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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act V. Scene III.




Cor.We will before the walls of Rome to-morrow

Set down our host. My partner in this action,

You must report to the Volscian lords, how plainly

I have borne this business.

Auf.Only their ends

You have respected; stopp’d your ears against

The general suit of Rome; never admitted

A private whisper; no, not with such friends

That thought them sure of you.

Cor.This last old man,

Whom with a crack’d heart I have sent to Rome,

Lov’d me above the measure of a father;

Nay, godded me indeed. Their latest refuge

Was to send him; for whose old love I have,

Though I show’d sourly to him, once more offer’d

The first conditions, which they did refuse,

And cannot now accept, to grace him only

That thought he could do more. A very little

I have yielded to; fresh embassies and suits,

Nor from the state, nor private friends, hereafter

Will I lend ear to.[Shout within.]Ha! what shout is this?

Shall I be tempted to infringe my vow

In the same time ’tis made? I will not.

Enter, in mourning habits, VIRGILIA, VOLUMNIA, leading young MARCIUS, VALERIA, and Attendants.

My wife comes foremost; then the honour’d mould

Wherein this trunk was fram’d, and in her hand

The grandchild to her blood. But out, affection!

All bond and privilege of nature, break!

Let it be virtuous to be obstinate.

What is that curtsy worth? or those doves’ eyes,

Which can make gods forsworn? I melt, and am not

Of stronger earth than others. My mother bows,

As if Olympus to a molehill should

In supplication nod; and my young boy

Hath an aspect of intercession, which

Great nature cries, ‘Deny not.’ Let the Volsces

Plough Rome, and harrow Italy; I’ll never

Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand

As if a man were author of himself

And knew no other kin.

Vir.My lord and husband!

Cor.These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome.

Vir.The sorrow that delivers us thus chang’d

Makes you think so.

Cor.Like a dull actor now,

I have forgot my part, and I am out,

Even to a full disgrace. Best of my flesh,

Forgive my tyranny; but do not say

For that, ‘Forgive our Romans.’ O! a kiss

Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge!

Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss

I carried from thee, dear, and my true lip

Hath virgin’d it e’er since. You gods! I prate,

And the most noble mother of the world

Leave unsaluted. Sink, my knee, i’ the earth;[Kneels.

Of thy deep duty more impression show

Than that of common sons.

Vol.O! stand up bless’d;

Whilst, with no softer cushion than the flint,

I kneel before thee, and unproperly

Show duty, as mistaken all this while

Between the child and parent.[Kneels.

Cor.What is this?

Your knees to me! to your corrected son!

Then let the pebbles on the hungry beach

Fillip the stars; then let the mutinous winds

Strike the proud cedars ’gainst the fiery sun,

Murd’ring impossibility, to make

What cannot be, slight work.

Vol.Thou art my warrior;

I holp to frame thee. Do you know this lady?

Cor.The noble sister of Publicola,

The moon of Rome; chaste as the icicle

That’s curdied by the frost from purest snow,

And hangs on Dian’s temple: dear Valeria!

Vol.This is a poor epitome of yours,[Pointing to the Child.

Which by the interpretation of full time

May show like all yourself.

Cor.The god of soldiers,

With the consent of supreme Jove, inform

Thy thoughts with nobleness; that thou mayst prove

To shame unvulnerable, and stick i’ the wars

Like a great sea-mark, standing every flaw,

And saving those that eye thee!

Vol.Your knee, sirrah.

Cor.That’s my brave boy!

Vol.Even he, your wife, this lady, and myself,

Are suitors to you.

Cor.I beseech you, peace:

Or, if you’d ask, remember this before:

The things I have forsworn to grant may never

Be held by you denials. Do not bid me

Dismiss my soldiers, or capitulate

Again with Rome’s mechanics: tell me not

Wherein I seem unnatural: desire not

To allay my rages and revenges with

Your colder reasons.

Vol.O! no more, no more;

You have said you will not grant us any thing;

For we have nothing else to ask but that

Which you deny already: yet we will ask;

That, if you fail in our request, the blame

May hang upon your hardness. Therefore, hear us.

Cor.Aufidius, and you Volsces, mark; for we’ll

Hear nought from Rome in private. Your request?

