates the pitiful tragedy of his end.—E. K. Chambers: The object of the first Act is the glorification of Coriolanus. This is a tragedy; that is, essentially, the story of the failure and ruin of a soul which is at least greatly planned. In order then that we may be affected tragically the element of greatness in Coriolanus must first be established. Coriolanus is, in his way, an idealist; he idealizes himself as a man of honour. And in the war with Corioles, which occupies scenes iv. to x. of the Act, our attention is directed to those qualities in him which justify that ideal, his valour and magnanimity on the field of battle. He is the ‘flower of warriors.’ His defects are lightly touched, not yet emphasized.

1. Citizen. Before . . . speake Delius (Jahrbuch, v, 268): The Plebeians, in their turbulence and among themselves, can only give vent to their lust for revolt in a form of prose, which in the mouth of the first Citizen, as spokesman of the crowd, has a somewhat euphuistic tinge. Menenius, who as chief humorist of the drama in another scene speaks in prose, must here, as intercessor, guard his cultured authority when confronting the great rabble and speak in blank verse, in which also the spokesman citizen replies in his dispute with Menenius.

Caius Martius Miss C. Porter (First Folio Sh.): The name is so given in North's Plutarch (1579). The deplorable habit of ‘emending’ and modernizing is evident in Rowe's change to Marcius, ever since followed, obscuring Shakespeare's source for this and other forms of spelling. [Reference to the Text. Notes will show that Theobald, and not Rowe, is responsible for the change in spelling. Theobald's classical knowledge evidently did not permit the use of the Latin adjective Martius (of, or belonging to, Mars) when the name of the Latin gens Marcius was required. In a letter to Warburton, dated Feb. 12, 1729-30, he says: ‘The succeeding editions will do well, I think, to write Marcius, for the family name was Μάπκιος, and not Martius, a Marte’ (Nichols, ii, 478). It is true that the name is uniformly spelt Martius by North, and so also by Holland in his translation of Livy. Possibly this was due to Italian influence on the English spelling of Latin names at that period.—Ed.]

a Verdict Craigie (N. E. D., s. v. 3.): A decision or opinion pronounced or expressed upon some matter or subject; a finding, conclusion, or judgment.— Beeching (Henry Irving Sh.): Perhaps a sly hit at trial by jury.

the Patricians good Farmer: ‘Good’ is here used in the mercantile sense. So, Touchstone in Eastward Hoe: ‘—known good men, well monied.’ [Malone adds, as another example oſ this use of the word: ‘Antonio's a good man.’—Mer. of Ven., I, iii, 12. According to Schmidt (Lex.) the present passage, and that quoted by Malone, are the only examples of ‘good’ used in this restricted sense.—Ed.]

one The Text. Notes show how universal is the agreement that the change by the editor of F3 of ‘one’ to on was necessary.—W. A. Wright says: ‘On the other hand, in III, i, 172, “Where one” is printed in the Folios “Whereon.” That on and “one” were pronounced very much alike appears from such printers' errors. as well as from Love's Labour's Lost, IV, ii, 85, 86: “Master Parson, quasi pers one An if one should be pierced, which is the one?”’—Miss C. Porter, a staunch advocate for retention of all F1 readings, maintains that ‘the text may be explained as meaning, what the authority of law surfeits the one side with would relieve us. He carries on the argument to this effect. If they would yeelde us but the superfluitie of grain before it spoiled they might be supposed not to intend to wrong us; since they do not, it must be concluded that they intend to gain by wronging us. It is all arranged by law to surfeit the one side with what they take by means of law or authority.’ Miss Porter also calls attention to the merging of the two uprisings, as in Plutarch, into a single one by Shakespeare. See notes by Courtenay and Wordsworth, l. 2 ante.—Ed.

yeelde vs but W. A. Wright: ‘But’ qualifies not ‘the superfluity,’ but the verb ‘yield.’ If they would only yield us the superfluity while it were wholesome, and not when it is good for nothing.

while it were For this construction see Abbott (§§ 302, 367).

guesse Case (Arden Sh.): That is, think. Schmidt gives two other instances of ‘guess’ in this sense from 1 Henry VI: II, i, 29, and Henry VIII: II, i, 47. The N. E. D. gives several early English (no Elizabeth) examples; it quotes a 1400 Prymer (Early Eng. Text Soc.), 64: ‘Gessist thou not (Vulg. putasne) that a deed man shall live agen?’

