By William Shakespeare

Act IV

Coriolanus is banished from Rome and joins Aufidius, who after regrouping his army, prepares to march on a now vulnerable Rome. Under the Tribunes, Roman citizens enjoy a period of peace and prosperity until the news of the imminent arrival of the Volscian army, and more Coriolanus' presence with them, precipitates further political crisis. Aufidius, struck by envy at Coriolanus' popularity amongst the Volsci, vows to destroy Coriolanus after they have defeated Rome.

Act IV, scene i

At the gates of Rome, Coriolanus leaves his family and friends. The tears of the women make him uneasy, and his castigation of the people is as vehement as ever, scorning 'The beast / With many heads butts me away' (ll.1-2). He draws attention that while 'common chances common men could bear' he, 'Will exceed the common, or be caught / With cautelous baits and practice.' (ll.32-3) Coriolanus may exceed the common, but the cautelous baits will mark his end. Cominius offers to accompany Coriolanus (l.38); on parting, the hero makes a declaration of his unchanging beliefs and attitudes:

'While I remain above the ground you shall
Hear from me still, and never of me aught
But what is like me formerly.'

Act IV, scene ii

In Rome, the pacific rule of the Tribunes is contrasted with the hard-edged approach of Coriolanus - 'Now we have shown our power, / Let us seem humbler after it is done / Than when it was a-doing.' (ll.2- 5) They are approached by Menenius, Virgilia and Volumnia.

Sicinius asks Volumnia, 'Are you mankind?' (l.16) In effect the Tribune is scorning her politicised, aggressive and violent approach and involvement in Roman civic life. It is unnatural for a woman to be so. Volumnia misunderstands, and retorts - 'Are you human?' Still enraged after bidding farewell to her son at the city gates, Volumnia venomously questions the Tribunes' political cunning and deviousness - 'Hadst thou foxship / To banish him that struck more blows for Rome / Than thou hadst spoken words?' (ll.18-20) Volumnia can never dispel her obsession with martial feats in appraisal of her son, and the effect is to juxtapose the barbaric brutality of Coriolanus and the battlefield with the civility of Roman politics and its oratory; violence against reason. Her language at this point is dominated by violence (e.g. ll. 23- 7). Volumnia makes an allusion to the classical story of Juno but with the emphasis that while Juno destroyed Troy she will save Rome.

Act IV, scene iii

This scene prepares the ground for the military union of Coriolanus with Aufidius. A day's travel from Rome, the Roman traitor Nicanor meets a Volscian. The pair talk of the rioting in Rome, of which the Volscian already has been informed, yet is surprised to learn of Coriolanus' banishment. The resultant weakness of Rome will provide the ideal opportunity for a Volscian invasion, already in preparation - alluding to this he declares, 'I have heard it said, the fittest time to corrupt a man's wife is when she's fallen out with her husband' (ll.31-3).

Act IV, scene iv

Coriolanus enters in 'mean apparel' and has acquired the 'gown of humility'. The martial hero has become transformed into the tragic hero - the process in comparable to that of Richard III, as we are thrown from political to personal, human drama. The transformation is expressed in Coriolanus' only soliloquy. Arriving in Antium, he stands among the widows of his long-standing enemies. The immediate reflection is his responsibility, 'Tis I that made thy widows'. He acknowledges his vulnerability when deprived of his sword and armies, and stands off the battlefield.

Coriolanus seeks directions to Aufidius' house; on his way he pauses to soliloquise (ll.12-22). The hero manages self-justification for his betrayal of Rome by seeing the past events and the world as in a state of flux. Cast out from Rome, Coriolanus must seek acceptance elsewhere. On his departure from Rome in scene one, we are still under the belief that Coriolanus' commitment to his own idea of Rome - the Rome of the patricians - remains intact. Here we are given insight into the hatred he feels for the city: 'My birthplace hate I' (l.23), total rejection and complete disdain.

