Print Friendly, PDF & Email


ACT I SCENE III. Rome. A room in Marcius’ house.
[ Enter VOLUMNIA and VIRGILIA they set them down on two low stools, and sew ]
VOLUMNIA I pray you, daughter, sing; or express yourself in a
more comfortable sort: if my son were my husband, I
should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he
won honour than in the embracements of his bed where
he would show most love. When yet he was but
tender-bodied and the only son of my womb, when
youth with comeliness plucked all gaze his way, when
for a day of kings’ entreaties a mother should not
sell him an hour from her beholding, I, considering
how honour would become such a person. that it was 10
no better than picture-like to hang by the wall, if
renown made it not stir, was pleased to let him seek
danger where he was like to find fame. To a cruel
war I sent him; from whence he returned, his brows
bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not
more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child
than now in first seeing he had proved himself a
VIRGILIA But had he died in the business, madam; how then?
VOLUMNIA Then his good report should have been my son; I 20
therein would have found issue. Hear me profess
sincerely: had I a dozen sons, each in my love
alike and none less dear than thine and my good
Marcius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their
country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.
[Enter a Gentlewoman]
Gentlewoman Madam, the Lady Valeria is come to visit you.
VIRGILIA Beseech you, give me leave to retire myself.
VOLUMNIA Indeed, you shall not.
Methinks I hear hither your husband’s drum,
See him pluck Aufidius down by the hair,
As children from a bear, the Volsces shunning him:
Methinks I see him stamp thus, and call thus:
‘Come on, you cowards! you were got in fear, 30
Though you were born in Rome:’ his bloody brow
With his mail’d hand then wiping, forth he goes,
Like to a harvest-man that’s task’d to mow
Or all or lose his hire.
VIRGILIA His bloody brow! O Jupiter, no blood!
VOLUMNIA Away, you fool! it more becomes a man
Than gilt his trophy: the breasts of Hecuba,
When she did suckle Hector, look’d not lovelier
Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood
At Grecian sword, contemning. Tell Valeria, 40
We are fit to bid her welcome.
[Exit Gentlewoman]
VIRGILIA Heavens bless my lord from fell Aufidius!
VOLUMNIA He’ll beat Aufidius ‘head below his knee
And tread upon his neck.
[Enter VALERIA, with an Usher and Gentlewoman]
VALERIA My ladies both, good day to you.
VOLUMNIA Sweet madam.
VIRGILIA I am glad to see your ladyship.
VALERIA How do you both? you are manifest house-keepers.
What are you sewing here? A fine spot, in good
faith. How does your little son? 50
VIRGILIA I thank your ladyship; well, good madam.
VOLUMNIA He had rather see the swords, and hear a drum, than
look upon his school-master.
VALERIA O’ my word, the father’s son: I’ll swear,’tis a
very pretty boy. O’ my troth, I looked upon him o’
Wednesday half an hour together: has such a
confirmed countenance. I saw him run after a gilded
butterfly: and when he caught it, he let it go
again; and after it again; and over and over he
comes, and again; catched it again; or whether his
fall enraged him, or how ’twas, he did so set his
teeth and tear it; O, I warrant it, how he mammocked 61
VOLUMNIA One on ‘s father’s moods.
VALERIA Indeed, la, ’tis a noble child.
VIRGILIA A crack, madam.
VALERIA Come, lay aside your stitchery; I must have you play
the idle husewife with me this afternoon.
VIRGILIA No, good madam; I will not out of doors.
VALERIA Not out of doors!
VOLUMNIA She shall, she shall.
VIRGILIA Indeed, no, by your patience; I’ll not over the
threshold till my lord return from the wars. 71
VALERIA Fie, you confine yourself most unreasonably: come,
you must go visit the good lady that lies in.
VIRGILIA I will wish her speedy strength, and visit her with
my prayers; but I cannot go thither.
VOLUMNIA Why, I pray you?
VIRGILIA ‘Tis not to save labour, nor that I want love.
VALERIA You would be another Penelope: yet, they say, all
the yarn she spun in Ulysses’ absence did but fill
Ithaca full of moths. Come; I would your cambric
were sensible as your finger, that you might leave
pricking it for pity. Come, you shall go with us. 82
VIRGILIA No, good madam, pardon me; indeed, I will not forth.
VALERIA In truth, la, go with me; and I’ll tell you
excellent news of your husband.
VIRGILIA O, good madam, there can be none yet.
VALERIA Verily, I do not jest with you; there came news from
him last night.
VIRGILIA Indeed, madam?
VALERIA In earnest, it’s true; I heard a senator speak it.
Thus it is: the Volsces have an army forth; against
whom Cominius the general is gone, with one part of
our Roman power: your lord and Titus Lartius are set
down before their city Corioli; they nothing doubt
prevailing and to make it brief wars. This is true,
on mine honour; and so, I pray, go with us.
VIRGILIA Give me excuse, good madam; I will obey you in every
thing hereafter.
VOLUMNIA Let her alone, lady: as she is now, she will but
disease our better mirth. 101
VALERIA In troth, I think she would. Fare you well, then.
Come, good sweet lady. Prithee, Virgilia, turn thy
solemness out o’ door. and go along with us.
VIRGILIA No, at a word, madam; indeed, I must not. I wish
you much mirth.
VALERIA Well, then, farewell.