they thinke we are too deere Johnson: That is, they think that the charge of maintaining us is more than we are worth.

the obiect of our misery Collier (Notes and Emend., etc., ed. i, p. 346): The earliest manuscript emendation [in Coriolanus] cannot be called a necessary one; but still it seems, taking the context into account, a considerable improvement, and may, perhaps, be admitted on the evidence of the MS. Corrector. It occurs in the speech of 1. Cit.: ‘—the abjectness of our misery.’ For abjectness the common reading has been ‘object’; that is to say, the sight of our misery; but the speaker has talked of the ‘leanness’ of the poor citizens of Rome, and he follows it up by the mention of the abjectness of their misery. This substitution could hardly have proceeded from the mere taste or discretion of the old corrector, but still it is hardly wanted. [Collier nevertheless adopts it in his ed. iii.—Ed.]—Anon. (New Readings, etc., Blackwood's Maga., Sep., 1853, p. 319): In his first emendation the MS. Corrector betrays his ignorance of the right meaning of words. The term ‘object,’ which nowadays is employed rather loosely in several acceptations, is used by Shakespeare in this passage in its proper and original signification. For ‘object’ we should, nowadays, say spectacle. But the Corrector cannot have known that this was the meaning of the word, otherwise he surely

never would have been so misguided as to propose the term abjectness in its place. ‘This substitution,’ says Mr Collier, ‘could hardly have proceeded from the mere taste or discretion of the old corrector.’ No, truly; but it proceeded from his want of taste, his want of discretion, and his want of knowledge.—Singer (Sh. Vindicated, p. 207): ‘Hardly wanted,’ indeed! How could ‘object’ be mistaken for abjectness? Their misery was the object which served by comparison to make the Patricians the more satisfied with their own abundance, and thus the sufferings of the Plebs were a gain to them. What should we gain by the adoption of this needless piece of pragmatic interference? The correctors never think of the poet, but of their own ingenuity in finding faults where none exist.—Wordsworth (Historical Plays, p. 115) omits the words ‘the object of our misery’ on the ground that he ‘suspects the reading.’—Leo (Sh. Notes, p. 18) says: ‘If we mentally supply which is before “the object’ no misunderstanding is possible.’ [A remark which clearly indicates that Leo quite misunderstood the passage and its bearing on what precedes and follows it.—Ed.]—Beeching (Henry Irving Sh.): ‘Object’ in the sense object of sight is quite ordinary modern English. We speak of ‘object- lessons,’ ‘of writing with the eye upon the object,’ &c. The peculiarity here is its use in this sense with preposition ‘of.’ The only other instance of this in Shakespeare is Tro. & Cress., II, ii, 41: ‘And reason flies the object of all harm.’

an inuentory to particularize W. A. Wright: That is, to point out in detail, and more emphatically. The less we have, the more they have.—Deighton: Our suffering serves, by way of contrast, to make them mindful of their own wellfed condition; each particular of our want corresponding to some particular of their abundance.

Pikes . . . Rakes Warburton: It was Shakespeare's design to make this fellow quibble all the way. But time, who has done greater things, has here stifled a miserable joke, which was then the same as if it had been now wrote, ‘Let us now revenge this with forks, ere we become rakes,’ for pikes then signified the same as forks do now. So Jewel, in his translation of his Apology, turns ‘Christianos ad furcas condemnare’ to ‘To condemn Christians to the pikes.’— Johnson: It is plain that, in our author's time, we had the proverb, ‘as lean as a rake.’ Of this proverb the origin is obscure. Rækel, in Islandick, is said to mean a cur-dog, and this was probably the first use among us of the word rake; ‘as lean as a rake’ is, therefore, as lean as a dog too worthless to be fed. [Johnson hazards the conjecture that ‘rake,’ as used in the proverb, may be in the sense of ‘a dissolute man, a man worn out with disease and debauchery.’ His own objection, that this sense is later than the proverb, is shown to be well founded, as the earliest use of ‘rake,’ a dissolute man, is given by the N. E. D. as 1653.— Skeat (Dict., s. v. (2)) gives its derivation as from M. E. rakel-rash. According to Skeat the Icelandic reikall means simply wandering, unsettled, and has not the restricted meaning given by Johnson.—Ed.]—Steevens, in reference to Johnson's

