In Coriolanus, the only way to gain "honor" and virtue is to earn it on the battlefield. Military service is so important to Rome that mothers raise their kids to be killing machines and the Citizens are willing to vote for a guy they absolutely hate (Coriolanus) simply because he's a war hero. Problem is, the things that make Coriolanus such an awesome warrior (violent behavior, a hot temper, and a penchant for harsh language) also make him a really lousy politician.
So, does Shakespeare hate soldiers and the military? Is he waving a flag at the anti-military rally and defacing "Support Our Troops" stickers? Not quite. He's actually questioning Rome's treatment of its war heroes: the Romans may value Coriolanus on the battlefield, but they turn on him the minute they realize that he can't stop acting like a warrior on command. It seems like Shakespeare is asking us to think about what happens to all soldiers when they return home from war and don't fit in the way society wants them to.
Questions About Warfare
- What is Volumnia's attitude toward warfare? What's her role in her son's military career?
- How does the play portray the plebeians when it comes to warfare? Why are all the best soldiers aristocrats?
- According to the play, what's the difference between being a skillful warrior and a skillful politician?
- Why do you think Coriolanus has more respect for an enemy soldier (Tullus Aufidius) than he has for some of his own people (the Roman plebeians)?
Chew on This
Coriolanus' downfall comes about because he can't stop behaving like a "warrior" when he returns to Rome.
In the play, only aristocratic men can become military heroes, which means that women and plebeians are excluded from earning any kind of honor.