If you're a lady in Coriolanus, you have two choices: domineering, aggressive, and vocal Volumnia; or Virgilia, the typical 17th century "good wife." She's chaste, silent, and obedient--all of the things that Shakespeare's original audience members would have associated with so-called "ideal" womanhood. No options if you're a dude, though. There's just one way to be a man: be violent and aggressive, both on and off the battlefield. Just about everyone else buys into this flying-chest-bump version of masculinity—and it gets Coriolanus killed. Patriarchy hurts everyone, Shmoopers.
Questions About Gender
- What's the play's attitude toward Volumnia's gender-bending behavior?
- Explain the relationship between masculinity and warfare in this play. Are there any ways to be a man other than killing people?
- Why does Coriolanus flip out when Aufidius calls him a "boy" in Act 5, scene 6?
- How does the play portray its female characters?
Chew on This
Even though Volumnia and Valeria suggest that soft-spoken Virgilia is a mealy-mouthed little wimp, Virgilia has a quiet strength that proves she's not a weak figure in her husband's life.
Coriolanus experiences his downfall because he was raised to be a macho warrior instead of a thoughtful man who is capable of ruling Rome.