Let’s take a look at what is most likely Coriolanus’ most famous speech. This is a dramatic speech and is fantastic for auditions as it allows the actor to go into heightened emotions and stakes that they would not normally get to explore. Let’s take a look.
We begin in Rome, not long after the expulsion of the Tarquin Kings. There are currently riots happening in Rome because stores of grain were withheld from the citizens, or plebeians. The citizens are particularly angry at Caius Marcius (who will become Coriolanus) who they blame for the loss of the grain. Marcius is a brilliant Roman General and is renowned for his exploits on the battlefield and within the Roman army as a whole. The rioters encounter Menenius Aggripa, who is a Patrician, a member of the ruling class families in Rome, and Marcius himself. Menenius tries to calm the rioters while Marcius shows open and complete contempt for the citizens due to their lack of military service, who says that they were not worthy of the grain because of this. Two tribunes, which is sort of like being an MP, Brutus and Sicinius privately denounce Marcius, but Marcius leaves Rome to go and fight the Volscians after news arrives of their presence in the field.
Now the Commander of that army Tullus Aufidius and Caius Marcius are mortal enemies and have fought each other on a number of occasions. So the Roman army is Commanded by Cominius and Marcius is his deputy or second in command. While Cominius leads his troops to fight Aufidius’ army, Marcius leads his troops against the Volscian city of Corioli. Initially their attack doesn’t work but Marcius manages to force open the gates and siege the city. Already knackered from the siege, Marcius decides to quickly get back and join Cominius in their battle with the Volscian army. When they arrive Marcius and Aufidus engage in one on one combat, with the fight only ending when Aufidius is dragged away by his soldiers.
For his bravery and courage Cominius gives Marcius the agnomen, or nickname, Coriolanus. They return to Rome and Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia convinces her son to run for Consul, which is kind of like running for Parliament, to be the Prime Minister. Initially he’s not too keen on that idea but against his better wishes does so for his mother. He wins the support of the Roman senate and initially seems to have won the support of plebeians as well but Brutus and Sicinius plot against Coriolanus and organise riots against his running for Consul. Coriolanus flies into a rage against populus rule, or democracy, and says allowing the plebeians to decide who rules them is like allowing “crows to peck the eagles”. The two tribunes Brutus and Sicinius condemn Coriolanus for his words and order that he should be banished. To which he replies…
You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses 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 not 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.
company, pack [as of hounds]
a mongrel or inferior dog
old form: reeke
foggy vapour, steam, fume, smoke
constantly, always, continually
negligence, obtuseness, lack of understanding
old form: findes
discover, perceive, discern
old form: feeles
experience, live through [something]
old form: reseruation
keeping back, leaving aside
humbled, abject, subdued
You pack of common mongrels! Whose breath I hate
As much as the stench of a rotting swamp. Whose opinion I value
As much as unburied rotting carcasses. I banish you!
Stay here with your indecisiveness!
Let every rumor change your minds!
Let your enemies approaching with their plumes send you into despair!
Keep the power to banish those who protect you; until finally
Your ignorance, which stops you from being able to see the consequences of your actions until they happen to you
And leaves you alone in Rome as your own worst enemy
Which leads you to be captured by some foreign nation that defeated you without a fight!
So I turn my back on this city with hatred
There is a world outside of Rome.
Notes on Performance
This is such a great monologue for playing with high stakes but I think it can be very easy to get carried away with it. Yes, you should be trying to reach those highs and lows but remember to keep it truthful and grounded in reality. It can be all too easy for this monologue to just turn into a blue of yelling.
Find your given circumstances, find your relationships with the senate, your wife and mother, the plebeians, and everyone and everything else around you as this will give the speech anchors to keep it grounded in truth.
When you know the boundaries you can play in you can let it rip, and really tell Rome just exactly how you feel about them.