Act IV, scene v

Coriolanus and Aufidius meet for the first time without drawn swords. Coriolanus is prevented from entering Aufidius' house by the servants, who are concerned by his weathered appearance. The exchange with the Third Servant parallels with the blood- soaked imagery of, though now Coriolanus rather than the appearance of the god of war recalls Death. Aufidius, after remarking on his appearance, fails to recognise his foe, and asks 'thy name?... / Speak man: what's thy name?' (ll.54-5) After the sixth appeal Coriolanus reveals his identity. The emphasis on the 'surname' and 'service' reiterates Coriolanus' need to find a cause for his allegiance declared at the end of the preceding scene - it is the last word of scene iv and is picked up in the first line of the fifth. The two kinds of service, domestic and military, private and public, become entangled and confused with a sexual element (ll.46-9). This echoes Nicanor's imagery of adultery to sketch the vulnerability of Rome (IV.iii.31-3). This implicitly draws attention to the question - does the service Coriolanus is offering the Volscians have more fidelity than that of the adulterer? Coriolanus' lengthy speech to Aufidius answers this. He complains his title is all his 'thankless country' ever gave him for his endeavours. What Coriolanus laments being denied is political power and authority, the senatorial office. It is now possible to understand his contempt, his utter hatred, for the patricians who empowered the plebeians to banish him. Coriolanus' wrath then, will be directed against Rome, against those who betrayed him - 'Against my canker'd country with the spleen / Of all the under Fiends' (ll.92-3) - he now needs Aufidius to join him. Aufidius embraces Coriolanus in a manner that recalls how Coriolanus and Cominius had embraced in the first act. The Volscian commander recalls his wedding night (ll.117- 19). Whether these interactions between martial figures in the play constitute a form of homoeroticism is debatable.

Aufidius and Coriolanus exit, leaving the remainder of the scene to the two servants, and with their departure drama and the onset of 'comedy'. They acknowledge the power Coriolanus is able to exert, and that he is the superior of their own master (ll. 150-75). We are informed of Coriolanus' acceptance into Aufidius' household on the arrival of a third party, the Third Servingman (ll.199-202). The servants discuss the merits of war - though they admit war is 'a ravisher', 'peace is a great maker of cuckolds'. The First Servingman argues that peace 'makes men hate one another' and demands 'Let me have war, I say. It exceeds peace as / far as day does night / ... peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy, mulled, / deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children / than war's a destroyer of men.' (ll.325-32)

For Coriolanus was has fundamental purposes; the war against the Volscians extended the glory of the state, of himself and his family, and reduced the plebeian mass. Now war against Rome is for the fallen hero the remedy he will apply to the diseased state. Rather than destructive, immoral or evil, war is perceived as just, moral and inaugurating growth or improvement.

Act IV, scene vi

We return to Rome, where under the Tribunes, the city is bustling and prospering - hence Sicinius' reference to 'Our tradesmen singing in their shops' (l.8). Even Menenius concedes the Tribunes are governing well (l.16). However there are rumours in Rome of the gathering Volscian army; the Tribunes know their political position is in jeopardy should these rumours be true. Thus the Tribunes seek to quieten the rumours, particularly when word reaches Rome that Coriolanus has joined with the Volscians. Menenius struggles to believe this, but it is confirmed by Cominius.

At the beginning of the scene we see the best of the Tribunes with prosperity and temporary peace they have brought to Rome; at its end we see them at their worst - fickle and divisive.

Act IV, scene vii

Returning to the Volscian army, Aufidius discusses the effect Coriolanus has had over the soldiers. In contrast with his failure to win over the Roman citizens, Coriolanus has captivated the Volscian army and people. Aufidius is predictably begrudging of Coriolanus, but puts necessity before personal rivalry, for the moment (ll.6-8). Aufidius' thoughts traverse as he considers Coriolanus' fall from Rome and in observing 'our virtues / Lie in th' interpretation of the time' (ll.49-50), comments on the importance of circumstances or timing of an event for its success.