Act I

Scene I

Rome. A street

Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons

First Citizen

Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.

All

Speak, speak.

First Citizen

You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?

All

Resolved. resolved.

First Citizen

First, you know Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.

All

We know't, we know't.

First Citizen

Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price.
Is't a verdict?

All

No more talking on't; let it be done: away, away!

Second Citizen

One word, good citizens.

First Citizen

We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularise their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.

Second Citizen

Would you proceed especially against Caius Marcius?

All

Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.

Second Citizen

Consider you what services he has done for his country?

First Citizen

Very well; and could be content to give him good report fort, but that he pays himself with being proud.

Second Citizen

Nay, but speak not maliciously.

First Citizen

I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say it was for his country he did it to please his mother and to be partly proud; which he is, even till the altitude of his virtue.

Second Citizen

What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.

First Citizen

If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition.

Shouts within

What shouts are these? The other side o' the city is risen: why stay we prating here? to the Capitol!

All

Come, come.

First Citizen

Soft! who comes here?

Enter Menenius Agrippa

Second Citizen

Worthy Menenius Agrippa; one that hath always loved the people.

First Citizen

He's one honest enough: would all the rest were so!

Menenius

What work's, my countrymen, in hand? where go you
With bats and clubs? The matter? speak, I pray you.

First Citizen

Our business is not unknown to the senate; they have had inkling this fortnight what we intend to do, which now we'll show 'em in deeds. They say poor suitors have strong breaths: they shall know we have strong arms too.

Menenius

Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,
Will you undo yourselves?

First Citizen

We cannot, sir, we are undone already.

Menenius

I tell you, friends, most charitable care
Have the patricians of you. For your wants,
Your suffering in this dearth, you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state, whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it, and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you, and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.

First Citizen

Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.

Menenius

Either you must
Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
Or be accused of folly. I shall tell you
A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;
But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture
To stale 't a little more.

First Citizen

Well, I'll hear it, sir: yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an 't please you, deliver.

Menenius

There was a time when all the body's members
Rebell'd against the belly, thus accused it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I' the midst o' the body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labour with the rest, where the other instruments
Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
And, mutually participate, did minister
Unto the appetite and affection common
Of the whole body. The belly answer'd—

First Citizen

Well, sir, what answer made the belly?

Menenius

Sir, I shall tell you. With a kind of smile,
Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus—
For, look you, I may make the belly smile
As well as speak—it tauntingly replied
To the discontented members, the mutinous parts
That envied his receipt; even so most fitly
As you malign our senators for that
They are not such as you.

First Citizen

Your belly's answer? What!
The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye,
The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,
Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter.
With other muniments and petty helps
In this our fabric, if that they—

Menenius

What then?
'Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? what then?

First Citizen

Should by the cormorant belly be restrain'd,
Who is the sink o' the body,—

Menenius

Well, what then?

First Citizen

The former agents, if they did complain,
What could the belly answer?

Menenius

I will tell you
If you'll bestow a small—of what you have little—
Patience awhile, you'll hear the belly's answer.

First Citizen

Ye're long about it.

Menenius

Note me this, good friend;
Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer'd:
'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,
'That I receive the general food at first,
Which you do live upon; and fit it is,
Because I am the store-house and the shop
Of the whole body: but, if you do remember,
I send it through the rivers of your blood,
Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain;
And, through the cranks and offices of man,
The strongest nerves and small inferior veins
From me receive that natural competency
Whereby they live: and though that all at once,
You, my good friends,'—this says the belly, mark me,—

First Citizen

Ay, sir; well, well.

Menenius

'Though all at once cannot
See what I do deliver out to each,
Yet I can make my audit up, that all
From me do back receive the flour of all,
And leave me but the bran.' What say you to't?

First Citizen

It was an answer: how apply you this?

Menenius

The senators of Rome are this good belly,
And you the mutinous members; for examine
Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly
Touching the weal o' the common, you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds or comes from them to you
And no way from yourselves. What do you think,
You, the great toe of this assembly?

First Citizen

I the great toe! why the great toe?

Menenius

For that, being one o' the lowest, basest, poorest,
Of this most wise rebellion, thou go'st foremost:
Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run,
Lead'st first to win some vantage.
But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs:
Rome and her rats are at the point of battle;
The one side must have bale.

Enter Caius Marcius

Hail, noble Marcius!

Marcius

Thanks. What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?

First Citizen

We have ever your good word.

