English 210 War and Fashioning of Gender
20 September 2018
A Mother’s Touch
One usually associates a mother with being kind, nurturing, and only wanting the best for their child. In early modern tragedies, the role of a woman as a supporting character to male protagonists challenges the a-typical thoughts about gender roles in society and how these roles shape their interactions with each other and the community. In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Volumnia’s role as more of a father than a mother, contours Caius Martius’s actions causing him to question his identity and the viewer to question his masculinity.
In a time of war, society has historically trained and sent men to fend for their country because women were thought to be too delicate of creatures to fend off predators of the state. Most female characters in Shakespeare’s plays reflect this thought, but Volumnia’s character caresses the idea that not all women are afraid of war. Volumnia scoffs at Virgilia for not being proud of her husband’s triumphs and the pain he suffers on the battlefield: “Hear me profess sincerely: had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Martius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action” (Shakespeare, I, iii, 21-25). Volumnia would rather have her eleven sons fight and die honorably for their country and her family name, rather than one die a after living a comfortable life. This proud, father like action goes against the normal motherly thought about wanting one’s child to have a good life and die comfortable, illustrates that Volumnia sees her son as more a trophy then a son. Because she cannot fight on the battle field herself, she lives through her son’s exploits at war. The fiercer he fights, the prouder she is, and the stronger Caius Martius’s identity of self as the warrior becomes.
Though Coriolanus is fully capable of destroying enemy cites himself, the push from his mother to be the dominating combatant constantly motivates him to gain more scares for his country and traps him into being someone he is not. Coriolanus does not even like the people of Rome, “Bid them wash their faces and keep their teeth clean” (Shakespeare II, iii, 59-60). Martius’s disgust for the people has not gone unnoticed by them, but Volumnia’s stronghold in swaying her son to become the leader of the people expresses Shakespeare’s desire for Volumnia to be more like a advising father than a loving mother, causing Martius’s to question his own identity in the world. In the film version of Coriolanus, Volumnia wraps her son’s wounds in bandages while gently planting the seed that will be his biggest downfall. She snakes herself around him and says “to see inherited my very wishes and the buildings of my fancy. Only there’s one thing wanting, which I doubt not but our Rome will cast upon thee” (Fiennes/Shakespeare II, i, 194-197). It is here t...