William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus: Act 1, Scene 10 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
A bloodied Tullus Aufidius enters the Volscian camp with some Volscian soldiers. Aufidius reports that the town has been taken, but a soldier believes that Rome will give the city back on good terms. Aufidius says he wishes he were a Roman, since in being a Volscian, he cannot be himself; furthermore, he doesn’t believe Rome will agree to any such terms. He laments that he has fought with and lost against Martius five times, and he knows that Martius would beat him every time, even if they fought as often as they eat.
The naïve Volscian soldier demonstrates the effect that Coriolanus lambasted in Rome: common citizens speak as if they know the situation, but in reality, they’re unaware of relevant political information or truth. Aufidius knows better than to think that Rome might easily surrender any territory without more fighting. Again, violence is equated to food and nourishment.
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Aufidius swears by the elements that if he and Martius meet again “beard to beard,” one will kill the other. Yet no longer does their rivalry have honor, for while Aufidius once hoped to best Martius in hand to hand combat (“sword to sword”), he now hopes some craft or other method will help him win. A soldier calls Martius the devil, and Aufidius says that Martius is even bolder than the devil, though less subtle. Nothing in the world, he says, can lift his hatred of Martius, whom he still hopes to kill. He instructs the Volscian soldiers to gather information about the Roman occupation, and they go their separate ways.
Aufidius’ oaths are intense, but also hard to believe, since the two men were sworn to fight to the death when they last fought only moments ago. Fighting “beard to beard” means man to man, but it also suggests imagery of the two men kissing, adding sexuality to the blurred, homosocial/military rivalry between Aufidius and Coriolanus. The homosexual undertone is reinforced with phallic imagery in “sword to sword.” Aufidius aptly comments that Coriolanus is extremely bold but lacking in the subtle skills of language and political maneuvering.
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