William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus: Similes 4 key examples

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Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 9
Explanation and Analysis—In Manacles:

As Coriolanus continues to resist the attempts of the Roman generals to lavish honors upon him, Cominius, the commander-in-chief of the Roman army, becomes increasingly forceful in his demands that Coriolanus accept the praise and gifts that he feels are due to him. Frustrated, he threatens to use force against Coriolanus, comparing him in a simile to a man who has been locked in an asylum: 

Too modest are you, 
More cruel to your good report than grateful 
To us that give you truly. By your patience, 
If ’gainst yourself you be incensed, we’ll put you, 
Like one that means his proper harm, in manacles, 
Then reason safely with you. Therefore be it known, 
As to us to all the world, that Caius Martius 
Wears this war’s garland, in token of the which 
My noble steed, known to the camp, I give him, 
With all his trim belonging. 

His language here is forceful, refusing to take “no” for an answer. Coriolanus, he argues, has exceeded the appropriate amount of modesty and has in fact been ungrateful to his superiors, who simply want to reward him for his achievements. Warning Coriolanus to stop resisting, Cominius threatens to lock him up in manacles, “Like one that means his proper harm.” Here, Cominius compares Coriolanus, in a simile, to a man who has to be restrained in order to prevent him from injuring himself. He draws from the imagery associated in Shakespeare’s day with mental asylums, which were often more like prisons than hospitals. 

Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—A Thing of Blood:

In the second Act of the play, Coriolanus stands as the favored candidate for the consulship of Rome. Cominius, who has pushed Coriolanus to get involved in politics despite his clear disinterest, uses a number of literary devices, including simile, imagery, and hyperbole, in a flattering speech that presents Coriolanus to the Roman masses in heavily idealized language. Describing Coriolanus’s heroic actions in the battle against the Volscians, Cominius states: 

He stopped the flyers
And by his rare example made the coward
Turn terror into sport. As weeds before
A vessel under sail, so men obeyed
And fell below his stem. His sword, Death’s stamp,
Where it did mark, it took; from face to foot
He was a thing of blood, whose every motion
Was timed with dying cries. Alone he entered
The mortal gate o’ th’ city, which he painted
With shunless destiny; aidless came off
And with a sudden reinforcement struck
Corioles like a planet.

In a simile, Cominius notes that the soldiers of the Roman army moved around Coriolanus “as weeds” (that is, seaweed) move around a “vessel under sail.” Using vivid imagery, Cominius depicts Coriolanus as a cyclone of death, a “thing of blood” whose every movement is accompanied by “dying cries” of his enemies. Hyperbolically, Cominius claims that Coriolanus was an army of one, moving through the gates of Corioli alone, painting the walls of the city with blood, and striking the enemy capital forcefully, “like a planet.” Cominius’s grand if exaggerated speech is calculated to impress the Roman masses and win the consulship for Coriolanus.  

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Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Honor and Policy:

When Coriolanus returns home after his disastrous attempt to court the public vote in the marketplace of Rome, his mother and wife respond with alarm to news that the plebeians have called for his execution. Volumnia employs logos in her attempt to persuade her son to return to the marketplace and placate the crowds with gentle, compromising speech: 

I have heard you say ‘
Honor and policy, like unsevered friends, 
I’ th’ war do grow together. Grant that, and tell me 
In peace what each of them by th’ other lose 
That they combine not there? 

Tush, tush! 

A good demand. 

If it be honor in your wars to seem 
The same you are not, which for your best ends 
You adopt your policy, how is it less or worse 
That it shall hold companionship in peace 
With honor as in war, since that to both 
It stands in like request?

In a simile, Volumnia notes that Coriolanus has, in the past, acknowledged that “honor” and “policy” are “like unsevered friends” that “do grow together” in times of war. In other words, Coriolanus recognizes that brave “honor” on the battlefield complements the “policy” or strategy of military generals. Why then, Volumnia asks, does Coriolanus not recognize the importance of strategy off the battlefield? She argues that he should be more willing to employ cunning and deception, just as war strategies often require such tricks, without loss of honor. Using logos, then, she reasons with her enraged son, asserting that the same policies that dictate success on the battlefield can be put into practice in times of peace. 

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Act 4, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Son and Heir to Mars:

After his banishment from Rome, Coriolanus travels to Corioli, a Volscian city, where he finds the court of his former nemesis Aufidius and declares his loyalty to the Volscians, hoping to revenge himself upon Rome. Rather than turning Coriolanus away, Aufidius welcomes him with open arms, treating the Roman warrior with a high degree of honor, respect, and admiration. The Third Servingman, a commoner employed by Aufidius, uses simile, metaphor, and allusion in describing Coriolanus’s treatment in the Volscian court: 

Why, he is so made on here within
as if he were son and heir to Mars; set at upper end
o’ th’ table; no question asked him by any of the
senators but they stand bald before him. Our general
himself makes a mistress of him, sanctifies
himself with ’s hand, and turns up the white o’ th’
eye to his discourse. But the bottom of the news is,
our general is cut i’ th’ middle and but one half of
what he was yesterday, for the other has half,
by the entreaty and grant of the whole table. He’ll go,
he says, and sowl the porter of Rome gates by th’ears.

​​Coriolanus, the Servingman claims, has been treated “as if he were son and heir to Mars.” Through this simile, the Third Servingman compares Coriolanus to a god or half-god. More specifically, he alludes to Mars, the Roman god of war, reflecting Coriolanus’s status as a prolific warrior in battle. Aufidius, conversely, “makes a mistress” of his former enemy, a metaphor that suggests Aufidius is carefully courting Coriolanus in the manner of a lover. 

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