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Quotes

Quote #1

We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularise their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them. (1.1.15-22)

When the play opens, the Citizens riot in the streets of Rome because they're starving and the aristocrats have been hoarding the city's food supplies by setting the cost of grain too high for the plebs to be able to afford it. Here, one of the starving plebs argues that the patricians are literally and figuratively getting fat while the lower classes suffer. Sounds like it's time to occupy Rome.

Quote #2

Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge. (1.1.22-24)

Look. Shakespeare's not saying you should go out and start a riot or anything, but he's not exactly blaming the plebeians for picking up their "pikes," either. They're starving, after all, and it seems pretty clear that the patricians have been taking advantage of them.

Quote #3

I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state, whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it, and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you, and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies. (1.1.65-78)

Here, Menenius tries to calm down the angry plebs by telling them that the patrician class cares for them like "fathers" care for their children. Aside from being totally condescending, this passage is interesting because it portrays Roman society as one, big, happy family. Well, except for the "happy." In fact, the entire play portrays the patricians as really bad parents. In a complex society like Rome, those who hold all the power have an obligation to care for the common people just like parents have an obligation to care for their kids.

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