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Quotes

Quote #1

Second Citizen

Would you proceed especially against Caius Martius?

All

Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.

Second Citizen

Consider you what services he has done for his country? (1.1.26-28)

From the very beginning, this play asks us to think about whether or not being a military hero automatically makes someone a good civic leader or politician. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't.) On the one hand, Coriolanus has served Rome by defending it against its enemies, so people feel obligated to vote for him when he runs for public office. But he doesn't exactly look out for their best interests once he's back in the city. When the play opens, we find out that he's partially responsible for the high grain prices, which means he's partially responsible for the fact that the plebeians are starving. Maybe he thinks their lives are only worth preserving on the battlefield.

Quote #2

CORIOLANUS

What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. (1.1.2-4)

Okay. It's obvious that Coriolanus can't stand the plebs and thinks they're a bunch of cowards when it comes to warfare. But is he right? After all, the plebeians really are cowards in this play. Notice how they're always running away in fear and doing their best to avoid battle? And how all the skillful and brave warriors are aristocrats? Maybe the lower classes really are inferior to the patricians. (Then again, maybe they just haven't been trained in warfare from birth.)

Quote #3

Messenger
The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.

MARTIUS

I am glad on 't: then we shall ha' means to vent
Our musty superfluity. See, our best elders. (1.1.224-226)

Here, Coriolanus says war with the Volscians might not be such a bad idea—it's a good chance for Rome to get rid of a bunch of "musty" plebeians by letting them die in battle. How efficient.

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