In drama, readers are given spoken language and stage directions to interpret the world of the play. In Shakespeare’s case, stage directions are close to non-existent and as analysts of what most consider the most gifted and eloquent playwright of humanity, it is possible to expound upon the most minute details and possible interpretations of his work. Having no information on what Shakespeare thought of his own work or his intended literary and dramatic motives, he speaks through his character’s voices.
It is important to observe Coriolanus objectively to see how his interactions with his supporting characters shape the play and shed light on why Shakespeare chose to lead him down his tragic spiral. The main benefit of the first seven weeks of class has been to take twenty informed opinions and allow them to take shape in structured discussion in order to fuel theories and the building process of discovering major themes and literary motives in important literature to theater as an area of study.
There are many sections of speech in Coriolanus that provide an outlet of use for the techniques that have been refined in class so we may be able to break off as individuals and formulate solid and specific arguments by ourselves. In lines 182-193, before the closure of Act Five, Scene Three, Coriolanus succumbs to his family’s pleas thus relinquishing pride’s strong grip around his headstrong personality and through the form of the scene and these specific lines and their dramatic explosiveness, his tragic flaw is revealed being not his pride, but his willingness and ability to understand the false motivations it has inspired within him.
What have you done? Behold, the heavens do ope, The gods look down, and this unnatural scene They laugh at. O my mother, mother! O! You have won a happy victory to Rome; But for your son-believe it-O believe it! – Most dangerously you have with him prevailed, If not most mortal to him. But let it come. Aufidius, though I cannot make true wars, I’ll frame convenient peace. Now, good Aufidius, Were you in my stead, would you have heard A mother less? Or granted less, Aufidius? (L. 182-193 pp. 128-129)*
In Scene Three of Act Five, Shakespeare provides the suspension of two possible outcomes. Volumnia, Virgilia, and Coriolanus’ son are the last line of defense against Coriolanus’ tyranny towards Rome. This passage proves their success and Rome’s safety. However, in these few lines Shakespeare spells out his twist on the concepts of ancient tragedies. Volumnia’s monologues have moved Coriolanus with her sound reasons and swayed him from war. His mentioning of the “gods laughing” brings reference to the god’s ultimate say of fate in ancient tragedy due to the hero’s tragic flaw.
Because Coriolanus until this point has been too proud to change his strong heart, although Volumnia was close enough to make him try when he was sent to apologize to the Roman people, Shakespeare is providing an alternative to the tragic flaw of pride leading Coriolanus all the way to his demise. Instead, it is Coriolanus’ lack of conviction in his pride and his weakness in the face of his mother’s description of how his nobility will be warped that stops him from reeking revenge on his once beloved city.
Coriolanus has essentially realized that all his emotional effort has been exerted to a motive “poisonous to his honor” (l. 146). It is a firm example that shows Coriolanus’ simple pride in war is tainted by the constant pressure and coercive ability of Volumnia. Therefore, against the grain of heroic tragedy in Greece or Rome, Coriolanus’ fall has a major co-catalyst in the form of his mother. His acknowledgment that the Gods are in shock of his change reveals the power than Coriolanus thought it would take to sway him.
Not only is it unexpected to him that this amount of power has been reached but it is also a blow to the reader. Sequential to the revelation of Coriolanus’ willingness to accept humility in the face of his family and emotions is his acceptance of its consequence. It presents a puzzling dilemma to the interpreter because there is a fine line of emotional distinction to be drawn from what Coriolanus is saying. In stating that Rome will stay untouched at the possible mortal demise of himself, Shakespeare is cleverly letting Coriolanus announce that he has just killed himself by giving in.
Once again the brief lapse of pride within Coriolanus is immediately channeled to his acceptance of death, “But let it come” (l. 189). It is another reiteration in the emotional and dramatic importance of this moment in that the strength of this decision could lead to death but he will nobly accept it. The next shift is equally as pivotal because it allows for Shakespeare to continue the play. Knowing Aufidius can’t take Rome without him, Coriolanus at least is comforted in “framing the convenient peace.
Instead of Aufidius killing Coriolanus immediately, Coriolanus is falsely convinced of Aufidius’ equal reception to the heartfelt arguments of Volumnia. What the conclusion of this section of speech points to is yet another shift, this time within the motive of Aufidius to get back his power at the cost of Coriolanus. It must be assumed then, that Aufidius waits because his conspiracy will be more beneficial carried out another time and that Volumnia’s words have genuinely effected him as well in his acceptance of peace.
Also, now it is revealed that the convolution of Aufidius lies mainly in his struggles with Coriolanus and not with those of Rome which becomes very important in the last scene of the play. The rhetorical form of this speech in the play is dynamic and effective in its parallel to the emotional struggles and shifts that have been discussed. Repetition is prevalent in this speech and points to the emotional weight of its content.
As previously discussed, Volumnia’s importance and ability to make her son change is emphasized in his repetition of “Mother” as he has caved in and his high emotional level can also be seen in the repetition of “O. ” The most significant repetition, however, is that of “Aufidius. ” As Coriolanus has begun his appeal to Aufidius for life, Shakespeare has framed that small section of Coriolanus’ speech with “Aufidius” initially, “good Aufidius” directly in the middle, and his name once more in conclusion to the section. This is fitting because the repetition of his name emphasizes his importance in what Coriolanus is asking of him.
A similarly effective device is the use of inversions that bring words like “Most dangerously” before the rest of the sentence thus emphasizing the strength and weight of the important words initially in context to the rest of the phrase. Finally, word choice is specifically important to the phrase, “though I cannot make true wars, I’ll frame convenient peace” (l. 190-191). The idea of “true war” correlates to Volumnia describing her son’s action as blinded and childish. The war isn’t “true” to Coriolanus because he has realized his pride had been channeled to false ends.
In response and in the anticipation of what Aufidius’ response will be, Coriolanus can “frame convenient peace. ” Framing the convenience of peace is effective in this sentence because it is presenting something to Aufidius that might benefit him in a pretty or easily organized way. This eleven-line, three-sectioned speech brings important light to many of the pending questions brought forth through the play until this point and also shows how Shakespeare warps the rules of traditional tragedy in his immense and wonderful-to-analyze world of language.
The initial section of this speech is the collapse of Coriolanus’ pride at the catalyst of his mother’s coercion and the shock within himself that something could actually stop him from attacking Rome. The next section is Coriolanus quickly rebuilding the shattered blocks of his pride and channeling them towards his nobility by accepting that he might die for realizing his fault and stopping the pending war. Finally, there is Coriolanus’ appeal to Aufidius. It is crucial because it directly asks if the power of this woman’s arguments can move Coriolanus to tears and abandonment of his pride, shouldn’t they be as effective to Aufidius?
While some may argue Coriolanus is doomed for death at the initial arguments with the patricians at the beginning of the play, it is important to observe this speech in act Five within the context of the play and his death as well. It is accessible in utilizing analysis tools that have been brought forth in class. Most specifically, its form both internally and how it fits to the rest of the play speaks of its importance. It creates a wonderfully dynamic triangle of struggle between Volumnia, Coriolanus, and Aufidius. It is also the last shift within Coriolanus’ decisions that will send him to death.
Ironically and subtly Shakespeare has him speak of the gods laughing at this immediately after he has made the decision. Shakespeare demonstrates that the higher the level of headstrong pride within a character, the more shattering the effect is if another character with more power is able to second-guess their personality. In these eleven lines, Volumnia has triggered the crushing blow to Coriolanus’ pride and in return sparked the super objective of Aufidius back to light thus leading to the ever-foreshadowed death of the tragic hero.