As explained in the Language and Names theme, voices refer to literal voices and language, to opinions, and to votes, and ultimately they also represent the common people themselves. When Cominius prepares to give a speech, for example, he humbly says “I shall lack voice,” and throughout the play different characters shout over each other in public trying to make sure their voices are heard. This struggle to be heard is essentially the struggle of the common people, who have elected tribunes to speak for them. Traditionally, the people must give their voices (votes of approval) to whomever the senate elects as consul, and it’s this type of voice that Coriolanus dreads begging for, receives, and ultimately loses. Throughout this process, Coriolanus starts calling the citizens “voices,” as to him they are disembodied voices rather than people of consequence. It’s this way of thinking, and his desire to remove any power the people’s voices carry, that gets Coriolanus banished, suggesting that it’s dangerous to undervalue commoners and their voices. At the same time, the common people are shown to be extremely fickle, giving and then revoking their votes, and then later claiming that they were forced into banishing Coriolanus. Thus, the notion the people are just disembodied voices is both supported and challenged by the play.
Voices Quotes in Coriolanus
I shall lack voice. The deeds of Coriolanus
Should not be uttered feebly.
At sixteen years,
When Tarquin made a head for Rome, he fought
Beyond the mark of others. Our then dictator,
Whom with all praise I point at, saw him fight
When with his Amazonian chin he drove
The bristled lips before him. He bestrid
An o’erpressed Roman and i’ th’ Consul’s view
Slew three opposers. Tarquin’s self he met
And struck him on his knee. In that day’s feats,
When he might act the woman in the scene,
He proved best man i’ th’ field and for his meed
Was brow-bound with the oak. His pupil age
Man-entered thus, he waxèd like a sea,
And in the brunt of seventeen battles since
He lurched all swords of the garland.
Before and in Corioles, let me say,
I cannot speak him home. 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.
We have power in ourselves to do it, but
it is a power that we have no power to do; for, if
he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we
are to put our tongues into those wounds and
speak for them. So, if he tell us his noble deeds, we
must also tell him our noble acceptance of them.
Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to
be ingrateful were to make a monster of the multitude,
of the which, we being members, should
bring ourselves to be monstrous members.
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.
His nature is too noble for the world.
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder. His heart’s his
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent,
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.
MENENIUS: Return to th’ Tribunes.
CORIOLANUS: Well, what then? What then?
MENENIUS: Repent what you have spoke.
CORIOLANUS: For them? I cannot do it to the gods.
Must I then do ’t to them?
VOLUMNIA: You are too absolute,
Though therein you can never be too noble
But when extremities speak.
For in such business
Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant
More learnèd than the ears—waving thy head,
Which often thus correcting thy stout heart,
Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling. Or say to them
Thou art their soldier and, being bred in broils,
Hast not the soft way, which thou dost confess
Were fit for thee to use as they to claim,
In asking their good loves; but thou wilt frame
Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far
As thou hast power and person.
To beg of thee, it is my more dishonor
Than thou of them. Come all to ruin. Let
Thy mother rather feel thy pride than fear
Thy dangerous stoutness, for I mock at death
With as big heart as thou. Do as thou list.
Thy valiantness was mine; thou suck’st it from me,
But owe thy pride thyself.
The fires i’ th’ lowest hell fold in the people!
Call me their traitor? Thou injurious tribune!
Within thine eyes sat twenty thousand deaths,
In thy hands clutched as many millions, in
Thy lying tongue both numbers, I would say
“Thou liest” unto thee with a voice as free
As I do pray the gods.
You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
As reek o’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you!
And here remain with your uncertainty;
Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts;
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders, till at length
Your ignorance—which finds not till it feels,
Making but reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes—deliver you
As most abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising
For you the city, thus I turn my back.
There is a world elsewhere.