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Coriolanus

Written: c. 1608; Text: First Folio 1623 (Tragedy); no quarto editions
Sources: Holinshed, Raphael (c. 1528-c. 1580). The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. (2nd ed., 1587): William Baldwin ed). The Mirror for Magistrates (1559 ed.); Anonymous. Frederyke of Jennen 3rd ed., (1560); Anonymous. The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (performed 158, printed 1589); Boccaccio, Giovanni (1313-75). Decameron 2nd Day, 9th story
Characters: Coriolanus (Caius Martius), Menenius Agrippa, Sicinius Velutus, Cominius, Volumnia, Tullus Aufidius, Junius Brutus, Firgilia
Setting: Rome, Corioles, Atrium
Time: 494-490 BC

Populism, Fascism and Machiavelli all appear as themes in this political drama. Even the “trickle-down” theory of economics gets its moment, but Shakespeare uses the digestive and cardiovascular systems as analogies for the distribution of wealth. The patricians are compared to the stomach that hordes the food while the plebeians are the body's extremities, which in time will get what they need. Coriolanus is perhaps Shakespeare's least subtle or internally conflicted tragic character.

Pandering, Contempt and the Masses

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Many of Shakespeare’s plays deal with political intrigue at court between political leaders. However, in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, more than in other plays, the themes address the relationships between political leaders and the masses. Since both plays are set in historic Rome and not in Shakespeare’s England, they can deal with the themes of democracy and the wisdom of the populace to govern themselves through a republican form of representation.
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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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Political Rhetoric and the Masses

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Brutus’s tour de force of interwoven rhetorical devices in Julius Caesar (3.2.14) sways the crowd away from their anger at the assassins to cheering them. This speech, however, is outdone by Mark Antony’s masterpiece of manipulation (3.2.82), which whiplashes the crowd back to outrage and riot. But, in fact, Brutus had failed in his speech even before Mark Antony opened his mouth.
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We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good

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We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians goodEllipsis. What authority surfeits on would relieve us. If they would yield us but the superfluity while it were wholesome, we might guess they reliev’d us humanely; but they think we are too dear. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance;
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Act 1
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Income Inequality

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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Act 1
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Line 98

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Income Inequality

What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues

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What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion
Make yourselves scabsMetaphor
?…
He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
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Act 1
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Pandering, Contempt and the Masses

The Volsces are in arms

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First Roman Senator
The Volsces are in arms.
Caius Martius
They have a leader,
Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to’t.
I sin in envying his nobility;
And were I any thing but what I am,
I would wish me only he.
Cominius
You have fought together?
Caius Martius
Were half to half the world by th’ ears,
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Act 1
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All tongues speak of him

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All tongues speak of him, and the bleared sights
Are spectacled to see himSynecdoche
. Your prattling nurse
Into a rapture lets her baby cry
While she chats him; the kitchen malkin pins
Her richest lockram ’bout her reechy neck,
Clamb’ring the walls to eye him; stalls, bulks, windows
Are smother’d up, leads fill’d,
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Act 2
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You are sent for to the Capitol

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You are sent for to the Capitol. ‘Tis thought
That Martius shall be consul.
I have seen the dumb men throng to see him, and
The blind to hear him speak. Matrons flung gloves,
Ladies and maids their scarfs and handkerchers,
Upon him as he pass’d; the nobles bended,
As to Jove’s statue, and the commons made
A shower and thunder with their caps and shouts.
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Act 2
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Line 292

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That’s a brave fellow; but he’s vengeance proud

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First Officer
That’s a brave fellow; but he’s vengeance proud, and loves not the common people.
Second Officer
Faith, there hath been many great men that have flatter’d the people, who ne’er lov’d them; and there be many that they have lov’d, they know not wherefore; so that, if they love they know not why, they hate upon no better a ground.
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Act 2
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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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Our spoils he kick’d at

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Our spoils he kick’d at,
And look’d upon things precious as they were
The common muck of the world. He covets less
Than misery itself would give, rewards
His deeds with doing them, and is content
To spend the time to end it.
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Act 2
Scene 2
Line 142

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And to make us no better thought of, a little help will serve

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First Roman Citizen
And to make us no better thought of, a little help will serve; for once we stood up about the corn, he himself stuck not to call us the many-headed multitude.
Third Roman Citizen
We have been call’d so of many, not that our heads are some brown, some black, some abram, some bald, but that our wits are so diversely color’d;
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Act 2
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