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Act III, Scene 2
Coriolanus is at home with a few patricians and swears that he will not change his mind, even under threat of the worst possible method of death. Coriolanus voices his fear that although his mother also hates the commoners, she will not approve of his decision. As Volumnia enters, Coriolanus asks her why had she has wished him to be milder in his dealings with the plebeians and, thereby, be false to his true self. Volumnia answers that she has only wanted him to be patient until he is elected consul.
Menenius enters with some Senators and protests that Coriolanus has been “too rough” and must return to the marketplace and make amends for his rash outburst of anger. The first Senator underlines the gravity of the situation by saying that unless he does so, Rome may be threatened by a civil war. Volumnia claims that although she has a “heart of mettle,” as easily aroused as that of Coriolanus, she also has a brain, which guides her to use her anger advantageously. Menenius backs Volumnia and advises Coriolanus to disguise his true feelings by putting on an armor of indifference. After much pleading with Coriolanus to be more diplomatic, Coriolanus says that he cannot do so, and Volumnia reproaches him by saying, “you are too absolute.” She adds that if he lies to the tribunes in order to achieve his ends, it will not be dishonorable, for his fortune and fame are at stake. She paints a vivid picture of how he should act in front of the commoners. With his cap in his outstretched hand, Volumnia says Coriolanus should kneel before the commoners and shake his head in repentance. Menenius compliments for her wise words of counsel.
Cominius enters with the news that the commoners are seething with anger in the marketplace and warns that Coriolanus must be ready to defend himself or soothe them. Volumnia insists that Coriolanus must and will placate the people. When he finally relents, Coriolanus hates himself for stooping so low. Volumnia, Menenius, and Cominius send him off with reminders that “mildly” should be the keynote of his apology.
In this scene, Coriolanus and his mother argue about how he must go about retaining his honor and dignity. He does not want to apologize or concede anything to the commoners, for he feels it would be deceitful; but Volumnia, more a politician than he, insists that in times of crisis, he must act with diplomacy. For Coriolanus, having his mother demand that he acquiesce to the commoners seems out of character. What he sees as betrayal to his character, she sees as the proper behavior for the moment. As a result, this scene, more than any so far, reveals an internal conflict within Coriolanus. It also again singles him out from the other patricians, who will play their political roles as best they can and with any means they have.
Coriolanus seems somewhat meek before Volumnia, as she dominates the scene with her eloquent appeals for him to act as he should, rather than as he wants. She does not hesitate to reprimand her son and criticize him for his hot-temper. Although Coriolanus has been able to resist the please of his fellow nobleman, he is powerless against the arguments of his mother. She is obviously the stronger of the two, for she wears him down and convinces him to humbly appear before the commoners in the marketplace. She even suggests that he bow before the populace and shake his head in repentance - anything to regain their support and win the consulship. Ironically, Volumnia, who has taught Coriolanus honor above all, is now suggesting that act in a dishonorable way, fully betraying himself.
Cominius arrives with the news that the commoners are very angry, and Coriolanus must either be prepared to fight or apologize. It is Volumnia who states that Coriolanus will apologize. Her control over her son, in the end, makes her accountable for Coriolanus’ tragedy.