Coriolanus Was Not A Guilt Free Human Being

1563 words - 6 pages

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus asks, what does it mean to be virtuous. Today, Virtue means to be of high moral standards, but this definition is not culturally transferable. Virtue originally meant manliness, which at the time was the pinnacle of social achievement. Coriolanus was a Roman general born into a time of war, when men had to be brave and physically powerful. If manliness was the greatest ambition then femininity was seen as both a weakness and undesirable trait. Even women, as shown by Volumnia and Valeria, possessed typical manly qualities. Volumnia, in training her son to be a man, forced him into a mental regression manifesting in both a childlike state and one of hyper-masculinity. Many of these ideas are constructs of psychologists in recent years, but it is clear Shakespeare understood these ideas.

The third scene of the play gives a glimpse of the women in Coriolanus’s life and in Rome. This is where you are first introduced to Volumnia, an independent and powerful woman, who deeply wants success for her son. While most parents want success for their children, Volumnia uses Coriolanus to bring glory to herself. Volumnia solely raised Coriolanus and he never truly broke away from her control; Coriolanus will attempt anything his mother suggests. Coriolanus has no interest in becoming consul, especially when he is told to gain favor from the plebeians, but when his mother tells him it is the best course of action, he immediately agrees. At the end she is also the only person who can prevent his attack on Rome, and when she returns to the city, she is exalted as the hero. She is a woman and cannot therefore achieve the honors or the positions of men, yet she has the aspiration to do so. As a means to achieve what she wants she tries doing this through her son. In training and teaching her son masculine virtues she has asserted a command over him, controlling his actions and inhibiting his growth. It is almost ironic that she becomes the hero after spending her life trying to make Coriolanus one. It is his downfall or failure to achieve this honor that makes Volumnia become the hero she wanted for her son.

“Hypermasculinity is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on strength, aggression, body hair, odor, and virility.” As seen in Act 1 Coriolanus is a brave and aggressive roman general whose thirst for blood exceeds that of the other romans. There is no doubt that he is an accomplished and proficient soldier, but at least in his own eyes he stands out. “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.” He was taught virtue, or manliness, from his mother, but Coriolanus takes it to the extreme. In scene x he shows bravery in taking on all of the soldiers by himself; however, it is easy to exchange bravery for...

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