Hunger and food are immediately introduced as the crucial driving force of the riots that open the play: the people are hungry and they demand corn, mirroring food revolts from Shakespeare’s own time. And as soon as hunger is introduced, a citizen must clarify that the people are hungry only for food and not for revenge, showing that food and hunger can represent both the literal and figurative desires of the common people. In contrast, the language of gluttony and excess is used to describe the aristocracy. Food in the play is thus equated with power and control, with the plebeians being hungry and the patricians being gluttonous. This idea is also illustrated when Menenius describes the “body politic,” as he calls the Roman Senate the belly that gathers and then distributes food to the other body parts.
As the play becomes more and more bloody, food is also used to describe acts of violence. When Coriolanus enters battle for a second time, Cominius says he is coming to a “feast having fully dined before.” Finally, the power struggle becomes so intense and the hunger of the people so strong that they figuratively “devour” Coriolanus himself, totally consuming his life (and power) when they banish him from Rome.
Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism Quotes in Coriolanus
If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there’s all the love they bear us.
There was a time when all the body’s members
Rebelled against the belly, thus accused it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I’ th’ midst o’ th’ body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labor with the rest, where th’ other instruments
Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
And, mutually participate, did minister
Unto the appetite and affection common
Of the whole body.
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’ th’ common, you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds or comes from them to you
And no way from yourselves.
The mutable, rank-scented meiny, let them
Regard me, as I do not flatter, and
Therein behold themselves. I say again,
In soothing them, we nourish ’gainst our senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition,
Which we ourselves have plowed for, sowed, and
By mingling them with us, the honored number,
Who lack not virtue, no, nor power, but that
Which they have given to beggars.
Anger’s my meat. I sup upon myself
And so shall starve with feeding.
Come, let’s go.
Leave this faint puling, and lament as I do,
In anger, Juno-like. Come, come, come.