Coriolanus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus | Motifs


Scars and Wounds

Bodily harm runs throughout the play and particularly enhances the themes of war and honor. As mentioned in Plutarch's Lives, wounds from battle were a source of glory and valor. Shakespeare makes constant references throughout the play to scars and wounds. These indicate sacrifice. Whether they are indeed badges of honor depends on the viewpoint of other characters. Volumnia, Coriolanus's mother, sees every wound as a testament to her son's bravery and manhood. In Act 2, Scene 1 she and Coriolanus's friend and advisor Menenius actually count the wounds they can recall on Coriolanus's body. On the other hand, the tribunes Sicinius and Brutus are not as impressed with his injuries and are more concerned about the effect his arrogance has on the plebeians. Coriolanus himself views his physical manifestations of suffering differently throughout the play. For example, he covets his wounds from battle. But he does not want citizens to see his scars privately when he is forced to humble himself in front of them in Act 2, Scene 3. Scarring is also used in a nonhuman context when Aufidius refers to his pleasure of hearing Coriolanus's desire to side with him. In Act 4, Scene 5 Aufidius makes the parallel between his happiness and wood exploding and scarring "the moon with splinters" (line 121). It is interesting how Shakespeare equates boundless joy with an aggressive metaphor in which the moon, a heavenly body, is wounded.


In Act 1, Scene 3 Volumnia says a bloody brow "more becomes a man / Than gilt his trophy." In this statement she honors the loss of blood more than a golden trophy of valor. Martius displays his blood-spattered face proudly in Act 1, Scenes 4 and 5 after his assault on the Volscians with no attempt to clear his face. He says it is not his blood, which means he has been victorious. Later Coriolanus tries to convince Aufidius to allow him to fight with him against Rome. He refers to the blood that his "country's breast" has lost in battles between the Romans and Volscians. Coriolanus is hoping that blood in this instance will convey the seriousness of his plea to Aufidius. Blood equals losses he and the Volscians have endured and how it should be emblematic of his honor and Aufidius's, even though Coriolanus is turning against his own city. In Act 5, Scene 1 Cominius mentions "the drops / That we have bled together" (lines 11 and 12) as if they should relate to a common bond that should be meaningful to Coriolanus but which failed to move him when Cominius tried to dissuade him from attacking Rome. So warlike is the play that even close friendship is measured in terms of blood.

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