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The Demise of Coriolanus

Upon his banishment from Rome, at the end of Act III, Coriolanus declares: "For you, the city, thus I turn my back:/There is a world elsewhere" (III, iii.134-135). What Coriolanus tries to do is to sever himself off from the body politic as an entity that exists on its own in a world elsewhere. In the concluding scene of the play, Coriolanus tells the senators of Volsces: "Hail lords, I am returned you soldier/No more infected with my country's love/Than when I parted hence" (V, vi.,70-72). After his expulsion by the Roman polity, Coriolanus tries to strip himself of any civil identity or name. Thus, Cominius reports that Coriolanus would not answer him, and "forbade all names," adding that "he was a kind of nothing, titleless" (V, i., l.13). In the brief audience that he extends to Menenius, Coriolanus avows: "Wife, mother, child, I know not. My affairs/Are servanted to others" (V, ii., l.80).

Therein, however, lies the source of his ultimate demise. Coriolanus can deny the name of a Roman citizen but he cannot deny the Roman blood that flows through his veins. Coriolanus cannot sustain the myth of his own self-generation, it is his parents, and most keenly Volumnia, who is the source, the creator of Coriolanus. In Act V, scene iii, upon seeing Volumnia enter camp before Rome, Coriolanus tries to steel himself against her sway:

All bond and privilege of nature, break!
Let it be virtuous to be obstinate…
I melt and am not
Of stronger earth than others….
Let the Volsces
Plough Rome and harrow Italy. I'll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand
As if a man were author of himself
And knew no other kin.
(V, iii. ll.25-37).



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