Rome. A street.
(Roman Citizens; Menenius Agrippa; Martius; First Messenger; Sicinius Velutus; Junius Brutus; Cominius; Titus Lartius; Roman Senators)
The Citizens of Rome mutiny to protest high food prices, and call for the death of Caius Martius as an enemy of the people. Menenius Agrippa manages to calm them down a little, arguing that famines are the fault of the gods, not of the nobility. Caius Martius enters in a temper, disgusted that the people have been given the right to have representation in the government. News comes that the Volscians are attacking Rome, and Martius is named one of the generals to defend the city. The two new Tribunes of the people, Sicinius and Brutus, comment on Martius’s overweening pride (264 lines)
Enter a company of mutinous Roman Citizens with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
You are all resolv’d rather to die than to famish?
First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people.
We know’t, we know’t.
Let us kill him, and we’ll have corn at our own price. Is’t a verdict?
No more talking on’t; let it be done. Away, away!
One word, good citizens.
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 reliev’d us humanely; but they think we are too dear. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize 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.
Would you proceed especially against Caius Martius?
Against him first; he’s a very dog to the commonalty.
Consider you what services he has done for his country?
Very well, and could be content to give him good report for’t, but that he pays himself with being proud.
Nay, but speak not maliciously.
I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he did it to that end. Though soft-conscienc’d 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 to the altitude of his virtue.
What he cannot help in his nature, you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.
If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults (with surplus) to tire in repetition.
What shouts are these? The other side a’ th’ city is risen; why stay we prating here? To th’ Capitol!
Soft, who comes here?
Enter Menenius Agrippa.
Worthy Menenius Agrippa, one that hath always lov’d the people.
He’s one honest enough; would all the rest were so!
What work’s, my countrymen, in hand? Where go you
With bats and clubs? The matter? Speak, I pray you.
Our business is not unknown to th’ 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.
Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbors,
Will you undo yourselves?
We cannot, sir, we are undone already.
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’ th’ state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.
Care for us? True indeed! They ne’er car’d for us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their store-houses cramm’d with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act establish’d 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.
Either you must
Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
Or be accus’d 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.
Well, I’ll hear it, sir; yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale. But and’t please you, deliver.
There was a time when all the body’s members
Rebell’d against the belly; thus accus’d it:
That only like a gulf it did remain
I’ th’ midst a’ th’ body, idle and unactive,
Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
Like labor with the rest, where th’ 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—
Well, sir, what answer made the belly?
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 th’ 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.
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—
’Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? What then?
Should by the cormorant belly be restrain’d,
Who is the sink a’ th’ body—
Well, what then?
The former agents, if they did complain,
What could the belly answer?
I will tell you;
If you’ll bestow a small (of what you have little)
Patience awhile, you’st hear the belly’s answer.
Y’ are long about it.
Note me this, good friend:
Your most grave belly was deliberate,
Not rash like his accusers, and thus answered:
“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 th’ seat o’ th’ 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.
Ay, sir, well, well.
“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?
It was an answer. How apply you this?
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 a’ th’ 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?
I the great toe? Why the great toe?
For that, being one o’ th’ lowest, basest, poorest
Of this most wise rebellion, thou goest 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 Martius.
Hail, noble Martius!
Thanks. What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion
Make yourselves scabs?
We have ever your good word.
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 offense 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 favors 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?
For corn at their own rates, whereof they say
The city is well stor’d.
Hang ’em! They say?
They’ll sit by th’ fire, and presume to know
What’s done i’ th’ 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’d make a quarry
With thousands of these quarter’d slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance.
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?
They are dissolv’d. 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 a’ th’ moon,
Shouting their emulation.
What is granted them?
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.
This is strange.
Go get you home, you fragments!
Enter First Messenger hastily.
Where’s Caius Martius?
Here. What’s the matter?
The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.
I am glad on’t, then we shall ha’ means to vent
Our musty superfluity. See, our best elders.
Enter Sicinius Velutus, Junius Brutus, Cominius, Titus Lartius, with other Senators.
Martius, ’tis true that you have lately told us,
The Volsces are in arms.
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.
You have fought together?
Were half to half the world by th’ ears, and he
Upon my party, I’d revolt, to make
Only my wars with him. He is a lion
That I am proud to hunt.
Then, worthy Martius,
Attend upon Cominius to these wars.
It is your former promise.
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?
No, Caius Martius,
I’ll lean upon one crutch, and fight with t’ other,
Ere stay behind this business.
Your company to th’ Capitol, where I know
Our greatest friends attend us.
Lead you on.
Follow Cominius; we must follow you,
Right worthy you priority.
To the Citizens.
Hence to your homes, be gone!
Nay, let them follow.
The Volsces have much corn; take these rats thither
To gnaw their garners. Worshipful mutiners,
Your valor puts well forth; pray follow.
Exeunt. Roman Citizens steal away. Manent Sicinius and Brutus.
Was ever man so proud as is this Martius?
He has no equal.
When we were chosen tribunes for the people—
Mark’d you his lip and eyes?
Nay, but his taunts.
Being mov’d, he will not spare to gird the gods.
Bemock the modest moon.
The present wars devour him! He is grown
Too proud to be so valiant.
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
Fame, at the which he aims,
In whom already he’s well grac’d, cannot
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 th’ utmost of a man, and giddy censure
Will then cry out of Martius, “O, if he
Had borne the business!”
Besides, if things go well,
Opinion that so sticks on Martius shall
Of his demerits rob Cominius.
Half all Cominius’ honors are to Martius,
Though Martius earn’d them not; and all his faults
To Martius shall be honors, though indeed
In aught he merit not.
Let’s hence, and hear
How the dispatch is made, and in what fashion,
More than his singularity, he goes
Upon this present action.