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Menenius Agrippa

Politics and the People

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Shakespeare often wrote about politics but he usually dealt with political infighting at court. Two of his Roman plays, however, deal specifically with politicians’ relationship with the people, the fickle masses. Julius Caesar and Coriolanus offer observations about these fraught relationships, which are as true today as they were both in Elizabethan and Roman times.

Like many of Shakespeare’s plays,
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Income Inequality

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In Coriolanus,  Menenius Agrippa extemporizes on an ancient version of modern day trickle-down economics. In his extended metaphor, Menenius compares the digestive and circulatory systems of the body to the economics of upper-class Romans massing wealth and food for their benefit, which he claims eventually circulates out to the masses for their benefit. The hungry poor are more persuaded by their empty stomachs than by Menenius’s intellectual reasoning and promises.
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There was a time when all the body’s members

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Menenius Agrippa
There was a time when all the body’s members
Rebell’d against the belly; thus accus’d it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I’ th’ midst a’ th’ body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labor with the rest, where th’ other instruments
Did see and hear, devise, instruct,
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Source:
Act 1
Scene 1
Line 98

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Connected Notes:
Income Inequality, Politics and the People

Worthy Cominius, speak

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Menenius
Worthy Cominius, speak.
 Coriolanus rises and offers to go away.
Nay, keep your place.
First Senator
Sit, Coriolanus. Never shame to hear
What you have nobly done.

I had rather have my wounds to heal again
Than hear say how I got them.

Coriolanus
Your Honors,
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This was my speech, and I will speak ’t again

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Coriolanus
This was my speech, and I will speak ’t again.
Menenius
Not now, not now.
First Senator
Not in this heat, sir, now.

In soothing them, we nourish ’gainst our senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition,
Which we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and scattered

Coriolanus
Now,
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Source:
Act 3
Scene 1
Line 83

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On fair ground I could beat forty of them

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Coriolanus
On fair ground
I could beat forty of them.
Menenius Agrippa
I could myself
Take up a brace o’ th’ best of them, yea, the two tribunes.
Cominius
But now ’tis odds beyond arithmetic,
And manhood is call’d foolery when it stands
Against a falling fabric.
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Source:
Act 3
Scene 1
Line 308

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His nature is too noble for the world

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His nature is too noble for the world;
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for’s power to thunder. His heart’s his mouth;
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent,
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.
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Source:
Act 3
Scene 1
Line 326

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Repent what you have spoke

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Menenius
Repent what you have spoke.
Coriolanus
For them? I cannot do it to the gods.
Must I then do ’t to them?
Volumnia
You are too absolute,
Though therein you can never be too noble
But when extremities speak. I have heard you say
Honor and policy, like unsevered friends,
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Source:
Act 3
Scene 2
Line 48

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