Act V Scenes ii-vi
Act V, scene ii
Menenius reaches the Volscian camp, and asks to see Coriolanus. The sentry refuses to let him into the camp. Coriolanus emerges with Aufidius. Menenius addresses Coriolanus as his son, and begs him not to attack Rome. Coriolanus sends him away, saying that he has disowned all who were dear to him in Rome since it proved ungrateful. Aufidius admires Coriolanus's constancy in refusing to listen to the pleas of his former friends. Broken-hearted, Menenius heads back to Rome.
Act V, scene iii
Coriolanus tells Aufidius that the next day, they will besiege Rome. He asks Aufidius to report to the Volscian lords after the battle that Coriolanus served them loyally. Aufidius agrees that Coriolanus has been so faithful to the Volscian cause that he has refused all the pleas of his old friends from Rome. Coriolanus reveals that out of compassion for Menenius's fatherly love for him, he has given him a letter to take to Rome offering the Volscians?terms. But Rome has already refused these terms once, so Coriolanus knows that it cannot now accept them.
Volumnia enters with Virgilia, Coriolanus's son Martius, and Valeria. As they bow to him, Coriolanus feels his resolve melt. Reversing the Roman tradition of filial duty whereby the child would kneel before the parent, Volumnia kneels before Coriolanus. When Volumnia presents Martius to Coriolanus, Coriolanus prays that he always remains invulnerable to disgrace. He begs Volumnia not to ask him to abandon his attack on Rome, since he cannot grant her request. Undaunted, Volumnia tells him that because of him, she and the rest of his family cannot pray to the gods, as if they pray for their birth land, they pray that Coriolanus loses the war. If he does lose, then he will be led through the streets of Rome in disgrace as a deserter; if he wins, then it will be by shedding his mother's, wife's, and child's blood. She begs him to make a peace that will benefit both Volscians and Romans, so that he will be thanked by both sides. She says that if he destroys Rome, his name will be forever cursed.
When Coriolanus turns away from her, unwilling to be persuaded, Volumnia orders all of her party to kneel to him. She says that they will return to Rome and wait to be killed. Coriolanus, momentarily speechless, takes her by the hand. He says that the gods are laughing at this "unnatural scene?(V.iii.184), in which a mother kneels to beg favors from her son, when it should be the other way around. He tells his mother that she has persuaded him: she has won a victory for Rome, but she has done him a grave injury, since by obeying her, he breaks his word to the Volscians. He tells Aufidius that he will make peace with Rome, and asks him to stand by him. Aufidius tells the audience that he is pleased that Coriolanus has given him an excuse to take revenge on him and regain his own former reputation.
Act V, scene iv
In Rome, Menenius is frightening Sicinius by telling him that there is no hope that Volumnia's mission will succeed, and that Rome's fall will be Sicinius's fault. A messenger enters with the news that the plebeians have seized Brutus and are threatening to kill him if the women do not succeed. A second messenger enters and announces that the women have succeeded; the Volscians have left camp with Coriolanus. A sound of music and celebrations breaks out, as the Roman citizens greet Volumnia, who is returning in triumph to Rome.
Act V, scene v
At the gates of Rome, Senators welcome Volumnia and her party, accompanied by a crowd of citizens. A Senator hails Volumnia as the savior of Rome.
Act V, scene vi
In the Volscian city of Corioli, Aufidius is preparing with a band of conspirators to bring down Coriolanus. He sends a letter to the lords of the city accusing Coriolanus of making peace with the Romans. Coriolanus is on his way to Corioli and intends to persuade the Volscians that he has acted in their interests. Aufidius lists his grievances against Coriolanus, which amount to his appearing as Coriolanus's follower rather than his equal partner. He is resolved that Coriolanus will die, and that he himself will regain his former glory.
The Volscian people are heard greeting Coriolanus as a hero, with cheers and music. A Conspirator points out that Aufidius had no such welcome.
The Lords of the city enter, having read Aufidius's letter. They agree that Coriolanus has committed serious crimes. These include denying the Volscians any more spoil from Rome than paid the expenses of the Volscian attack; and agreeing a peace treaty with Rome when Rome was yielding to the Volscians.
