William Shakespeare

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Family and Femininity Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Politics, Class, and Rome Theme Icon
Language and Names Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Masculinity Theme Icon
Family and Femininity Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Humanity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Coriolanus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Femininity Theme Icon

While Coriolanus is the epitome of violent masculinity, and he has strong homosocial bonds with both allied and enemy soldiers, the play also explores his ties to his family, which is mostly comprised of female figures. Many Shakespeare plays feature characters whose mothers are conspicuously absent, a sort of missing mother trope. Coriolanus, on the other hand, has no mention of a father, but he has the mother of all mothers, Volumnia, and he also has a wife Virgilia, who is mother to their child Young Martius.

Virgilia is depicted as the silent, supportive wife. When Volumnia hopes that Coriolanus has wounds (mentioned in the above theme), Virgilia hopes that he isn’t hurt. However, Coriolanus’s most profound connection is probably to his mother Volumnia, who exhibits maternal pride, but also maternal possessiveness. It was Volumnia who pushed Coriolanus to go to war as a sixteen-year-old boy, and throughout the play she stakes the claim that she framed him and made him what he is. During the political process, she constantly gives him directions, tells him to swallow his pride, and acts like an early modern stage mother. It’s because of this intense relationship between Volumnia and Coriolanus that the play is often read through a Freudian, psychoanalytic lens. The Freudian reading is strengthened when Volumnia explains the strength of her connection with Coriolanus, saying: “There’s no man in the world more bound to [his] mother.” Earlier in the play, when Volumnia tells Virgilia to be happy that Coriolanus is at war, the strange Oedipal undertones are made even more explicit: she says, “If my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honor than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love.” Not only does Volumnia here reinforce the notion (from the Violence theme) that the battlefield is a replacement for the field of love, but she also imagines herself married and in bed with her son. (Freud’s famous psychoanalytic idea of the Oedipus complex refers to the Greek hero who killed his father and married his mother.)

The other psychoanalytical, Freudian aspect of the play is an interesting reversal of the “family romance.” The family romance is a complex described by Freud in which a child fantasizes that her parents are not actually her parents. Typically, a lower-class child believes her real parents are actually of higher rank and status. When Coriolanus is leading the Volscian army to conquer Rome, his family tries to convince him to spare the city—and in her speech, Volumnia denies Coriolanus, in a reversal of the family romance. Instead of the child imagining different parents, Volumnia says that Coriolanus must have some other, Volscian family, since she, Virgilia, and young Martius are not his real family. It’s this brutal denial and disavowing of Coriolanus and the ensuing silence that forces him to abandon the invasion. He responds with “O mother, mother! What have you done?” reclaiming his role in the family. But in accepting this role (and, as we’ll see in the following theme, in finally being humanized), Coriolanus also knows that he accepts a likely death.

Family, then, is both formative and destructive in the play. It is the source of an enduring bond, able to reach Coriolanus even when he is most alienated from Rome, but it can also create a bond that is too close, like the strange Oedipal dynamic between Coriolanus and his mother. Virgilia’s role as a mostly silent woman is aligned with the Renaissance ideal of a wife, and seems safe. Volumnia, on the other hand, breaks that ideal, and though she destroys her son, her form of femininity ultimately outlasts Coriolanus and his violent masculinity, and she becomes (again, as we’ll see in the following theme) a new kind of hero.

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Family and Femininity Quotes in Coriolanus

Below you will find the important quotes in Coriolanus related to the theme of Family and Femininity.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

The breasts of Hecuba,
When she did suckle Hector, looked not lovelier
Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood
At Grecian sword, contemning.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus, Virgilia
Related Symbols: Body Parts, Wounds and Blood
Page Number: 1.3.43-46
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

MENENIUS: Is he not
wounded? He was wont to come home wounded.
VIRGILIA: O no, no, no!
VOLUMNIA: O, he is wounded, I thank the gods for ’t.
MENENIUS: So do I too, if it be not too much. Brings he
victory in his pocket, the wounds become him.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Virgilia (speaker), Menenius Agrippa (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus
Related Symbols: Wounds and Blood
Page Number: 2.1.122-127
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I shall lack voice. The deeds of Coriolanus
Should not be uttered feebly.

At sixteen years,
When Tarquin made a head for Rome, he fought
Beyond the mark of others. Our then dictator,
Whom with all praise I point at, saw him fight
When with his Amazonian chin he drove
The bristled lips before him. He bestrid
An o’erpressed Roman and i’ th’ Consul’s view
Slew three opposers. Tarquin’s self he met
And struck him on his knee. In that day’s feats,
When he might act the woman in the scene,
He proved best man i’ th’ field and for his meed
Was brow-bound with the oak. His pupil age
Man-entered thus, he waxèd like a sea,
And in the brunt of seventeen battles since
He lurched all swords of the garland.

