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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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Act I, Scene 3

Summary

This domestic scene, presented largely in prose, moves back to Rome and focuses on Virgilia, Marcius’ wife, and Volumnia, Marcius’ mother. The scene opens with Volumnia sensing that Virgilia is saddened by Marcius’ departure; she tries to encourage her daughter-in-law, claiming that she should be happy that her husband is going off to war and will return with great honor. She further admonishes the girl for her vow to remain in the house until Marcius returns home.

Volumnia then reminisces about Marcius’ childhood and her affection for him since he was “tender-bodied, and the only son of my womb.” She recounts the difficulty with which she sent him early to war, but she was determined to make him into a soldier of honor and renown. Volumnia proudly recalls the day Marcius returned victorious from the battle against the Tarquins; he was wearing his first oak garland. Virgilia responds by asking her mother-in-law, “But had he died in the business, madam, how then?” Volumnia promptly replies that his honor would have been her solace and comfort. She vehemently claims that even if she had a dozen sons, she would rather have all of them die nobly for their state than have one lead a less noble life.

A gentlewoman interrupts the conversation and announces the arrival of Valeria, who has come to pay a social visit. Virgilia begs to leave, but Volumnia insists that she stay, suspecting that the visitor has come with some news of Marcius. While waiting for Valeria, Volumnia fantasizes out loud about her son in battle, seeing him exhorting his men to fight courageously, slaying Aufidius and the Volscians, and gaining a bloody brow. The images clearly upset Virgilia.


Valeria enters and inquires about young Marcius, Virgilia’s son. Volumnia remarks on the child’s fondness for swords and drums. Valeria affirms that he indeed has all the characteristics of a potential soldier and describes an incident where young Marcius was playing with a butterfly and suddenly tore it to pieces with his teeth in a fit of rage. Volumnia proudly says the child is like his father.

Valeria appears to be a frivolous minded lady who urges Virgilia to come to her house for a visit. Virgilia asserts her vow not to step out of doors until Marcius returns safely. Valeria protests against this and reminds her of Penelope’s fate, for “all the yarn she spun in Ulysses’ absence did but fill Ithaca full of moths.” Virgilia, however, remains firm and refuses to leave the house. Valeria then reveals news about Marcius that she has heard. She tells that Cominius has encountered the Volscian army, while Marcius and Lartius have camped near Corioli, which they soon plan to attack and destroy.

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