Coriolanus

Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism Symbol Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism Symbol Icon

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

The Coriolanus quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Coriolanus published in 2009.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there’s all the love they bear us.

Related Characters: Roman Citizens (speaker), Menenius Agrippa
Related Symbols: Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism
Page Number: 1.1.87-88
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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.

Related Characters: Menenius Agrippa (speaker), Roman Citizens
Related Symbols: Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism, Body Parts
Page Number: 1.1.98-163
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt moll

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

For
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
scattered
By mingling them with us, the honored number,
Who lack not virtue, no, nor power, but that
Which they have given to beggars.

Related Characters: Caius Martius / Coriolanus (speaker), Roman Citizens, Sicinius Velutus, Junius Brutus
Related Symbols: Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism, Voices
Page Number: 3.1.87.97
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus, Virgilia, Sicinius Velutus, Junius Brutus
Related Symbols: Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism
Page Number: 4.2.68-72
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism Symbol Timeline in Coriolanus

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hunger, Food, and Cannibalism appears in Coriolanus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
...out to make sure that his fellow people are prepared to die instead of go hungry. He names Caius Martius as “chief enemy of the people,” and says that the people... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
The first Roman citizen says that the surplus food that the ruling class “surfeits” on would be more than enough to humanely feed the... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
...for the citizens. They should direct all complaints about desires and their suffering in the famine to heaven, since it’s the gods causing everything, not the Roman state. The common people... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
The second Roman citizen, though, remains convinced that the patricians are causing the famine, that they support usury (illegally lending money at high interest), and that they prop up... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
...idle and doing nothing. The mutinous body parts claimed that the belly stored all the food without doing any of the labor, like walking, seeing, hearing, feeling, or thinking. The second... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
...was deliberate in his answer. The belly responded that it’s true that he receives the food that the whole body lives on first, since he is the storehouse of the body,... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...says, that the commoners are rising up against the senators who keep the citizens from devouring each other. (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Menenius tells Caius Martius that the people want “corn at their own rates,” since they believe the city has a surplus of corn. Martius... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
...city, and Caius Martius reports that the group has dissolved after saying that they were hungry and listing proverbs and demands, until they were granted a strange resolution. The city has... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...go home, but Martius says they should follow, since the Volsces have a lot of corn. The citizens disband anyways, and the soldiers and Roman senators exit, leaving the two tribunes... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...on how poorly Martius reacted when they were named tribunes, and hope that the wars devour him. He has become too proud, which they believe is dangerous. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 9
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...into battle after fighting alone within the city gates, comparing it to coming to a feast having fully dined before. (full context)
Act 1, Scene 10
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Family and Femininity Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...Menenius comments that the common people do not like Martius, saying that they want to “devour him.” The three men discuss whether Martius is more like a wolf or lamb or... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...says the first citizen, would make them look bad, for even though they revolted over corn, Coriolanus didn’t call them the “many-headed multitude,” as the citizens have been called by so... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...says that it’s no plot; Coriolanus mocked the people, and when they were given free corn during the famine, he called them “foes to nobleness.” Coriolanus replies that they knew this... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...remains furious. He refuses to apologize for what he said about the people receiving free corn. He calls the people “the mutable, rank-scented many,” and says that conceding anything to the... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
...Coriolanus continues ranting. He says that whoever had the idea to give the people state-owned corn for free only fed the people’s disobedience and “fed the ruin of the state.” Brutus... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
...opinions are much more meaningful than the voices of the people. The people know the corn was not given to them as a reward, since they did nothing to earn it.... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
How did the “bosom multiplied digest” the senate’s kindness, Coriolanus asks? They decided that they got what they want since they... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Language and Names Theme Icon
Family and Femininity Theme Icon
...a day to “unclog [her] heart” and yell at them. Menenius asks if she will eat dinner with him, but she responds “Anger’s my meat. I sup upon myself.” She tells... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 4
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...face covered. He calls Antium a “goodly city,” but says that he is responsible for creating its widows. Therefore he has disguised himself, so that the wives and children of men... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 5
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
...Cotus, and then exits. Coriolanus enters and comments on Aufidius’s “goodly house”, saying that the feast smells good. The first servant enters again and asks what Coriolanus is doing there, telling... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...him. Aufidius still does not, so Coriolanus says he is Caius Martius, who has done great harm to the Volscians and to Aufidius personally, and has therefore been surnamed Coriolanus. For... (full context)
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...how Aufidius has been outmatched. Outside of Corioles, Coriolanus bested Aufidius and could even have eaten him if he were “cannibally” inclined. The third servant continues with his news, saying that... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Family and Femininity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
...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... (full context)