Psychological Analysis Of Coriolanus’s Downfall

1889 words - 8 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 seen as the highest achievement then femininity and juvenility were both viewed as failure. Even women, as shown by Volumnia and Valeria, possessed typically manly qualities. Volumnia, in training her son to be a man, forced Coriolanus into a mental regression manifesting in both a childlike state and one of hyper-masculinity. Coriolanus’s downfall is attributed to his lack of a political and social mindset, something his mother did not teach him.
The third scene of the play gives a glimpse of the women in Coriolanus’s life. 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, such as running for consul. His mother convinces him to gain favor from the plebeians, something he would clearly not otherwise do, as demonstrated by his disdain for them in scene 1. At the end of the play, 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 could not otherwise achieve real honor. To live the life she wanted she lived through her son. By 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 wanting this for her son. It is his downfall or failure to achieve this honor that makes Volumnia become the hero.
“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 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.” (I,1, 166-170) He was taught virtue, or manliness, from his mother, but Coriolanus takes it to the extreme. In scene 8 he shows bravery in taking on all of the soldiers by himself; however, it is easy to view this bravery as foolishness or even hubris. Though he is successful in his endeavor he put his entire army at risk,...

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