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Act I, Scene 1

Rome. A street.


[Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves,] [p]clubs, and other weapons]

  • All. Speak, speak.
  • First Citizen. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish? 5
  • All. Resolved. resolved.
  • First Citizen. First, you know Caius CORIOLANUS 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? 10
  • All. No more talking on't; let it be done: away, away!
  • 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 15
    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 particularise their abundance; our
    sufferance is a gain to them Let us revenge this with 20
    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 CORIOLANUS?
  • All. Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.
  • Second Citizen. Consider you what services he has done for his country? 25
  • First Citizen. Very well; and could be content to give him good
    report fort, but that he pays himself with being proud.
  • First Citizen. I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did
    it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be 30
    content to say it was for his country he did it to
    please his mother and to be partly proud; which he
    is, even till 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. 35
  • 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! 40
  • All. Come, come.


  • Second Citizen. Worthy Menenius Agrippa; one that hath always loved
    the people. 45
  • First Citizen. He's one honest enough: would all the rest were so!
  • Menenius Agrippa. 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, 50
    which now we'll show 'em in deeds. They say poor
    suitors have strong breaths: they shall know we
    have strong arms too.
  • Menenius Agrippa. Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,
    Will you undo yourselves? 55
  • Menenius Agrippa. 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 60
    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 65
    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' the state, who care for you like fathers,
    When you curse them as enemies. 70
  • First Citizen. Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us
    yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses
    crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to
    support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act
    established against the rich, and provide more 75
    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 Agrippa. Either you must
    Confess yourselves wondrous malicious, 80
    Or be accused 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 85
    fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an 't please
    you, deliver.
  • Menenius Agrippa. There was a time when all the body's members
    Rebell'd against the belly, thus accused it:
    That only like a gulf it did remain 90
    I' the midst o' the body, idle and unactive,
    Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
    Like labour with the rest, where the other instruments
    Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
    And, mutually participate, did minister 95
    Unto the appetite and affection common
    Of the whole body. The belly answer'd—
  • Menenius Agrippa. Sir, I shall tell you. With a kind of smile,
    Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus— 100
    For, look you, I may make the belly smile
    As well as speak—it tauntingly replied
    To the discontented members, the mutinous parts
    That envied his receipt; even so most fitly
    As you malign our senators for that 105
    They are not such as you.
  • First Citizen. Your belly's answer? What!
    The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye,
    The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,
    Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter. 110
    With other muniments and petty helps
    In this our fabric, if that they—
  • Menenius Agrippa. What then?
    'Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? what then?
  • First Citizen. Should by the cormorant belly be restrain'd, 115
    Who is the sink o' the body,—
  • First Citizen. The former agents, if they did complain,
    What could the belly answer?
  • Menenius Agrippa. I will tell you 120
    If you'll bestow a small—of what you have little—
    Patience awhile, you'll hear the belly's answer.
  • Menenius Agrippa. Note me this, good friend;
    Your most grave belly was deliberate, 125
    Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer'd:
    'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,
    'That I receive the general food at first,
    Which you do live upon; and fit it is,
    Because I am the store-house and the shop 130
    Of the whole body: but, if you do remember,
    I send it through the rivers of your blood,
    Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain;
    And, through the cranks and offices of man,
    The strongest nerves and small inferior veins 135
    From me receive that natural competency
    Whereby they live: and though that all at once,
    You, my good friends,'—this says the belly, mark me,—
  • Menenius Agrippa. 'Though all at once cannot 140
    See what I do deliver out to each,
    Yet I can make my audit up, that all
    From me do back receive the flour of all,
    And leave me but the bran.' What say you to't?
  • Menenius Agrippa. The senators of Rome are this good belly,
    And you the mutinous members; for examine
    Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly
    Touching the weal o' the common, you shall find
    No public benefit which you receive 150
    But it proceeds or comes from them to you
    And no way from yourselves. What do you think,
    You, the great toe of this assembly?
  • Menenius Agrippa. For that, being one o' the lowest, basest, poorest, 155
    Of this most wise rebellion, thou go'st foremost:
    Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run,
    Lead'st first to win some vantage.
    But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs:
    Rome and her rats are at the point of battle; 160
    The one side must have bale.
    Hail, noble CORIOLANUS!
  • Coriolanus. Thanks. What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
    That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, 165
    Make yourselves scabs?
  • Coriolanus. 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, 170
    The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
    Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;
    Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no,
    Than is the coal of fire upon the ice,
    Or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue is 175
    To make him worthy whose offence subdues him
    And curse that justice did it.
    Who deserves greatness
    Deserves your hate; and your affections are
    A sick man's appetite, who desires most that 180
    Which would increase his evil. He that depends
    Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
    And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
    With every minute you do change a mind,
    And call him noble that was now your hate, 185
    Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,
    That in these several places of the city
    You cry against the noble senate, who,
    Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
    Would feed on one another? What's their seeking? 190
  • Menenius Agrippa. For corn at their own rates; whereof, they say,
    The city is well stored.
  • Coriolanus. Hang 'em! They say!
    They'll sit by the fire, and presume to know
    What's done i' the Capitol; who's like to rise, 195
    Who thrives and who declines; side factions
    and give out
    Conjectural marriages; making parties strong
    And feebling such as stand not in their liking
    Below their cobbled shoes. They say there's 200
    grain enough!
    Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
    And let me use my sword, I'll make a quarry
    With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high
    As I could pick my lance. 205
  • Menenius Agrippa. Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded;
    For though abundantly they lack discretion,
    Yet are they passing cowardly. But, I beseech you,
    What says the other troop?
  • Coriolanus. They are dissolved: hang 'em! 210
    They said they were an-hungry; sigh'd forth proverbs,
    That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,
    That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not
    Corn for the rich men only: with these shreds
    They vented their complainings; which being answer'd, 215
    And a petition granted them, a strange one—
    To break the heart of generosity,
    And make bold power look pale—they threw their caps
    As they would hang them on the horns o' the moon,
    Shouting their emulation. 220
  • Coriolanus. Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,
    Of their own choice: one's Junius Brutus,
    Sicinius Velutus, and I know not—'Sdeath!
    The rabble should have first unroof'd the city, 225
    Ere so prevail'd with me: it will in time
    Win upon power and throw forth greater themes
    For insurrection's arguing.

