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Introduction to the play

Set in the earliest days of the Roman Republic, Coriolanus begins with the common people, or plebeians, in armed revolt against the patricians. The people win the right to be represented by tribunes. Meanwhile, there are foreign enemies near the gates of Rome.

The play explores one reason that Rome prevailed over such vulnerabilities: its reverence for family bonds. Coriolanus so esteems his mother, Volumnia, that he risks his life to win her approval. Even the value of family, however, is subordinate to loyalty to the Roman state. When the two obligations align, the combination is irresistible.

Coriolanus is so devoted to his family and to Rome that he finds the decision to grant the plebians representation intolerable. To him, it elevates plebeians to a status equal with his family and class, to Rome’s great disadvantage. He risks his political career to have the tribunate abolished—and is banished from Rome. Coriolanus then displays an apparently insatiable vengefulness against the state he idolized, opening a tragic divide within himself, pitting him against his mother and family, and threatening Rome’s very existence.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Coriolanus

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

Hear you this Triton of the minnows? Mark you
His absolute “shall”?

Act 3, scene 1, lines 119–120

… The beast
With many heads butts me away.

Act 4, scene 1, lines 1–2

Coriolanus in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Coriolanus. Find more in our digital image collection

Volumnia pleading with Coriolanus. By Richard Westall.
Miss Ellen Terry as "Volumnia"
Coriolanus addressing the Plebeians
Coriolanus, one of a set of seven original drawings. By Byam Shaw.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare


Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Coriolanus
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Coriolanus

Early printed texts

Coriolanus was first published in the 1623 First Folio and that text serves as the source for all subsequent editions of the play.