speak. Speech is everywhere exploited and misused, and their relationship to words greet Coriolanus on his return from battle, Volumnia says of Cominius,. " He gives as a consequence, a division in the judgment, the counseling power . Volumnia is a character in William Shakespeare's play Coriolanus, the mother of Caius Martius Coriolanus tries and fails to follow the advice, and is banished from Rome. Volumnia is at the gate when Psychoanalytic critics read Coriolanus largely through his relationship through his mother. In their view, Volumnia never. The environment that shapes Coriolanus is the instruction he receives from his mother Volumnia.1 In his relationship with his mother, Coriolanus plays the weak .
In Roman times, as in Shakespeare's, the cult of militarism securely held the popular imagination and she is very much a creature of the times, as Barzilai points out.
Her son is not only Rome's savior; he is also in constant difficulty with the citizens, so her pride in him cannot be completely unalloyed by doubt. And Volumnia is constantly made painfully aware of his inability to compromise, a fatal flaw that must eventually destroy him. Like most parents, she probably feels guilty and responsible for his problems, despite her attempt to deny it at times.
This feeling of guilt seems to plague parents of troubled children whether or not they did in fact contribute to their child's problems. For Volumnia, the guilt would be especially strong since she had deliberately fostered his belligerence. Goaded by this guilt, Volumnia, like many real mothers, would then embark on an understandable but often ill-conceived attempt to locate a cause for his behavior in the way she had raised him.
Why, then, is she not also responsible when this same trait becomes self-defeating stubbornness in the political warfare of the forum? Is she not responsible for this as well? Thus, she constructs a narrative in which she is both the Juno-like mother who created a hero and the bitch-goddess who drives her son to destruction. And, of course, this arrogant, willful woman, who is so fearful of vulnerability, would find it extremely difficult to speak her mea culpa; for her, this is a feeling that dare not speak its name.
So, she crows about what she thinks she did to him, rather than speaking softly or with shame as she might if she were a less rigidly defended and more open about her feelings. She then buttresses her narrative by collecting only data that supports this theory, overlooking data that undermines it essayists, beware!
Partial truth then becomes the whole truth for Volumnia, and she takes full responsibility for Coriolanus's problems. Let me be clear here: I do not argue that she bears no responsibility for him; I agree with the other critics that she does.
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Rather, I argue that her guilt and narcissism lead her to construct an overly simplified narrative, a narrative that focuses exclusively on those aspects of her child-rearing for which she really does bear responsibility and to omit all divergent and confounding aspects: And we might also note in passing that Shakespeare always reflects complexity in his main characters. The very absence of complexity in Volumnia's strident proclamations prompts us to locate the subtle nuances and contradictions in her narrative that Shakespeare might only reveal sotto voce.
However, there is one place in the text where Volumnia speaks out plainly about the difficulties she had with Coriolanus as a child and openly contradicts her claim of having intentionally created him. Volumnia, now on her knees along with Virgilia and her grandson, begs him to spare the city but Coriolanus coldly refuses.
Volumnia, now desperate, implores him: There's no man in the world More bound to's mother, yet here he lets me prate Like one i' the stocks.
Thou hast never in thy life Showed thy dear mother any courtesy, When she, poor hen, fond of no second brood, Has lucked thee to the wars, and safely home Laden with honors 5. Her helplessness with him highlights an curious anomaly in their relationship: Although Volumnia here may be trying again to control him by making him feel guilty, her words also provide us with important additional information about his childhood.
She suggests that he always had been a difficult, at times an unmanageable child. Perhaps she had finally despaired of trying to discipline such a child and granted his wish to be a soldier, a real possibility for young boys in those times.
She might even have told herself that her brave little boy could look after himself, and therefore she could let him go and do as he wished. Forced acquiescence, rather than real agreement with his demands, became a prototype of how she had to deal with him: Now as an adult, he behaves with her and everyone else just as he behaved with her when he was a child. And we can note just how far Volumnia's account has changed from her braggadocio in 1. Thus we have two entirely different versions of their history together, and this contradiction demands our attention.
