In a public place in Rome, Menenius, Cominius, Sicinius, and Brutus discuss Coriolanus. Menenius refuses to go beg Coriolanus for mercy, even though he was like a father to Coriolanus, since the soldier refused to hear Cominius speak. Only one time did Coriolanus use Cominius’s name, and he would not answer to “Coriolanus” or to any other names. He has become “a kind of nothing, titleless,” until he makes a new name in the fire of Rome’s burning. Menenius chides the tribunes for causing the downfall of the city. Cominius tried to petition for mercy, but Coriolanus denied him, saying pleas for mercy are futile from the state that had banished him. Even the appeal of his close friends cannot stop Coriolanus from attacking the city. The tribunes beg Menenius to go to Coriolanus, believing his words will be more effective than any Roman army.
Coriolanus said that only his new name remained, but now he has moved beyond any human identifier. He’s beyond human, but he’s also “nothing” since his entire identity was tied to Rome and now he stands poised to destroy it. He is also preventing his friends from speaking to him, since he doesn’t like to operate in the sphere of language, but the tribunes (who aren’t military strategists) believe that regarding Coriolanus, Rome’s language skills are more useful than its army.
Menenius doesn’t want to go to Coriolanus, and he is afraid that he might fail, but he thinks that Coriolanus will listen. He guesses that Coriolanus had not eaten when he refused to hear Cominius. Without food, he says, humans get cold blood and are likely to be unforgiving, while well-fed humans have a better temperament. Menenius plans to watch Coriolanus till he has eaten before going to meet him. Brutus assures Menenius that he’ll be successful, and Menenius leaves, but then Cominius immediately says that he won’t succeed. He describes kneeling before Coriolanus, who faintly said “rise” and dismissed him “with his speechless hand.” Afterwards Coriolanus sent a letter promising not to yield. Cominius thinks the only hope is that Volumnia and Virgilia are able to convince Coriolanus to spare Rome.
Menenius’ emphasis on food and temperament recalls all of the food imagery in the play and the hunger of the citizens. However, even after the citizens were given free corn they turned on and exiled Coriolanus, so Menenius is overly hopeful about the effect that being well-fed will have on Coriolanus’ mood. Coriolanus is done with words and speaking, evidenced by his single-word answers and his “speechless hand,” which threatens to destroy Rome. Cominius’ hope rests on the notion that Coriolanus’ female family can re-humanize him and get him to change his mind.