Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Act 5, Scene 3 | Summary



After Coriolanus tells Aufidius he will not tolerate any more pleas from the Romans, Volumnia, Virgilia, Valeria, and young Martius enter. Volumnia bows to Coriolanus, which moves him, and Virgilia's kiss brings him to his knees. Volumnia kneels to him, which he cannot believe. Yet Coriolanus tells the women he does not want to hear pleading on Rome's behalf. To counter this, Volumnia appeals to Coriolanus's sense of honor. She states if he sacks Rome his reputation will forever be cursed. If he does have victory he will know he will have vanquished them as well. The entire group finally kneels before Coriolanus, and Volumnia says they will return to Rome to die with their neighbors. They rise and prepare to leave, but Coriolanus takes Volumnia's hand and relents. He then asks for Aufidius to understand his change of heart.


It is never explained how the women and child were able to gain an audience with Coriolanus, particularly since he has been adamant not to speak with Romans. The difficulty Menenius had with Coriolanus in the previous scene seemed to put an end to any further Roman appeals. The power of women is manifest in this scene, which is filled with supplication and words of longing. Body language is more important in this scene than in any other. The bows, kneeling, turns, and final hand holding seem to carry as much narrative weight as the words. This scene is, of course, the climax of the play. Rome's future is at stake and there are no envoys who can beg Coriolanus's favor more effectively than the women he holds most dear. It is also important to note that though this is considered the high point of the play, the physical placement of the characters is the lowest of the entire play. Coriolanus and the entire group at some point kneel, placing them as close to earth as possible. It suggests that all machinations up to this point have been futile, and the only thing left of value is love and one's relationships.

Gender has risen to this highest level of importance, with the female characters overcoming their male relative through gentleness. This scene shows the importance of the domestic sphere: while political and military ties have failed to move Coriolanus, his family can.

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