Coriolanus is a Roman soldier fighting a war against the Volsces, a barbarian tribe in the North. His mother, Volumnia, has been his main influence during his life. Volumnia brought him up in a tough way To a cruel war I sent him, from whence he returned his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man. Therefore her expectations are for him to be a tough man. Expectations which we see fulfilled when Coriolanus is out in battle. Where his wife Virginia’s reaction is one of worry, as one could expect O Jupiter, no blood. Volumnia’s is one very different I had rather had eleven died nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action. She promotes Coriolanus’ mad courage, by which I mean risking anything to fulfil his plan.
An example is him pursuing the Volsces into their own walls when the Romans were too cowardly to follow him. They only looted from the enemy rather than defeating them. For this victory he is honoured by Rome as a great hero and soldier. O noble fellow! If there is to be a blot on Coriolanus’ reputation it is his contempt of the Plebeians. Who deserves greatness deserves your hate. This is what gives Brutus and Sicinius, two tribunes of the people, their opportunity to manipulate the sheepishness of the Plebeians and to remove Coriolanus from power as consul. Let them not lick the sweet that is their poison. The question we must ask ourselves is if Coriolanus really was their poison and ultimately if Coriolanus’ banishment necessary or just an act of jealousy by Brutus and Sicinius because they feel threatened by him?
We already know that the plebeians like complaining. We seldom see them doing anything else. Let us fight with our pikes ere we become rakes, this hinting at a rebellion because they’re hungry. And again we’ll have corn at our own prices. After Coriolanus has explained to them how he has fought far more bravely and at greater cost than anyone else. Look, sir, my wounds! I got them in my country’s service // When some certain of your brethren roared and ran from th’noise of our own drums, they are soon back on his side. It is this volatile temperament of the plebeians that Coriolanus despises. This is fair enough because this crowd’s favour alternates side as the wind changes direction.
It is very easy to manipulate this kind of fickle crowd into thinking Coriolanus is a bad ruler again. This is exactly what Brutus and Sicinius plot to do by manipulating them into thinking that the power will taken from the people if they vote of Coriolanus. Here is he that would take you all from power. The truth is that they are only jealous of Coriolanus and feel threatened by him. Then our office may // During his power go sleep.
In order too see if Coriolanus’ actions are to fulfil his maternal destiny we must look at Coriolanus’ motives for his gallant deeds. We must look at whether they are virtus, deeds done solely for his own self pride and personal gain or pietas, deeds done for his family. We know from what is said about Coriolanus that there is a definite split opinion as to whether his pride is driving his deeds or maternal influence or indeed if he fights so bravely in pure selfless love for his country. He did it to please his mother and to be partly proud this quote suggests that Coriolanus’ motives are to please his Mother, a testimony to his loyalty to his mother. At the same time, the second half of this quote suggests a certain element of pride which is why he isn’t appealing to the plebeians.
But the difference between Coriolanus and main characters in other Shakespeare plays such as Macbeth and King Lear is that in those plays the main character is capable of reflecting on his actions and understanding where he’s gone wrong. Macbeth realises the pointlessness of his murders, King Lear sees how wrong he was to care only for his own riches and not for the poorest in the kingdom. Coriolanus, however, is faced with a situation, in which he can follow virtus and seek to revenge Rome by burning it down for his personal satisfaction or pietas and by doing so, save his family and discard his lust for revenge. The main difficulty with this decision for Coriolanus is that it means change. This is a daunting prospect for Coriolanus, The rock, the oak not to be wind-shaken. His mother’s influence which appears to have made him the rock he is is so strong that he cannot tell when the time is right to let go of virtus.
This is where Coriolanus surpasses his destiny, even his mother couldn’t have prepared for such a proud, stubborn son. Where Macbeth and King Lear realised they were wrong, Coriolanus stands firm, only deciding not to burn Rome because his mother begs him and shames him with [her] knees. This proves his undying love and loyalty to his mother he did it for his mother. The fact that his mother had to be on her knees, however suggests that he didn’t get his stubborn attitude solely from his mother. If he did then she would have come to expect this attitude from him but I believe that it is his desire and conditioning partly by the Roman aristocracy who look down on the Plebeians as a lower social group, that caused his immense pride.
In conclusion I believe that Coriolanus becomes the proud, brave, tough fighter that we see in his mother. However Coriolanus becomes so set in his ways that he can almost not change them, even though it meant putting his family’s life at stake. His own personal pride playing a part in that. But the fact that he doesn’t go ahead in burning Rome is a testimony to his loyalty to his mother even if he cannot reason what he has done wrong for himself.