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Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



The scene begins with Coriolanus wondering if his mother, who was always contemptuous of the people, has cast him off nonetheless. Volumnia enters and tells her son that, while his honor is above reproach, he needs to tell the people what they wish to hear even if it weighs heavy on him to do so. She tells him to remind the people of his sacrifices and how he came to his status the hard way, and encourages him to speak insincerely: he should seem earnest, but he doesn't need to mean what he's saying and can be contemptuous in his heart. Menenius agrees with her, and Coriolanus resolves to follow his mother's advice. Cominius enters and relates the people are angry and Coriolanus should be aware of it.


This scene, through Volumnia, shows the power of diplomacy and skillful manipulation: she both encourages Coriolanus to manipulate the people and is able to directly manipulate her son. It is a quality of the play that is downplayed in favor of the headstrong, warring aspect. It is through her advice to concede to the demands of the people, to relent just enough, that moves Coriolanus to alter his megalomaniacal attitude. The importance of gender roles is plain. Though women have a reduced status in much of the undertakings in Roman society, they can still affect enormous change by way of familial relationships. Coriolanus listens to no one's counsel more than his mother's. The diplomatic, conciliatory quality is also present in Menenius. He is quick to acknowledge Volumnia's nobility and wisdom in seeking peace with the citizens.

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