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MonkeyNotes-Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
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This domestic scene, with Volumnia and Virgilia, is a sharp contrast to the previous scenes dealing with political intrigues; but even here, the talk is of war. Virgilia, Marcius’ wife, is greatly saddened that her husband has gone off to battle and refuses to leave the house until he safely returns. Marcius’ mother mocks the girl’s feelings, saying she should be proud that Marcius has the opportunity to win honor as a warrior. Both women have an enormous influence on Marcius, especially his mother who still exercises control over him. Her ambitions for her son are clear in the first words she speaks to Virgilia. She has no second thoughts about sacrificing her only son to the service of the state; she would rather him die nobly on the battlefield than to be unheroic and at home. She has brought him up to be a soldier, sending him to war the first time when he was still a boy. It becomes obvious through Volumnia’s comments that Marcius has performed great deeds on the battlefield to please his mother.

The contrast between tenderness and violence is effectively established through the contrast between Volumnia and Virgilia. The mother fantasizes battle scenes out loud, picturing Marcius with a bloody brow and returning home victorious; Virgilia grows faint at such images. By contrast, Virgilia is the picture of tenderness as she sits at home, embroidering, waiting for the safe return of her husband, and dreaming of the small pleasures of life.


Volumnia has fully internalized Roman ideology; for her, like for Rome, valor, honor, pride, and fame are everything. She believes that the sacrifice of a loved one to war is not an occasion for remorse or sorrow but of celebration. She also is comfortable with violence and bloodshed and recalls that the bloody forehead of Hector looked lovelier than when Hecuba suckled him as a babe. Volumnia’s allusion to Hector, the great Trojan who dies at the hands of Achilles, places Marcius within a historical legacy of warriors. It is not surprising then that she has an image of her son killing Aufidius, placing his foot upon the Volscian’s neck. With Volumnia as his mother, it is no wonder that Marcius has turned out to be a proud and courageous soldier. Unfortunately for him, he is unable to act in any other way than as a warrior.

The character of young Marcius emerges through the conversation between the ladies. Valeria’s description of Marcius, Junior, playing with a golden butterfly and then suddenly tearing it apart with his teeth in a fit of rage is seen as fitting conduct for a future warrior. Volumnia, in fact, proudly thinks he is just like his father. Even Valeria seems unbothered by the child’s conduct and states that he is “a noble child”.

The purpose of this scene is to establish the clear contrast between Virgilia, a symbol of tenderness, and Volumnia, a symbol of violence. Although Volumnia dominates the household and exercises almost dictatorial control over it and her son, the gentle Virgilia is able to hold her ground and is not afraid to reveal her own opinions and attitudes. The scene also offers Shakespeare the opportunity to criticize the glorification of violence and war. Finally, the scene serves as a calm bridge between the anticipation of battle in the preceding scenes and the start of the fighting in the next scenes. In fact, Valeria brings the news that Cominius has encountered the Volscians and that Marcius waits outside or Corioli to attack and destroy the city.

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