Shakespeare 103

Volumnia in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is formidable Roman matron. She is as smart, strong-willed, spirited, and heroic as any man. Yet as a woman, she is unable to pursue her political and military ambitions and so decants them into Coriolanus, her only child. Since his birth, her obsession has been his military glory and she is successful in her efforts by focusing her attention on her task to the exclusion of all else. 

Great stuff!

But remember, this play is considered a tragedy for good reason.

When famine sweeps Rome in the first decade of the 5th century BC, the civilians blame their rulers for hoarding food supplies. Not surprisingly, this gives Coriolanus the perfect opportunity to strut his military stuff, which he does par excellence. Although initially, the proud Coriolanus is feted by the good citizens of Rome as a hero, he has unwittingly made enemies powerful enough to ensure his and his mother’s ambitions come to naught. And so when unfairly he is later banished from Rome, like his mother, he powerfully turns his mind toward one goal: revenge. 

Again, Coriolanus struts his military stuff by raising an army strong enough to destroy Rome. The good citizens who once hailed and then degraded him are understandably, scared. Although his friends go to his camp to plead mercy, it is only his mother, Volumnia, who can persuade him to cease and desist and in doing so, she is hailed as the saviour of the city. But the powerful enemies of Coriolanus are not so easily placated and so after having been accused as a traitor, Coriolanus is murdered in a vicious frenzy.

Lesson: Without enough ambition, we accomplish nothing but with too much ambition, we may lose everything.

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