Vol.Should we be silent and not speak, our raiment

And state of bodies would bewray what life

We have led since thy exile. Think with thyself

How more unfortunate than all living women

Are we come hither: since that thy sight, which should

Make our eyes flow with joy, hearts dance with comforts,

Constrains them weep and shake with fear and sorrow;

Making the mother, wife, and child to see

The son, the husband, and the father tearing

His country’s bowels out. And to poor we

Thine enmity’s most capital: thou barr’st us

Our prayers to the gods, which is a comfort

That all but we enjoy; for how can we,

Alas! how can we for our country pray,

Whereto we are bound, together with thy victory,

Whereto we are bound? Alack! or we must lose

The country, our dear nurse, or else thy person,

Our comfort in the country. We must find

An evident calamity, though we had

Our wish, which side should win; for either thou

Must, as a foreign recreant, be led

With manacles through our streets, or else

Triumphantly tread on thy country’s ruin,

And bear the palm for having bravely shed

Thy wife and children’s blood. For myself, son,

I purpose not to wait on Fortune till

These wars determine: if I cannot persuade thee

Rather to show a noble grace to both parts

Than seek the end of one, thou shalt no sooner

March to assault thy country than to tread—

Trust to ’t, thou shalt not—on thy mother’s womb,

That brought thee to this world.

Vir.Ay, and mine,

That brought you forth this boy, to keep your name

Living to time.

Boy.A’ shall not tread on me:

I’ll run away till I am bigger, but then I’ll fight.

Cor.Not of a woman’s tenderness to be,

Requires nor child nor woman’s face to see.

I have sat too long.[Rising.

Vol.Nay, go not from us thus.

If it were so, that our request did tend

To save the Romans, thereby to destroy

The Volsces whom you serve, you might condemn us,

As poisonous of your honour: no; our suit

Is, that you reconcile them: while the Volsces

May say, ‘This mercy we have show’d;’ the Romans,

‘This we receiv’d;’ and each in either side

Give the all-hail to thee, and cry, ‘Be bless’d

For making up this peace!’ Thou know’st, great son,

The end of war’s uncertain; but this certain,

That, if thou conquer Rome, the benefit

Which thou shalt thereby reap is such a name

Whose repetition will be dogg’d with curses;

Whose chronicle thus writ: ‘The man was noble,

But with his last attempt he wip’d it out,

Destroy’d his country, and his name remains

To the ensuing age abhorr’d.’ Speak to me, son!

Thou hast affected the fine strains of honour,

To imitate the graces of the gods;

To tear with thunder the wide cheeks o’ the air,

And yet to charge thy sulphur with a bolt

That should but rive an oak. Why dost not speak?

Think’st thou it honourable for a noble man

Still to remember wrongs? Daughter, speak you:

He cares not for your weeping. Speak thou, boy:

Perhaps thy childishness will move him more

Than can our reasons. There is no man in the world

More bound to ’s mother; yet here he lets me prate

Like one i’ the stocks. Thou hast never in thy life

Show’d thy dear mother any courtesy;

When she—poor hen! fond of no second brood—

Has cluck’d thee to the wars, and safely home,

Loaden with honour. Say my request’s unjust,

And spurn me back; but if it be not so,

Thou art not honest, and the gods will plague thee,

That thou restrain’st from me the duty which

To a mother’s part belongs. He turns away:

Down, ladies; let us shame him with our knees.

To his surname Coriolanus ’longs more pride

Than pity to our prayers. Down: an end;

This is the last: so we will home to Rome,

And die among our neighbours. Nay, behold us.

This boy, that cannot tell what he would have,

But kneels and holds up hands for fellowship,

Does reason our petition with more strength

Than thou hast to deny ’t. Come, let us go:

This fellow had a Volscian to his mother;

His wife is in Corioli, and his child

Like him by chance. Yet give us our dispatch:

I am hush’d until our city be a-fire,

And then I’ll speak a little.

Cor.[Holding VOLUMNIA by the hand, silent.]O, mother, mother!

What have you done? Behold! the heavens do ope,

The gods look down, and this unnatural scene

They laugh at. O my mother! mother! O!

You have won a happy victory to Rome;

But, for your son, believe it, O! believe it,

Most dangerously you have with him prevail’d,

If not most mortal to him. But let it come.

Aufidius though I cannot make true wars,

I’ll frame convenient peace. Now, good Aufidius,

Were you in my stead, would you have heard

A mother less, or granted less, Aufidius?

Auf.I was mov’d withal.

Cor.I dare be sworn you were:

And, sir, it is no little thing to make

Mine eyes to sweat compassion. But, good sir,

What peace you’ll make, advise me: for my part,

I’ll not to Rome, I’ll back with you: and pray you,

Stand to me in this cause. O mother! wife!

Auf.[Aside.]I am glad thou hast set thy mercy and thy honour

At difference in thee: out of that I’ll work

Myself a former fortune.[The ladies make signs to CORIOLANUS.

Cor.Ay, by and by;

But we will drink together; and you shall bear

A better witness back than words, which we,

On like conditions, would have counter-seal’d.

Come, enter with us. Ladies, you deserve

To have a temple built you: all the swords

In Italy, and her confederate arms,

Could not have made this peace.[Exeunt.