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Coriolanus is based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. The play opens in Rome shortly after the expulsion of the Tarquin kings. There are riots in progress, after stores of grain were withheld from ordinary citizens. The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Martius, a brilliant Roman general whom they blame for the grain being taken away.
Part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World set.
This book has 152 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1608.
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Excerpt from 'Coriolanus'
Rome. A street.
[Enter a company of mutinous citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons.]
FIRST CITIZEN. Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
ALL. Speak, speak.
FIRST CITIZEN. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
ALL. Resolved, resolved.
FIRST CITIZEN. First, you know Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.
ALL. We know't, we know't.
FIRST CITIZEN. Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price. Is't a verdict?
ALL. No more talking on't; let it be done: away, away!
SECOND CITIZEN. One word, good citizens.
FIRST CITIZEN. We are accounted poor citizens; the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us; if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved 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; our sufferance is a gain to them.—Let us revenge this with our pikes ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.
SECOND CITIZEN. Would you proceed especially against Caius Marcius?
FIRST CITIZEN. Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.
SECOND CITIZEN. Consider you what services he has done for his country?
FIRST CITIZEN. Very well; and could be content to give him good report for't, but that he pays himself with being proud.
SECOND CITIZEN. Nay, but speak not maliciously.
FIRST CITIZEN. I say unto you, what he hath done famously he did it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say it was for his country, he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud; which he is, even to the altitude of his virtue.
SECOND CITIZEN. What he cannot help in his nature you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.
FIRST CITIZEN. If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition. [Shouts within.] What shouts are these? The other side o' the city is risen: why stay we prating here? to the Capitol!
ALL. Come, come.
FIRST CITIZEN. Soft! who comes here?
SECOND CITIZEN. Worthy Menenius Agrippa; one that hath always loved the people.
FIRST CITIZEN. He's one honest enough; would all the rest were so!
[Enter MENENIUS AGRIPPA.]
MENENIUS. What work's, my countrymen, in hand? where go you
With bats and clubs? the matter? speak, I pray you.
FIRST CITIZEN. Our business is not unknown to the senate; they have had inkling this fortnight what we intend to do, which now we'll show 'em in deeds. They say poor suitors have strong breaths; they shall know we have strong arms too.
MENENIUS. Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,
Will you undo yourselves?
FIRST CITIZEN. We cannot, sir; we are undone already.
MENENIUS. I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state; whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment: for the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it; and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you; and you slander
The helms o' th' state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.
FIRST CITIZEN. Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.
MENENIUS. Either you must
Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
Or be accus'd of folly. I shall tell you
A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;
But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture
To stale't a little more.
FIRST CITIZEN. Well, I'll hear it, sir; yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an't please you, deliver.