Related Characters: Cominius (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus
Related Symbols: Wounds and Blood, Voices
Page Number: 2.2.98-117
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

MENENIUS: Return to th’ Tribunes.
CORIOLANUS: Well, what then? What then?
MENENIUS: Repent what you have spoke.
CORIOLANUS: For them? I cannot do it to the gods.
Must I then do ’t to them?
VOLUMNIA: You are too absolute,
Though therein you can never be too noble
But when extremities speak.

Related Characters: Caius Martius / Coriolanus (speaker), Volumnia (speaker), Menenius Agrippa (speaker), Sicinius Velutus, Junius Brutus
Related Symbols: Voices
Page Number: 3.2.46-3
Explanation and Analysis:

For in such business
Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant
More learnèd than the ears—waving thy head,
Which often thus correcting thy stout heart,
Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling. Or say to them
Thou art their soldier and, being bred in broils,
Hast not the soft way, which thou dost confess
Were fit for thee to use as they to claim,
In asking their good loves; but thou wilt frame
Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far
As thou hast power and person.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus, Roman Citizens
Related Symbols: Body Parts, Voices
Page Number: 3.2.94-105
Explanation and Analysis:

To beg of thee, it is my more dishonor
Than thou of them. Come all to ruin. Let
Thy mother rather feel thy pride than fear
Thy dangerous stoutness, for I mock at death
With as big heart as thou. Do as thou list.
Thy valiantness was mine; thou suck’st it from me,
But owe thy pride thyself.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus, Roman Citizens
Related Symbols: Body Parts, Voices
Page Number: 3.2.150-158
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Anger’s my meat. I sup upon myself
And so shall starve with feeding.
Come, let’s go.
Leave this faint puling, and lament as I do,
In anger, Juno-like. Come, come, come.

Page Number: 4.2.68-72
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 5 Quotes

O Martius, Martius,
Each word thou hast spoke hath weeded from my heart
A root of ancient envy.

Let me twine
Mine arms about that body, whereagainst
My grainèd ash an hundred times hath broke
And scarred the moon with splinters.

Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sighed truer breath. But that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing, more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold.

Related Characters: Tullus Aufidius (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus
Related Symbols: Body Parts
Page Number: 4.5.111-131
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

There’s no man in the world
More bound to ’s mother, yet here he lets me prate
Like one i’ th’ stocks. Thou hast never in thy life
Showed thy dear mother any courtesy
When she, poor hen, fond of no second brood,
Has clucked thee to the wars and safely home,
Loaden with honor. Say my request’s unjust
And spurn me back; but if it be not so,
Thou art not honest, and the gods will plague thee
That thou restrain’st from me the duty which
To a mother’s part belongs.

Related Characters: Volumnia (speaker), Caius Martius / Coriolanus
Related Symbols: Body Parts
Page Number: 5.3.180-190
Explanation and Analysis:

Volumnia: This fellow had a Volscian to his mother,
His wife is in Corioles, and his child
Like him by chance.—Yet give us our dispatch.
I am hushed until our city be afire,
And then I’ll speak a little.
(He holds her by the hand, silent.)
CORIOLANUS: O mother, mother!
What have you done?

Related Characters: Caius Martius / Coriolanus (speaker), Volumnia (speaker), Virgilia, Young Martius, Valeria
Page Number: 5.3.200-206
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

AUFIDIUS: Tell the traitor in the highest degree
He hath abused your powers.
CORIOLANUS: “Traitor”? How now?
AUFIDIUS: Ay, traitor, Martius.
AUFIDIUS: Ay, Martius, Caius Martius. Dost thou think
I’ll grace thee with that robbery, thy stol’n name
Coriolanus, in Corioles?
You lords and heads o’ th’ state, perfidiously
He has betrayed your business and given up
For certain drops of salt your city Rome—
I say your city—to his wife and mother,
Breaking his oath and resolution like
A twist of rotten silk, never admitting
Counsel o’ th’ war, but at his nurse’s tears
He whined and roared away your victory,
That pages blushed at him and men of heart
Looked wond’ring each at other.
CORIOLANUS: Hear’st thou, Mars?
AUFIDIUS: Name not the god, thou boy of tears.

Page Number: 5.6.101-120
Explanation and Analysis:

Cut me to pieces, Volsces. Men and lads,
Stain all your edges on me. “Boy”? False hound!
If you have writ your annals true, ’tis there
That like an eagle in a dovecote, I
Fluttered your Volscians in Corioles,
Alone I did it. “Boy”!

Related Symbols: Body Parts, Wounds and Blood
Page Number: 5.6.133-138
Explanation and Analysis: