Study Guide

Coriolanus Pride

By William Shakespeare


Would you proceed especially against
Caius Martius?
Against him first. He's a very dog to the
Consider you what services he has
done for his country?
Very well, and could be content to give
him good report for 't, but that he pays himself
with being proud. (1.1.25-33)

This is the first time we hear the plebeians accuse Coriolanus of being too "proud." According to the plebs, Coriolanus is the commoners' biggest enemy, despite his military service to Rome. But … why? Just because he's proud? Are they just annoyed that he's walking around with a big head, or has he actually done something to hurt them?

I say unto you, what he hath done
famously, he did it to that end. Though soft-conscienced
men can be content to say it was for
his country, he did it to please his mother and to be
partly proud, which he is, even till the altitude of
his virtue.
What he cannot help in his nature you
account a vice in him. You must in no way say he
is covetous. (1.1.35-43)

Okay, this is interesting, don't you think. The First Citizen thinks that Coriolanus has been Rome's biggest military champion "partly" because he's so proud and partly because he wants to "please his mother." In other words, he's not just a one-dimensional figure who's simply got too much "pride." His character and behavior are shaped by all kinds of circumstances, including family relationships. In other other words—Rome's military leaders: they're just like us!

Was ever man so proud as is this Martius?
He has no equal.
When we were chosen tribunes for the people—
Marked you his lip and eyes?
Nay, but his taunts.
Being moved, he will not spare to gird the gods—
Bemock the modest moon.
The present wars devour him! He is grown
Too proud to be so valiant. (1.1.287-295)

This is where our two scheming tribunes accuse Coriolanus of excessive pride and begin to plot his destruction. Here's the thing, Shmoopers. We can't always trust what these two tribunes have to say because their hatred of Coriolanus is also motivated by their political aspirations. Sicinius and Brutus see Coriolanus as a threat because they know he wants to take away all their power. Jealous, much?

I have some wounds upon me, and they smart
To hear themselves remembered. (1.8.32-33)

For someone who's so proud, Coriolanus can't stand to be praised in public by his peers. In fact, he sounds downright bashful here, don't you think?

You talk of pride. O,
that you could turn your eyes toward the napes
of your necks, and make but an interior survey of
your good selves! O, that you could! (2.1.38-41)

When the tribunes accuse Coriolanus of excessive pride, Menenius challenges them to take a good, hard look at themselves. Now, we don't always trust Menenius—but we think he has a point here.

God save your
good worships! Martius is coming home; he has
more cause to be proud.—Where is he wounded?
I' th' shoulder and i' th' left arm there will
be large cicatrices to show the people when he
shall stand for his place. He received in the repulse
of Tarquin seven hurts i' th' body. (2.1.149-155)

Who needs a LinkedIn page when your resume is on your body? According to Menenius and Volumnia, Coriolanus has a pretty good reason to be proud--the guy is Rome's best warrior and has saved the city from its enemies. He's got the scars to prove it.

That's a brave fellow, but he's vengeance
proud, and loves not the common people.
'Faith, there had been many great
men that have flattered the people who ne'er loved
them; and there be many that they have loved they
know not wherefore; so that, if they love they
know not why, they hate upon no better a ground.
Therefore, for Coriolanus neither to care whether
they love or hate him manifests the true knowledge
he has in their disposition and, out of his noble
carelessness, lets them plainly see 't. (2.2.5-15)

Zzzz. Seriously, we're getting a little tired of this: yeah, yeah, Coriolanus is too proud and he hates the commoners. Whatevs. What's interesting about this passage is that we're also told that Coriolanus is not alone. The other patricians hate the commoners just as much as Coriolanus does. The difference is that Coriolanus is the only one who's honest about it.

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! (3.3.150-153)

When Coriolanus gets banished from Rome, his response is to say something like "Ha! I don't think so. I banish you!," which we think is the equivalent of, "You can't fire me! I quit!" We've got to hand it to Coriolanus for having the most arrogant response ever to being exiled.

He bears himself more proudlier,
Even to my person, that I thought he would
When first I did embrace him. (4.7.9-11)

Here, Tullus Aufidius claims that Coriolanus has been acting like a proud jerk toward him. But guess what? Aufidius is lying, because he's already admitted that he's just jealous of Coriolanus' popularity with his soldiers. In fact, we could argue that it's Aufidius' pride that leads him to conspire against Coriolanus and kill him in Act 5, scene 6. Hm. The case for Coriolanus' pride is starting to look pretty shaky.

Name not the god, thou boy of tears!
Measureless liar, thou hast made my heart
Too great for what contains it. 'Boy'? O slave!—
Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads,
Stain all your edges on me. 'Boy'? False hound!
If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there
That, like an eagle in a dovecote, I
Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles,
Alone I did it. 'Boy'! (5.6.120; 123-124; 133-138)

When Tullus Aufidius taunts Coriolanus by calling him "boy," Coriolanus lets his pride get the better of him. Basically, he flips out over the insult and starts bragging about killing a bunch of Volscians during the siege of Corioles. Then he dares the Volscians to go ahead and kill him (which they do).