application of the proverb to the condition of a cur dog, says: ‘It may be so: and yet I believe the proverb owes its origin simply to the thin taper form of the instrument made use of by hay-makers.’ In support of this he quotes: ‘As lene was his hors as is a rake.’—Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue, ed. Tyrwhitt, v. 281; and also: ‘His body lean and meagre as a rake.’—Spenser, Faerie Queene, Bk II, cant. xi, verse xxii, l. 2.—Deighton: In ‘rakes’ the comparison is to the bones of an animal showing below the skin as distinctly as the teeth of a rake; a comparison made clear by a passage from A Pleasant Dispute between a Coach and a Sedan, 1636, quoted by Malone on Lear, III, vi, 78: ‘. . . The dogges are as leane as rakes; you may tell all their ribbes lying by the fire.’ [Deighton here, I think, but furnishes another example of the phrase. The appearance of the ribs as a mark of extreme emaciation need not necessarily be compared to that of the teeth of a rake. Launcelot says: ‘I am famished in his service; you may tell every finger I have on my ribs.’—Mer. of Ven., II, ii, 114.—Ed.]

All Malone: This speech, I believe, ought to be assigned to the First Citizen.—Dyce (ed. i.): The context seems to favour this alteration. [Dyce in his ed. ii. records Malone's conjecture, but omits his agreement thereto.—Ed.]

a very dog Gordon: He means pitiless, heartless. Compare: ‘He is a stone, a very pebble stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog.’—Two Gentlemen, II, iii, 10-12. It is singular how ſew good words Shakespeare has for the dog.

what For other examples of ‘what’=that which, see Abbott (§ 252).

he did it to please his Mother Miss Latham (Sh. Soc. Trans., 1887

92, p. 69): This, the first mention of Volumnia, immediately follows that of Coriolanus, as though to link the two characters indissolubly together, and when we examine the great tragedy we find them so closely connected that any study of the one must needs include the other. Volumnia's daily thoughts, her joys and sorrows, the whole work of her life are so centred in her only son that she can hardly be said to have any existence independent of him, while if he has a separate life of his own, most of his faults, and many of his gifts, are either inherited from her, or have been developed under her training, so that his character may truly be said to be rooted in hers.

to be partly proud Capell (I, pt i, p. 80) maintains that the reading of F1 and of Hanmer (see Text. Notes) are both ‘faulty’; ‘for,’ he continues, ‘waving other objections that might be made to them, neither of them agrees with the context. The speaker sets out with ascribing all Marcius’ actions to pride; he is check'd for it by his mates, but adheres to his text in his answer, with this slight difference—that perhaps indeed the pleasing his mother might be some motive to Marcius, but his pride was his chief; and then proceeds to set forth the degree of his pride—that it was a full balance to all his virtues, however great they might be. And this being the Author's intention in the speeches refer'd to, it follows that “partly” must have stood in the place it now occupies [that is, preceding “to please”] and was mov'd out of it by mistake of the printer's.’— Staunton: This may mean, partly to please his mother, and because he was proud; but we believe the genuine text would give us ‘and to be portly proud.’ [Leo, in his edition published four years after Staunton's, also makes this same conjecture, quoting in corroboration of this use of portly: ‘Rudely thou wrongest my deare heart's desire, In finding fault with her too portly pride.’ Spenser, Amoretti, verse v.—Ed.]—Dyce (ed. ii.): Lettsom conjectures pertly; that is, openly, clearly.—C. & M. Cowden Clarke: We think the sentence is one of those clumsily expressed sentences which Shakespeare purposely and characteristically places in the mouths of his common speakers: the phrase here meaning, ‘he did it chiefly to please his mother and partly for his own pride's sake.’ The man has just before said of Coriolanus, ‘he pays himself with being proud.’—Abbott (§ 420) gives other examples of a like transposition of the adverb.

to the altitude of his vertue Steevens quotes as a similar metaphor, ‘He's traitor to the height.’—Henry VIII: I, ii, 214, but this is not, I think, quite parallel.—Case (

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: