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Shakespeare Study Questions for Coriolanus (Modern Library Edition)

Concepts: anagnorisis, consul, hamartia, peripeteia, tragedy, tria nomina (agnomen, cognomen, etc.); You can find many of these defined at the list of literary terms. Others we will discuss in class.

Identify the Following Characters or Peoples:

  • Caius Martius (later Coriolanus)
  • Volumnia
  • Virgilia
  • Meninus Agrippa
  • Tullus Aufidius
  • The Volsces tribe


  • What does the name Martius mean? How is that appropriate for the character?
  • How did Caius Martius gain his name Coriolanus half way through the play? Explain the Roman naming convention here of the tria nomina?
  • How is the Roman setting and the genre of tragedy characteristic of Renaissance thoughts or interests?
  • What is Caius's relationship like with his mother?
  • What is Caius's relationship like with Tullus Aufidius, or more precisely, why might we consider these two to be "frenemies" with each other?
  • Why does Caius have such a hard time getting along in his political career? What attitudes or personal traits make it hard for him to connect with the Roman "voters" or the general public?

  • none available

IDENTIFICATION PASSAGES: Become familiar with these passages. I might require you to identify the speaker, or identify who or what the speaker describes. Be able to paraphrase them, summarize them, and discuss their importance to the play generally through close reading or identification of themes.

A. If any think brave death outweighs bad life,
And that his country's dearer than himself,
Let him alone, or so many so minded,
Wave thus to express his disposition. . . .
Make you a sword of me.

B: Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius,
I had rather eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action. (1.3.24)

C: . . . You souls of geese,
That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
From slaves that apes would beat! Pluto and hell!
All hurt behind; backs red, and faces pale
With flight and agued fear! Mend and charge home,
Or, by the fires of heaven, I’ll leave the foe
And make my wars on you

D: “He had, before this last expedition, twenty-five wounds upon him."
“Now it’s twenty-seven.”

E: . . . for if
I had feared death, of all the men i' th' world
I would have Voided thee; but in mere spite,
To be full quit of those my banishers,
Stand I before thee here. Then, if thou hast
A heart of wreak in thee, that wilt revenge
Thine own particular wrongs, and stop those maims
Of shame seen through thy country, speed thee straight
And make my misery serve thy turn: so use it
That my revengeful services may prove
As benefits to thee; for I will fight
Against my cankered country with the spleen
Of all the Under Fiends.

F: “More of your conversation would infect my brain.”

G. "What must I say?
-- 'I pray, sir' -- Plague upon't! I cannot bring
My tongue to such a pace. Look, sir, my wounds.
I got them in my country's service, when
Some certain of your brethren roared and ran
From th' noise of our own drums." (II.iii.45-50)

H: You common cry of curs ! whose breath I hate
As reek o' th' rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you.
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour 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. (Act 3, scene 3)

I: . . . I talk of you [Mother]:
Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am.”

J. Action is eloquence. (Act 3 scene 2)

K.“. . . Let me twine
Mine arms about that body, where against
My grained ash an hundred times hath broke
And scarr'd the moon with splinters: here I clip
The anvil of my sword, and do contest
As hotly and as nobly with thy love
As ever in ambitious strength I did
Contend against thy valour. Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold.”all be thought most fit
For your best health and recreation.

M. “So our virtues
Lie in the interpretation of the time:
And power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair
To extol what it hath done.
One fire drives out one fire; one nail, one nail;
Rights by rights falter, strengths by strengths do fail.”!

N. [You] shall not tread on me: I'll run away till I am bigger, but then I'll fight.

O. Mark what mercy his mother shall bring from him :
there is no more mercy in him, than there is milk in a male tiger;
that shall our poor city find: and all this is long of you.

P. Hail, lords! I am returned your soldier;
No more infected with my country's love
Than when I parted hence, but still subsisting
Under your great command. You are to know,
That prosperously I have attempted, and
With bloody passage led your wars even to
The gates of Rome. Our spoils we have brought home
Do more than counterpoise, a full third part,
The charges of the action. We have made peace
With no less honour to the Antiates
Than shame to the Romans..

Q. “Cut me to pieces, Volsces; men and lads, Stain all your edges on me.
Boy! false hound! If you have writ your annals true, ’tis there,
That, like an eagle in a dove-cote,
I Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli:
Alone I did it. Boy!”




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