What Coriolanus lacks in voice and language ability, he makes up for in military might and a gift for violence. In Cominius’s masterful oration mentioned in the Language theme, we learn that as a sixteen-year-old boy, young, beardless Caius Martius fought against the bearded men supporting a dictator. When he might have “act[ed] the woman,” he became a man. Since then, he has fought in seventeen battles, until he became a “thing of blood” and entered and captured the entire city of Corioles. It is for this magnificent, bloody deed that he earns the title of Coriolanus. The wounds he receives in this battle are viewed by his mother, Volumnia, as a commodity. She even urges him to show his wounds, evidence of his violent deeds, in order to better convince the common people to vote for him to be Consul. In other words, it’s military excellence and violence (both enacting and receiving it) that lends Coriolanus his credibility, and by the end of the play, his military force is so great that it even threatens to conquer Rome itself.
As seen in Cominius’s speech, violence is intimately tied to masculinity – it is what distinguishes a man from a woman or a boy. Cominius uses “acting the woman” to present what’s considered the cowardly path, and when Aufidius calls Coriolanus “boy” it is taken as a final, outrageous insult. And not only are violence and war tied to masculinity, they also tie individual men together. It’s through violence that we see male homosocial bonding. In other words, violence is what creates and defines the social relationships between men in the play. Upon seeing general Cominius (his ally) on the battlefield, for example, Coriolanus says he wants to hold the general in his arms like when he wooed, as happy to see the general as he was on his wedding day.
Another example is between Coriolanus and Aufidius, who have a fierce military rivalry. As fierce as it is (they have sworn to fight in hand-to-hand combat each time they meet in war), they are bound and brought together by this rivalry, with a rhetoric in which violence and war are replacements for love and marriage. When Coriolanus has been banished from Rome and goes to see Aufidius, Aufidius greets his formal rival by saying that he wants to take him in his arms, even going as far to say that he is happier to see Coriolanus than he was to first see his wife cross the threshold on his wedding day. The ties between Coriolanus and Aufidius and between male soldiers in general blur the lines between war and sexuality. Violence is at once a bloody cleaver and a homosocial twine, and passions for one’s allies and even for enemies seem to outweigh passions for one’s lover.
War, Violence, and Masculinity ThemeTracker
War, Violence, and Masculinity 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”!