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Volumnia is depicted as a powerful woman who exercises considerable influence over her son. She is an important character and appears in every act of the play. Her appearances are always significant, and her words have an important affect on Coriolanus. In fact, Volumnia is responsible for her son’s arrogance and contempt of the commoners. She has taught him to regard the plebeians as “woollen vessels” and “things created/To buy and sell with goats”. It is also Volumnia who has taught Coriolanus to treasure war wounds above the pleasures of common life. From an early age, she has trained him to be a soldier, valuing honor and bravery above all else. At the age of sixteen, she sent him off to war and gloried in his successes.
Volumnia’s ruling passion is fury. She claims that “Anger’s my meat; I sup upon myself,” but she is also judicious. As she tells Coriolanus she has “a brain that leads my use of anger / To better advantage.” While Coriolanus’ anger is incorrigible, Volumnia’s anger is not. In the same vein, Volumnia can be a political creature when needed, where her son has no sense of politics and refuses any part of pretension. In the end of the play, Volumnia “plays politics” with her son in order to save her beloved country. She tells Coriolanus that he will have to pass over her dead body before he attacks Rome. She also plays upon his honor, saying that he will be forever remembered as a traitor if he attacks his own country. Although no one else in Rome could accomplish it, Volumnia succeeds in swaying her son, proving she is the stronger personality of the two. Although she looses Coriolanus physically, she has saved his reputation. In Rome, he dies an honored man; additionally, she has gained her own glory.
Virgilia functions as a contrast to Volumnia. Although she is timid and retiring, she is not completely overshadowed by her domineering mother-in-law. Submissive and terrified of blood and wounds, she is more concerned about Coriolanus’ safe return home than about his triumph on the battlefield. Yet she shows firmness of resolve when she refuses to leave the house despite Volumnia’s admonitions and Valeria’s entreaties to do so.
There is a fine delicacy about Virgilia. Although she rarely speaks during the play, her silence constitutes an effective foil to Volumnia’s abundant rhetoric. Coriolanus calls her “my gracious silence”. It is interesting to note that when Coriolanus writes her a letter after his victory at Corioli, he does not mention his wounds, while his letter to Volumnia contains a detailed account of them. Virgilia is also highly emotional, often bursting into tears instead of expressing her feelings. After Coriolanus has been banished, however, she violently condemns the tribunes.
In the intercession scene, Virgilia’s “doves’ eyes” and tears induce Coriolanus to abandon his plan of attacking Rome. She shows strength of character as she seconds Volumnia’s threat and states that if he does attack Rome, he shall have to tread over her dead body. Coriolanus speaks no more tender lines in the play than in the intercession scene when he addresses Virgilia as the “Best of my flesh”. It is a fair assessment of Virgilia, for she is the only character, apart from Menenius, who really loves Coriolanus for who he is, not what he can be for others.