Coriolanus also explores the questions of what makes someone a hero, and whether or not one can be both a hero and a real human. Coriolanus is a man of immense pride, and he is fatally attached to his Roman values. He is uncompromising in his values, and he believes politics and acting are lying and dishonest, so he refuses to take part in them. In this way, Coriolanus is similar to Julius Caesar, who is killed just after explaining that he wishes he could be convinced to change his opinion like other men. Caesar, though, says he is as “constant as the Northern Star,” meaning he is unshakeable in his values, more so than any human. Coriolanus, too, is unshakeable, and he refuses to beg or to play the political part, so he is banished from Rome. He tries to pretend to love the common people as instructed by his mother, but when the tribunes call him a traitor, Coriolanus becomes infuriated. His passion for the city and his tremendous pride are so great that he cannot help revealing his true self and his contempt for the commoners.
Given Coriolanus’s pride and ideals, it makes sense that his heroism is also one of solitude and individuality. He fights by himself on the battlefield, and there only for honor, glory, and Rome. When the other soldiers abandon him in Corioles to loot, he captures the city singlehandedly. In the War, Violence, and Masculinity theme, we saw how Menenius’s speech outlines Coriolanus becoming a man in battle, then eventually a “thing of blood.” By the end of the speech, Coriolanus has become a “planet.” Coriolanus is a hero, but throughout the play he is described as more than human—as a “thing of blood,” a “planet,” a “god,” a “thing made by some deity other than nature,” an “engine.” Heroism in the play is thus defined as contradictory to humanity. A hero is a thing or a machine, something un-natural and unhuman. Coriolanus becomes a sort of unfeeling, heroic, early-modern Terminator.
It’s only when he is confronted by his family that he compromises his values and changes his mind, thereby both being humanized and losing his power as a hero. As seen in the Family and Femininity theme, Volumnia forces Coriolanus to accept his role in the family. Rather than a god or a machine, he is a man bound to his mother and to his family. He is humanized and made mortal once more. But Aufidius instantly takes advantage of Coriolanus’s humanization and new mortality. Aufidius, too, calls Coriolanus a traitor, and sets the Volscians on Coriolanus to tear him into pieces. Becoming human seals his fate. And with his humanity, Coriolanus loses his status of heroism along with his life.
At the end of the play, it’s Volumnia who has saved Rome, Volumnia who “is worth of consuls, senators, patricians, a city full;” Volumnia who is the hero, the “patroness, the life of Rome.” And when she and Virgilia are welcomed back into the cities, it’s as “ladies.” Volumnia then has become a new kind of hero, able to preserve her humanity by means of femininity. While Coriolanus had to use his violence (read masculinity) to be a hero, thereby becoming more machine than man, Volumnia was able to save Rome by using language and reinforcing her femininity, her role as a family member, and her humanity.
Heroism vs. Humanity ThemeTracker
Heroism vs. Humanity Quotes in Coriolanus
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.
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.
Before and in Corioles, let me say,
I cannot speak him home. He stopped the flyers
And by his rare example made the coward
Turn terror into sport. As weeds before
A vessel under sail, so men obeyed
And fell below his stem. His sword, Death’s stamp,
Where it did mark, it took; from face to foot
He was a thing of blood, whose every motion
Was timed with dying cries. Alone he entered
The mortal gate o’ th’ city, which he painted
With shunless destiny; aidless came off
And with a sudden reinforcement struck
Corioles like a planet.
We have power in ourselves to do it, but
it is a power that we have no power to do; for, if
he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we
are to put our tongues into those wounds and
speak for them. So, if he tell us his noble deeds, we
must also tell him our noble acceptance of them.
Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to
be ingrateful were to make a monster of the multitude,
of the which, we being members, should
bring ourselves to be monstrous members.
His nature is too noble for the world.
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident
Or Jove for ’s power to thunder. His heart’s his
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent,
And, being angry, does forget that ever
He heard the name of death.
SICINIUS: He’s a disease that must be cut away.
MENENIUS: O, he’s a limb that has but a disease—
Mortal to cut it off; to cure it easy.
What has he done to Rome that’s worthy death?
Killing our enemies, the blood he hath lost—
Which I dare vouch is more than that he hath
By many an ounce—he dropped it for his country;
And what is left, to lose it by his country
Were to us all that do ’t and suffer it
A brand to th’ end o’ th’ world.
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.
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.
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.
The fires i’ th’ lowest hell fold in the people!
Call me their traitor? Thou injurious tribune!
Within thine eyes sat twenty thousand deaths,
In thy hands clutched as many millions, in
Thy lying tongue both numbers, I would say
“Thou liest” unto thee with a voice as free
As I do pray the gods.
You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
As reek o’ th’ rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you!
And here remain with your uncertainty;
Let every feeble rumor shake your hearts;
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders, till at length
Your ignorance—which finds not till it feels,
Making but reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes—deliver you
As most abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising
For you the city, thus I turn my back.
There is a world elsewhere.
My name is Caius Martius, who hath done
To thee particularly and to all the Volsces
Great hurt and mischief; thereto witness may
My surname Coriolanus. The painful service,
The extreme dangers, and the drops of blood
Shed for my thankless country are requited
But with that surname, a good memory
And witness of the malice and displeasure
Which thou shouldst bear me. Only that name
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.
He is their god; he leads them like a thing
Made by some other deity than Nature,
That shapes man better; and they follow him
Against us brats with no less confidence
Than boys pursuing summer butterflies
Or butchers killing flies.
Yet one time he did call me by my name.
I urged our old acquaintance, and the drops
That we have bled together. “Coriolanus”
He would not answer to, forbade all names.
He was a kind of nothing, titleless,
Till he had forged himself a name o’ th’ fire
Of burning Rome.
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.
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?
There is differency between a grub and a
butterfly, yet your butterfly was a grub. This Martius
is grown from man to dragon. He has wings;
he’s more than a creeping thing.
When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground
shrinks before his treading. He is able to pierce a
corslet with his eye, talks like a knell, and his hum
is a battery. He sits in his state as a thing made for
Alexander. What he bids be done is finished with
his bidding. He wants nothing of a god but eternity
and a heaven to throne in.
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.
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”!