[Enter a Messenger, hastily]

  • Messenger. The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.
  • Coriolanus. I am glad on 't: then we shall ha' means to vent 235
    Our musty superfluity. See, our best elders.
    [Enter COMINIUS, TITUS LARTIUS, and other Senators;]
  • First Senator. CORIOLANUS, 'tis true that you have lately told us;
    The Volsces are in arms. 240
  • Coriolanus. 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. 245
  • Coriolanus. Were half to half the world by the ears and he.
    Upon my party, I'ld revolt to make
    Only my wars with him: he is a lion
    That I am proud to hunt. 250
  • First Senator. Then, worthy CORIOLANUS,
    Attend upon Cominius to these wars.
  • Coriolanus. Sir, it is;
    And I am constant. Titus TITUS, thou 255
    Shalt see me once more strike at Tullus' face.
    What, art thou stiff? stand'st out?
  • Titus Lartius. No, Caius CORIOLANUS;
    I'll lean upon one crutch and fight with t'other,
    Ere stay behind this business. 260
  • First Senator. Your company to the Capitol; where, I know,
    Our greatest friends attend us.
  • Titus Lartius. [To COMINIUS] Lead you on.
    [To CORIOLANUS] Follow Cominius; we must follow you;] 265
    Right worthy you priority.
  • Coriolanus. Nay, let them follow:
    The Volsces have much corn; take these rats thither 270
    To gnaw their garners. Worshipful mutiners,
    Your valour puts well forth: pray, follow.
    [Citizens steal away. Exeunt all but SICINIUS]
    and BRUTUS]
  • Junius Brutus. Being moved, he will not spare to gird the gods. 280
  • Junius Brutus. The present wars devour him: he is grown
    Too proud to be so valiant.
  • Sicinius Velutus. Such a nature,
    Tickled with good success, disdains the shadow 285
    Which he treads on at noon: but I do wonder
    His insolence can brook to be commanded
    Under Cominius.
  • Junius Brutus. Fame, at the which he aims,
    In whom already he's well graced, can not 290
    Better be held nor more attain'd than by
    A place below the first: for what miscarries
    Shall be the general's fault, though he perform
    To the utmost of a man, and giddy censure
    Will then cry out of CORIOLANUS 'O if he 295
    Had borne the business!'
  • Sicinius Velutus. Besides, if things go well,
    Opinion that so sticks on CORIOLANUS shall
    Of his demerits rob Cominius.
  • Junius Brutus. Come: 300
    Half all Cominius' honours are to CORIOLANUS.
    Though CORIOLANUS earned them not, and all his faults
    To CORIOLANUS shall be honours, though indeed
    In aught he merit not.
  • Sicinius Velutus. Let's hence, and hear 305
    How the dispatch is made, and in what fashion,
    More than his singularity, he goes
    Upon this present action.