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by Beverly Bullock

In early Republican Rome, hungry Citizens plan a rebellion against the patricians, and especially against Caius Martius, the patrician general who makes no secret of his disdain for the people of Rome. Just as Menenius, an aristocrat that the Citizens trust, has managed to defuse their unrest, Caius Martius himself re-inflames them with his open contempt which is made the worse by the news that the Plebeians have been granted tribunes to be their particular representatives in the government. A Senator tells him that the great enemies of Rome, the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius, their fierce general, are on the march. Martius rejoices in the thought of the coming battle and leaves with the other Roman generals, Cominius and Titus Lartius.

In the Volscian capital, Corioles, Tullus Aufidius also eagerly anticipates facing Martius on the battlefield.

Martius’ mother, the formidable patrician matron Volumnia, tells her daughter-in-law, Virgilia, how she made her son into the great killing machine he is today: by sending him to war when he was just a child. Volumnia’s friend Valeria relates, approvingly, how she just saw Martius’ young son tear a butterfly apart with his teeth.

The Roman  and the Volscian forces meet and fight, in the field and in Corioles itself. Alone, Martius charges into the city and secures victory. In recognition of his almost super-human feats, he is awarded a new name: Coriolanus.

Aufidius swears that he will triumph over his Roman nemesis eventually, by trickery and treachery if not by fair means.

Volumnia insists that Coriolanus fulfill her dream by standing for the office of Consul of Rome, although the idea of the required canvassing for votes is repugnant to him. The Tribunes are just as determined that Coriolanus shall not be given the consulship, as he would surely get rid of their office. After the Citizens accede to his election, the Tribunes go to work on them, reminding them of Coriolanus’ implacable class hatred and rousing them, finally, to the verge of open revolt,and bringing Coriolanus’ worst traits to the fore by manipulating him into a rage. He is driven from Rome.

In his bitterness, Coriolanus decides to make common cause with Aufidius, and presents himself at Aufidius’ home in the Volscian city of Antium. Aufidius, at first astonished, welcomes him, and offers him joint command of the Volscian army, about to make a new assault on Rome.

The Romans, hearing that Coriolanus has turned on them and leads a vast army against them, are terrified. Cominius relates that he was coldly turned away when he pleaded for mercy. Menenius also tries to convince Coriolanus to spare his country, but is also cruelly repulsed. Finally Volumnia, Virgilia, Valeria,and his son come before Coriolanus to beg for Rome’s life. He is unable to resist his mother.

The ladies return to accept the acclamation of the Romans.

Coriolanus enters Antium, declaring that although the Volscian army did not sack Rome, they did extract an excellent peace treaty.  Aufidius and his men turn on him and  kill him.