Coriolanus enters, surrounded by cheering citizens. He greets the Lords and Aufidius, reminding them that he is still loyal to the Volscians. Contradicting Aufidius's claim that Coriolanus only returned the cost of the expedition to Rome, he says that the spoils have produced a profit of one-third the cost. He adds that the Volscians have acquired honor through the peace agreement. He offers a copy, signed by the consuls and patricians, to the Lords to read.
Aufidius asks the Lords not to read the agreement and denounces Coriolanus as a traitor. Aufidius says that Coriolanus has betrayed the Volscians?interests and given up Rome to his wife and mother, just because they cried. Coriolanus flies into a rage, calling Aufidius a liar. The Conspirators cry out that Coriolanus must die; the people, who minutes earlier were hailing him as their hero, now take up this cry as they recall that he killed their relatives. The Lords try to calm everyone down and give Coriolanus a proper hearing, but he curses Aufidius, and the Conspirators draw their swords and kill the Roman. Aufidius stands on the body. A Lord protests at this gesture, and warns Aufidius that he will regret ordering Coriolanus's death. But Aufidius replies that when the Lords come to realize what danger Coriolanus posed to them, they will be glad that he is dead. The Lords declare Coriolanus a noble man, and order his funeral.
Aufidius, his rage gone, now feels sorrow. He orders some soldiers to help him carry Coriolanus's body through the city.
The exchange between Menenius and Coriolanus is almost unbearably moving. He loves Coriolanus as a father loves a son, and feels that Coriolanus will respond warmly to his plea not to attack Rome. But Coriolanus has cut himself off from his loved ones, and coldly turns him away, leaving Menenius to be taunted by the guards for his delusion that he still has influence with the great general. In fact, the only person with that kind of influence over Coriolanus is Volumnia. It is a bitter irony and a tragedy that this almost invincible warrior can be conquered so easily by his mother. Though the audience will feel relieved that she persuades Coriolanus not to attack Rome, it is painful to see Coriolanus seduced away from his true nature by her overbearing personality. Though she kneels before Coriolanus while pleading with him, psychologically speaking, she is the dominant one.
Coriolanus is well aware that in allowing himself to be won over by his mother, he has lost his integrity (a process that started when she convinced him to pretend humility to the crowd in exchange for votes) because he must break his word to the Volscians. His speech at V.iii.182?89 makes this clear: "O mother, mother! / What have you done? ?/ You have won a happy victory to Rome. / But, for your son, believe it, O believe it, / Most dangerously you have with him prevailed, / If not most mortal to him.?
Aufidius recognizes the fatal weakness that this split in Coriolanus has created, and tells the audience that he will exploit it to bring Coriolanus low and raise himself up once more: "I am glad thou hast set thy mercy and thy honor / At difference in thee. Out of that I'll work / Myself a former fortune?V.iii.200?02). When Aufidius calls Coriolanus "thou boy of tears?(V.vi.99), he speaks the truth. In his relationship to his mother, Coriolanus has remained a child, living only to please her even when this means betraying himself.
The consequences of Coriolanus obeying his mother and making peace between the Volscians and Rome, while saving much bloodshed, are fatal for Coriolanus. In another bitter irony, it is not Coriolanus, but Volumnia who is hailed as the savior of Rome. Coriolanus, in contrast, has to creep back to Corioli to give an account of his actions. Initially he is cheered by the people as a hero, but after only minimal encouragement by Aufidius and his Conspirators, the people turn against him, just as they did in Rome, and call for his death. The episode once again confirms what Shakespeare saw as the fickleness and superficiality of the popular mind. The Lords (equivalent to the patricians in Rome and the aristocrats of seventeenth-century England), in comparison, are the voices of moderation. They try to give Coriolanus a fair hearing. But the Lords?voices are drowned out by the excesses of the people and those who manipulate them (Aufidius and the Conspirators). Coriolanus is killed by an irrational mob of Conspirators, cheered on by the people.
Aufidius, whose fickleness mirrors that of the mob, has turned from loving and admiring Coriolanus to committing the shockingly profane act of standing on Coriolanus's dead body. What he failed to achieve while Coriolanus was alive ?dominance over the Roman ?he cannot resist acting out now that his enemy is dead. Once again, the Lords are the civilizing influence, responding to Aufidius's gesture with revulsion.
Coriolanus's great strength and great vulnerability was his warrior-like inability to bend with the political winds. He has been destroyed by the envy and malice of fickle people more skilled than he at the compromises, falsehoods and pretences that characterized a society at odds with itself.