Marcius

He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,
Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;
Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no,
Than is the coal of fire upon the ice,
Or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue is
To make him worthy whose offence subdues him
And curse that justice did it.
Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate; and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another? What's their seeking?

Menenius

For corn at their own rates; whereof, they say,
The city is well stored.

Marcius

Hang 'em! They say!
They'll sit by the fire, and presume to know
What's done i' the Capitol; who's like to rise,
Who thrives and who declines; side factions and give out
Conjectural marriages; making parties strong
And feebling such as stand not in their liking
Below their cobbled shoes. They say there's grain enough!
Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, I'll make a quarry
With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance.

Menenius

Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded;
For though abundantly they lack discretion,
Yet are they passing cowardly. But, I beseech you,
What says the other troop?

Marcius

They are dissolved: hang 'em!
They said they were an-hungry; sigh'd forth proverbs,
That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,
That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent not
Corn for the rich men only: with these shreds
They vented their complainings; which being answer'd,
And a petition granted them, a strange one—
To break the heart of generosity,
And make bold power look pale—they threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o' the moon,
Shouting their emulation.

Menenius

What is granted them?

Marcius

Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,
Of their own choice: one's Junius Brutus,
Sicinius Velutus, and I know not—'Sdeath!
The rabble should have first unroof'd the city,
Ere so prevail'd with me: it will in time
Win upon power and throw forth greater themes
For insurrection's arguing.

Menenius

This is strange.

Marcius

Go, get you home, you fragments!

Enter a Messenger, hastily

Messenger

Where's Caius Marcius?

Marcius

Here: what's the matter?

Messenger

The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.

Marcius

I am glad on 't: then we shall ha' means to vent
Our musty superfluity. See, our best elders.

Enter Cominius, Titus Lartius, and other Senators; Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus

First Senator

Marcius, 'tis true that you have lately told us;
The Volsces are in arms.

Marcius

They have a leader,
Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to 't.
I sin in envying his nobility,
And were I any thing but what I am,
I would wish me only he.

Cominius

You have fought together.

Marcius

Were half to half the world by the ears and he.
Upon my party, I'ld revolt to make
Only my wars with him: he is a lion
That I am proud to hunt.

First Senator

Then, worthy Marcius,
Attend upon Cominius to these wars.

Cominius

It is your former promise.

Marcius

Sir, it is;
And I am constant. Titus Lartius, thou
Shalt see me once more strike at Tullus' face.
What, art thou stiff? stand'st out?

Titus

No, Caius Marcius;
I'll lean upon one crutch and fight with t'other,
Ere stay behind this business.

Menenius

O, true-bred!

First Senator

Your company to the Capitol; where, I know,
Our greatest friends attend us.

Titus

To Cominius

Lead you on.

To Marcius

Follow Cominius; we must follow you;
Right worthy you priority.

Cominius

Noble Marcius!

First Senator

To the Citizens

Hence to your homes; be gone!

Marcius

Nay, let them follow:
The Volsces have much corn; take these rats thither
To gnaw their garners. Worshipful mutiners,
Your valour puts well forth: pray, follow.

Citizens steal away. Exeunt all but Sicinius and Brutus

Sicinius

Was ever man so proud as is this Marcius?

Brutus

He has no equal.

Sicinius

When we were chosen tribunes for the people,—

Brutus

Mark'd you his lip and eyes?

Sicinius

Nay. but his taunts.

Brutus

Being moved, he will not spare to gird the gods.

Sicinius

Be-mock the modest moon.

Brutus

The present wars devour him: he is grown
Too proud to be so valiant.

Sicinius

Such a nature,
Tickled with good success, disdains the shadow
Which he treads on at noon: but I do wonder
His insolence can brook to be commanded
Under Cominius.

Brutus

Fame, at the which he aims,
In whom already he's well graced, can not
Better be held nor more attain'd than by
A place below the first: for what miscarries
Shall be the general's fault, though he perform
To the utmost of a man, and giddy censure
Will then cry out of Marcius 'O if he
Had borne the business!'

Sicinius

Besides, if things go well,
Opinion that so sticks on Marcius shall
Of his demerits rob Cominius.

Brutus

Come:
Half all Cominius' honours are to Marcius.
Though Marcius earned them not, and all his faults
To Marcius shall be honours, though indeed
In aught he merit not.

Sicinius

Let's hence, and hear
How the dispatch is made, and in what fashion,
More than his singularity, he goes
Upon this present action.

Brutus

Lets along.

Exeunt