What was the real situation then: The text points Janus-like in both directions, and therefore we have no way of knowing which version is correct. She has already told us: But that does not mean that now we can totally dismiss her words here as outright fabrications. If we were to do this here, how would we decide which of her words to dismiss and which to privilege?
Could we dismiss her boast that she turned him into a warrior and simply attribute the claim to her overweening vanity? The words-on-the-page need to prevail, and we must accept the possibility that both versions are correct: Volumnia was a malignant bitch-goddess and a pathetic poor hen. Accordingly, we need to develop a reading that integrates both versions and reconciles them with the rest of the text. And this provides greater verisimilitude, for an integration that accommodates widely divergent and conflicting narratives comes closer to the usual complexities encountered in real mother-child relationships.William Shakespeare Coriolanus - FULL AudioBook
One Coriolanus With these two versions in mind, let us return to 1. In the integration I propose, Virgilia's fear for her husband's safety recalls for Volumnia her own fears for little Coriolanus or Marcius, as he was then called when he was off at the wars. This, of course, is exactly how women have had to stifle their fears for their soldier sons and now daughters throughout the ages.
But, of course, she does far more than simply defend herself against her fears; she also gratifies her own prodigious hostility by urging her son on the bloody course that he is determined to pursue. In this, she is like Freud's rider in his analogy of the ego's relationship with the id: Volumnia again bows to the inevitable and endorses it as her choosing.
And, of course, on still another level, his hostile behavior is of her choosing! Thus, both of Volumnia's versions of Coriolanus's childhood history are correct: And, as he grew older, physically stronger and more independent, she had even less control and had to let him go ever further, finally into the ultimate act of aggression: In questioning the conventional commentary on Volumnia, I raise the perplexing problem of the limitations of retrospective construction by both psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic literary critics of the parents' role in causing emotional problems in their children.
Long before Freud, this problem bedeviled parents as they tried to understand their own errors in child rearing in a similar effort to account for problems in their offspring. And the record of prediction of adult personality characteristics of children by direct observation of their parents is equally dismal: Of course, parents do bear a heavy responsibility for their child's emotional development, but the degree of parental responsibility for serious emotional problems in their offspring and the precise role of environmental influences on the child remain a largely unresolved issues in child developmental research.
In some extreme instances, this attitude led to treating only the parents and withholding treatment from the troubled children. Although including the parents in the therapeutic milieu can be very helpful, the position of holding parents solely responsible led to decades of clinical obfuscation and scapegoating of parents.
In Defense of Volumnia's Mothering in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus
Most clinicians now consider that complex constitutional factors in the child interact with equally complex environmental influences to determine adult personality. This intricate circularity precisely parallels the complex, reverberating dynamic seen in all close relationships.
How easy it was when we could avert all this complexity and simply fault the Volumnias of the real and fictional world! In this reading then, the hyperaggressive child, Caius Martius, is father to the reckless warrior, Coriolanus. Then he turned against his own republic and literally became an outlaw.
Thus, I read Volumnia's words as recalling the dilemma of a mother who finds herself trying to raise a hyperaggressive child. Such children can drive their mothers to distraction, and, in turn, many mothers respond by trying hard to curb them; some, in desperation, even risk breaking their spirit. But instead, Volumnia's own character structure caused her to adapt to her unruly son's ways and finally to take pleasure in his audacity.
Although words like these might distress the modern reader, one could easily argue that, given the Zeitgeist, Volumnia's support of Coriolanus's aggression contained elements of positive adaptation to the real dangers that surrounded Rome in those early days. I'll never Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand, As if a man were author of himself And knew no other kin 5. He is as imprinted with his family as if he were one of Lorenz's goslings.
I have tried to show that the text also represents how parents make their mark on the background of the child's inborn, constitutional proclivities. Thus, the analogy is more properly with a painting exhibiting pentimento or with a palimpsest, rather than with inscription on a blank slate.
