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Character Analysis

Virgilia is Coriolanus' oh-so-loving spouse. Unlike her blood-thirsty mother-in-law, Virgilia hates to see her husband go off to war, but she keeps her mouth shut. Basically, she's what some of Shakespeare's 17th century audiences would have considered the ideal woman: chaste, obedient, and most importantly, silent. Of course, to modern audiences, she comes off as a mealy-mouthed little wimp.

Let's discuss.

The play makes a huge deal out of the fact that Virgilia is so "silent" all the time. Check out how Coriolanus greets her when he comes home from battle:

My gracious silence, hail.
Wouldst thou have laughed had I come coffined
That weep'st to see me triumph? Ah, my dear,
Such eyes the widows in Corioles wear
And mothers that lack sons.

What we get from this passage is a vivid image of Virgilia silently weeping as her husband gently teases her. There are a couple of ways we can read this.

Some audiences view her as pathetic and weak, mostly because she rarely has much to say and doesn't seem capable of influencing her husband's actions. In comparison, Coriolanus' mom (Volumnia) has a ton of things to say and seems like she has more of an influence on her son than anybody else. On the other hand, we could see Virgilia's "gracious silence" as an eloquent and dignified strength.

Hm. Tricky.


Virgilia is also the only character in Rome that doesn't love violence. Check out her response when Volumnia talks about how Coriolanus might be wounded in battle:


Methinks I see him stamp thus, and call thus:
'Come on, you cowards! you were got in fear,
Though you were born in Rome.' His bloody brow
With his mailed hand then wiping, forth he goes
Like to a harvest man that's tasked to mow
Or all or lose his hire.


His bloody brow? O Jupiter, no blood! (1.3.35-41)

This passage highlights the differences between Volumnia's and Virgilia's attitudes toward warfare. Here, Volumnia fantasizes about her son's military exploits and describes how awesome his "bloody brow" must look on the battlefield. On the other hand, Virgilia is horrified at the idea of her hubby being wounded.

No wonder Virgilia takes so much heat from other characters for being passive and mild-mannered. Volumnia calls her a "fool" (1.3.42) for not appreciating blood and guts, and even her best friend (Valeria) bags on her for being stressed out about the war. When Virgilia refuses to leave the house until Coriolanus returns from battle, her bestie snarkily compares her to "Penelope."

You would be another Penelope. Yet they say
all the yarn she spun in Ulysses' absence did but fill
Ithaca full of moths.

As we know, "Penelope" is the famous literary wife who stayed home pretend-weaving while her hubby Odysseus was out enjoying an epic adventure. And Valeria does not mean this as a compliment.