Coriolanus

Coriolanus Act 5, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Summary
Analysis
Menenius approaches the Volscian camp outside of Rome, where he is greeted by two members of the Volscian watch. They ask him what he is doing there, and tell him to leave. He says he has come to speak with Coriolanus from Rome, but they do not let him pass, since Coriolanus does not want to receive any more guests from Rome. One watchman tells Menenius that he’ll see Rome in flames before he gets the chance to talk to Coriolanus. Menenius tries using his name to get him admittance, hoping that Coriolanus has mentioned him, but the watch says that his name has no meaning there.
Coriolanus has become title-less, and even other names that hold weight in Rome become meaningless around him. Coriolanus doesn’t want to change his mind and he doesn’t want to speak; all he desires is to make war and get revenge. The watchmen’s threats heighten the tension and drama of the scene, underscoring the potential that Coriolanus might really burn down Rome.
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Menenius keeps pressing, saying the general is his “lover.” He has been like a book of Coriolanus’s good acts, chronicling his deeds and constantly praising him. But the two members of the watch continue refusing him, despite his pleas, saying that Coriolanus will not see anyone, and Rome should prepare itself for fires and executions. The watchmen begin threatening Menenius if he doesn’t leave, and then Coriolanus and Aufidius enter, asking what’s the matter. Menenius tells the watchmen that now they’ll see that he cannot be kept from his son Coriolanus. He believes that Coriolanus’s reception of him will lead to a cruel punishment for the guards who denied him for so long.
The continued threats continue heightening the drama. Menenius really has been an advocate for Coriolanus, and “lover” adds to the strong homosocial bond Coriolanus had with Menenius before the exile. Rather than sexual undertones, this relationship carries a paternal quality, especially since Menenius calls Coriolanus his son. His expected greeting from Coriolanus, though, shows that he overestimates the strength of this bond, or underestimates how far Coriolanus is from being his usual self.
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Menenius then greets Coriolanus, calling himself his father, Coriolanus his son, and beginning to weep. He says Coriolanus is preparing fire for Rome, but his tears might be water to put that fire out. He explains that he’s been pushed to meet Coriolanus as the only one who might convince him to pardon Rome.
Menenius’ tears and emotional response to reuniting with the man he thinks of like a son shows how stereotypically feminine traits can bleed into masculine familial relationships.
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In response, Coriolanus only says “away!” and claims that he knows no wife, mother, or child, and he’s working for the Volscians now. Though he also wants revenge on Rome, the power to pardon Rome and stop the attack lies with the Volscians, not him. The fact that they know each other doesn’t help Menenius, since Menenius failed to defend Coriolanus before his banishment. Coriolanus sends Menenius away, but also gives him a letter that he has written because they were so close. He will not speak another word, he says, before briefly introducing Aufidius and then exiting.
After being banished, Coriolanus said that his old names were gone, and now so is his new one. In refusing these names and turning his back on the city, Coriolanus has also become disconnected from his Roman family, so he rejects them as well. Coriolanus shows that his loyalty is to the patricians and the class structure above all else, since even after leaving Rome, he now remains steadfastly devoted to Volscian nobles. Coriolanus will exchange written words with his friends, but not spoken words.
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The two members of the watch taunt Menenius, but he responds that he doesn’t care, telling the Volscians to do their worst, and exits. One watchman says that Menenius is a noble fellow, but the other says that it’s Coriolanus who is noble, calling him “the rock, the oak not to be wind-shaken.”
Coriolanus is further characterized as both unmovable in his values and as something more than human. He is so heroic and steadfast that he becomes a rock or a strong oak tree.
Themes
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Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon