By William Shakespeare

Act II

Rome awaits news of the war with the Volscians. With Coriolanus' success will come political power. However Coriolanus' known contempt for the plebeians leads to the development of the Tribunes' hostility towards the martial hero. The Tribunes intrigue against Coriolanus, although his heroism on the battlefield and its subsequent popularity for him encourages the soldier to make a bid for the office of consul.

Act II, scene i

In Rome it is announced the news from the field of battle can be expected by nightfall as an augurer, i.e. a Roman pagan religious official, has made a prediction. Menenius et al propose to use Coriolanus' success in war to have him elected consul. The dispute over Coriolanus' alleged pride uncovers some of the underlying social and political tensions in Rome between the nobles and the Tribunes. The rudeness of the patrician class to the plebeians is offset by the courtesies they exchange between themselves.

Volumnia and her party arrive with news of Coriolanus' return. Menenius enquires about Coriolanus' wounds, but not from sympathy for Rome's latest military hero - wounds have political potential he is keen to exploit. This distresses Virgilia. Insightful, Volumnia also realises the political potential of her son's wounds in his bid for the consulship (ll.146-8).

In Coriolanus, a tenderness in his concern for his wife is accompanied by an insensitivity for the fate of the Corioli and their widows - emphasised by Volumnia, 'before him he carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears'.

It is apparent to the Tribunes that by virtue of his recent heroism Coriolanus will become popular among the people; and they also realise their own fate if 'the chief enemy to the people' should become consul - namely an end to plebeian political representation (ll.220-1). Yet Brutus and Sicinius console themselves in the martial hero's 'soaring insolence' or pride, which they believe, will not allow him the humility to address the citizens. Thus they intend to insist on custom for Coriolanus' bid for power.

Act II, scene ii

Two officers enter to prepare the Capitol for the senators. Their purpose is to reveal issues of the coming election. The First Officer describes Coriolanus as 'a brave fellow', but notes he is 'vengeance proud, and loves not the common people' (ll.5-6). Conversely, the Second Officer questions whether Coriolanus' alleged pride and contempt is worse than the falseness and flattery through which other men ascend to political power. The First Officer retorts that Coriolanus is not indifferent - he loathes the plebeians. The dialogue is cut short as the patricians and Tribunes assemble and the issues the Officers had been discussing are explored further. Cominius' interest is in eulogising Coriolanus for his heroism in the war. Coriolanus doubts his ability to speak before the citizens:

'I cannot
Put on the gown, stand naked, and entreat them
For my wounds' sake to give their suffrage'
(ll. 136-8)

and admits,

'It is a part
That I shall blush in acting, and might well
Be taken from the people'

Note how Coriolanus admits he will have to attempt to deceive the people, something he doubts he is capable of doing, because of his underlying social prejudice against the lower orders. Coriolanus' humility or modesty (even to the extent of embarrassment at times) in his martial achievements is set against his pride in social prejudice. Menenius realises the Tribunes' machinations, yet they insist that the constitutional process be observed fully.

Act II, scene iii

According to custom, Coriolanus stands before the citizens of Rome to appeal for their vote. In II.ii it became apparent that Coriolanus had no respect for custom. Yet he manages to submit up to a point, enduring the task by treating it with mockery. The citizen's realise they have a limited scope of power in politics, and believe if Coriolanus will rule well, then they are obliged to give him their vote. The Third Citizen assesses the position: 'if he would incline to the people, there was never a worthier man' (ll. 39- 40). But the citizens know even if they choose Coriolanus he will continue to despise them, yet feel compelled by custom.

Sympathy now falls on the Tribunes, who see their hopes temporarily dashed. The voters were meant to have pressed Coriolanus for an election promise the Tribunes hoped would make him lose his temper:

'so putting him to rage,
You should have ta'en th' advantage of his choler,
And pass'd him unelected.'
(ll. 196-7)

However the result of the election has yet to be decided and the Tribunes make this their new target. They plan to arrive at the Capitol before the citizens, 'And this shall seem, as partly 'tis, their own, / Which we have goaded onward.' (ll.260-1) The methods or craft of the Tribunes are devious and underhanded, but this is the harsh reality of the political world of Rome.