Plebeians vs. Patricians

“Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.”

The opening line of Coriolanus, immediately presents the general desire of the plebeians – to be heard. We are introduced to the First Citizen, a nameless plebeian who has seemingly adopted the position of a leader in threatening a rebellion.

So, what are your views and opinions on this dramatic opening?

NT: In the beginning, the audience are made to believe that the citizens “speak this in hunger of bread”, not in “thirst of revenge”. But then, with Menenius’ extended metaphor about the belly, we are given a second point of view – the view of the patricians. The use of this metaphor not only discloses the political philosophy adopted by the patricians, but also gives an organic nature to the hierarchy.

BC: In the opening scene, the second line of the First Citizen – “You are all resolved to die than to famish”, directly presents us with their second need, which is to have food. The audience is given a clear indication of the priorities of the plebeians, which results in the audience gaining sympathy for the plebeians.

SS: Shakespeare’s famed use of introducing the protagonist through the dialogue of others is once again present in Coriolanus, and the dynamic dialogue between the First Citizen and the Second Citizen offer us the differing opinions on Martius’ character – a majority of the protesters find him vile and arrogant (“a chief enemy to the people”), while some find his committed military achievements a symbol of respect and power.

'Coriolanus Addressing the Plebeians', by George Cruikshank was published in February, 1820

‘Coriolanus Addressing the Plebeians’, by George Cruikshank was published in February, 1820

 

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