We might even speculate about what would have happened had Coriolanus been born a more sensitive, even fearful child. Then he might have responded with anxiety to his mother's bloody wishes for him and become withdrawn, perhaps even hidden behind her skirts.
But now we leave the text too far behind. Notes 1 Awarded the Robert J. Wright and Virginia A. Washington Square Press, Back to Main Text 3 In a later publication, Kahn expands upon her formulation by pointing out that both Volumnia and Coriolanus are victims of Roman militarism: Back to Main Text 6 Plutarch's account of Coriolanus's contact with his father is somewhat ambiguous.
And he had the advantage, indeed, to have both parents partake with him, and enjoy the pleasures of his good fortune. But, Marius, believing himself bound to pay his mother Volumnia all that gratitude and duty which would have belonged to his father, had he been alive, could never satiate himself in his tenderness and respect to her.
Back to Main Text 7 The reader can observe this dynamic firsthand by watching a baby being fed, and glancing at the caretaker's mouth which almost invariably opens simultaneously with the baby's. Back to Main Text 8 For an overview of recent psychiatric research on this aspect of child development, see Zeanah et al and Mannuzza et al and Pajer.
For a psychoanalytic perspective on hyperactive children, see Gilmore. The current scientific literature on the heritability of constitutional tendencies for hyperaggression is not as nearly as compelling as studies indicating the importance of early constitutional factors in themselves, of whatever cause.
Back to Main Text 10 Plutarch tells us he went off to war as a "stripling. It surely would indicate this in modern times but even if this were also true for a boy in early Rome, we know that Shakespeare freely adapted Plutarch.
Yet, I think it means something that Shakespeare read Plutarch and closely followed him, at times almost word-for-word, in other places in this text.
Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare. Shakespeare's Coriolanus and the Compulsion to Repeat. Coming of Age in Shakespeare.
Masculine Identity in Shakespeare. University of California Press. Volumnia and her Son in Shakespeare's Coriolanus.
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- Who is to blame for Coriolanus's banishment?
A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 4. When her son arrives she praises him for his great deeds, saying he has fulfilled all her wishes for him except one: This wish is now easily within reach, she says, because his wounds will persuade the people to support him. In Act three, after Coriolanus is accused of treason because of some poorly-chosen words, he retreats to his home and discusses his predicament with his mother and a few friends.
Volumnia chides him for not waiting until after he had been chosen as consul before speaking his mind to the people. She urges him to go back and apologise, using milder words. Coriolanus tries and fails to follow the advice, and is banished from Rome.
Volumnia is at the gate when he is sent away, and curses the people of Rome for making her son an outcast. When Sicinius and Brutus, the ones who led the people against Coriolanus, appear, she rails on them. Was ever man so proud as this Martius? He has no equal. Mark'd you his lip and eyes?
Volumnia - Wikipedia
The present wars devour him! He is grown Too proud to be so valiant. From the point of view of Roman society there is no one to blame but Coriolanus himself. As illustrated by Menenius's story of the body and its parts 1.
By this criterion, although the military service Coriolanus has done for Rome is undeniably great, it is also undeniable that he is likely to do a great deal of harm to the living fabric of the society. On this point, Sicinius and Menenius, representatives of the two factions of society, cannot help but agree: He's a disease that must be cut away.
Oh, he's a limb that has but a disease. The play gives us, however, evidence of the causes behind human character. Through the character of Coriolanus's mother, and the nature of Roman society itself, we can see why Coriolanus is the way he is. We can note the influence of Roman society itself in its upholding valour as a high virtue. This is seen in the eagerness of the patricians to praise him for his supreme soldiership.
If I should tell thee o'er this thy day's work, Thou't not believe thy deeds: Far more important an influence has been his mother. Volumina has brought him up of with only one aim in mind; to make him a great soldier: When yet he was but tender bodied. To a cruel war I sent him, from whence he returned, his brows bound with oak. I tell thee daughter, I sprang of not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child, than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man. But had he died in the business, madam, how then?
Then his good report should have been my son.