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at all into their estimation and report; but he hath so planted his honours in their eyes, and his actions in their hearts, that, for their tongues to be silent, and not confess so much, were a kind of ingrateful injury; to report otherwise were a malice that, giving itself the lie, would pluck rebuke and reproof from every ear that heard it.
1 Off. No more of him ; he is a worthy man.
Most sweet voices! Better it is to die, better to starve, Than crave the hire which first we do deserve. Why in this wolvish gown should I stand here, To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear, Their needless vouches ? Custom calls me to it :What custom wills in all things should we do't, The dust on antique time would lie unswept, And mountainous error be too highly heap'd For truth to o'er-peer. Rather than fool it so, Let the high office and the honour go To one that would do thus.”
And when told by the tribunes that the people refuse to confirm the election, he breaks out, in strict accordance with the character and habits assigned to him by Plutarch, and in spite of the remonstrance of his friends :
“ Cor. Now, as I live, I will.—My nobler friends, I crave their pardons : But for the mutable, rank-scented many,
Let them regard me, as I do not flatter, and
All this is taken, even verbally in some parts, from a speech which Plutarch assigns to Coriolanus, in opposing a suggestion for delivering out to the people, gratis, the corn that had been purchased by the government in the time of dearth ;—and further,
“ Cor. Whoever gave that counsel to give forth The corn of th' store-house gratis, as 'twas us'd Sometime in Greece(Though there the people had more absolute pow'r), I say they nourish'd disobedience, fed The ruin of the state."
Much besides, to the effect of refusing the demands of the people, lest concession should be attributed to fear, is borne out by Plutarch ; but Shakspeare, who was, I can have no doubt, what we should now call an ultra-tory, adds much also of his own :
“ Cor. No, take more: What may be sworn by, both divine and human, Seal what I end withal !—This double worship,Where one part doth disdain with cause, the other Insult without all reason; where gentry, title, wisdom, Cannot conclude but by the yea and no Of general ignorance,—it must omit Real necessities, and give way the while To unstable slightness, purpose so barr'd, it follows Nothing is done to purpose. Therefore, beseech you, You that will be less fearful than discreet; That love the fundamental part of state More than you doubt the change of ’t, that prefer A noble life before a long, and wish To jump a body with a dangerous physick, That's sure of death without it, at once pluck out The multitudinous tongue, let them not lick The sweet which is their poison. Your dishonour Mangles true judgment, and bereaves the state Of that integrity which should become it; Not having power to do the good it would, For the ill which doth control it.”
It is with skill and judgment, as well as with sufficient general support from his authority, that Shakspeare has ascribed to the influence of Volumnia Coriolanus's final appearance before the people; when, though he had undertaken to preserve moderation, he broke out in language so violent as to cause the people to condemn
him to death-a sentence afterwards softened to banishment from Rome.
“When they expected to have heard very humble and lowly words come from him, he began not only to use his wonted boldness of speaking (which of itself was very rough and unpleasant, and did more aggravate his accusation, than purge his innocency), but also gave himself in his words to thunder, and moreover did look therewithal so grimly, as he made no reckoning of the matter."
The offer of service to the Volscians, and the hostile approach to Rome, is a part of the story of Coriolanus which one would gladly suppress; but it is told by his biographer. Shakspeare has added some characteristic disavowals by the citizens, of each man's part in the banishment of the enraged chief:
“ 1 Cit. For mine own part, when I said, Banish him, I said, 'twas pity.
2 Cit. And so did I, and to say the truth, so did very many of us. That we did, we did for the best, and though we willingly consented to his banishment, yet it was against our will...
i Cit. The gods be good to us! Come, masters, let's home. I ever said, we were in the wrong when we banished him.
2 Cit. So did we all !”
It is now time to notice the female personages of this interesting drama. Shakspeare introduces us to the mother and wife of his hero, and their friend Valeria. This last-mentioned lady is mentioned by Plutarch, as the sister of Publicola, and has a part assigned to her, as we shall see presently. Of the wife, Virgilia, the biographer only tells us that Coriolanus married her at his mother's request. The poet had therefore to model her by his own fancy, and he has painted her with his usual skill, as Mrs. Jameson says, so as to make “a fine contrast between the haughty temper of Volumnia, her admiration of the valour and high bearing of her son, and her proud but unselfish love for him, with the modest sweetness, and the conjugal tenderness of his wife Virgilia."*
In all that Mrs. Jameson says of Volumnia, I fully concur; yet it is remarkable that this lady, though she cites North’s translation, has not perceived that the “ admirable stroke of art” which traces the achievements of Coriolanus to his desire to please his mother, is not Shakspeare's, but Plutarch's. I cannot quite agree to bestow the epithet, graceful, upon the first scenet in which the ladies are introduced. The
* Charact. ii. 177.
† Act i. Sc. 3.