Next: Coriolanus, Act 1, Scene 4


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 3
From Coriolanus. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.

STAGE DIRECTION. Volumnia and Virgilia, the real names of the mother and the wife of Coriolanus were respectively Veturia and Volumnia.

2. more comfortable sort, more cheerful manner.

4. would show, desired to show.

6, 7. when youth … way, when his youthful beauty made everyone turn to look at him; his way, in his direction: for an hour, in return for an hour, or, in order to secure an hour.

7, 8. should not … beholding, would certainly refuse to part with him for a single day; sell, the price given being an hour of kings’ entreaties.

8, 9. how honour … person, in what way honour would best lend a charm to one so comely in appearance; what kind of honour would be most in keeping with his look and bearing.

9-11. that it was … stir, that such comeliness would be no better than a picture to hang on the wall, unless it were set aglow, roused into animation, by the pursuit of renown; cp. A. C. i. 1. 43, “Cleo. Antony will be himself. Ant. But stirr’d by Cleopatra.” Schmidt and Wright take to hang by the wall as = to be neglected, as in M. M. i. 2. 171, “which have, like unscour’d armour, hung by the wall“; Cymb. iii. 4. 54, “Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion; And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls, I must be ripp’d”; but in both cases the things spoken of are out of date, and picture-like seems to show that it is the want of animation due to a stay-at-home, monotonous, existence that would take from his comeliness; and it is probably rather with the lifeless tapestry hangings, with their pictorial designs, that the comparison is made. Cp. for the idea Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, ii. 35, 6, “As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.”

12. cruel, bloody, fierce.

13. his brows bound with oak, the oaken garland was an honour granted to one who had saved the life of a Roman citizen in battle and slain his opponent. It ensured the wearer a place next the senators in public assemblies, where all rose as he entered. Coriolanus obtained the garland at the battle of the Lake Regillus, B.C. 498.

13, 4. I sprang … joy, my heart did not leap with great exultation: a man-child, a male child, a boy; cp. Macb. i. 7. 72, “Bring forth men-children only.”

16. how then? what would have been your feelings in that case?

17. Then his … son, then the fame he had earned would have been to me in the place of my son; should expresses her determination.

17, 8. I therein … issue, I should have cherished his fame as though it were the outcome of my womb.

19, 20. each in my love … Marcius, each of them equally dear with the Marcius whom we both love so dearly.

20-2. I had rather … action, I should have been more glad that eleven of them should perish than that one of them should live a life of inactive indulgence.

24. to retire myself, to retire to my own chamber, “The predilection for transitive verbs was perhaps one among other causes why many verbs which are now used intransitively, were used by Shakespeare reflexively. Many of these were derived from the French” (Abb. § 296).

26. Methinks … drum, it seems to me as though I hear the sound of your husband’s drum (as he causes it to be beaten for the assault) borne hither; for the use of forth, hence, hither, without a verb of motion (motion being implied), see Abb. § 41.

28. As children … him, the Volscians scuttling away before him like children running for their lives from a bear.

29. call thus, thus shout to his own troops afraid to follow him.

30, 1. ‘you were … Rome,’ you may have been bom in Rome, but you have nothing of the Roman about you; your sires were a pack of cowards.

32. mail’d hand, hand gauntleted in mail; armour made of links of steel.

33, 4. Like to … hire, like a labourer hired for the harvest on the condition that he shall get in the whole crop, or receive no wages for his labour; for the transposition of or, which belongs properly to to mow, see Abb. § 420.

35. Jupiter, no blood! Jove forbid that a drop of his blood should be spilled!

36. becomes, adorns.

37. Than gilt his trophy, than the plating of gold adorns a monument erected to a man; trophy, literally a monument erected at the spot where the enemy turned and fled.

39, 40. when it spit … contemning, when, as though in scorn of their blows, the blood spurted from his wounds in the face of his foes; the blood is spoken of as though animated with the contempt felt by him from whom it was drawn. The folios read ‘At Grecian sword. Contenning,’ or ‘At Grecian swords Contending’; the reading in the text is a conjecture of Collier’s, adopted by most modem editors.

41. fit, prepared, ready.

42. Heavens … Aufidius! may the heavens show their love for my lord by preserving him from the cruel Aufidius; fell, A. S. fel, cruel, fierce.

43, 4, He’ll beat … neck, the strong-minded Volumnia is ashamed that Virgilia’s fear should prompt such an unworthy prayer.

48. you are manifest housekeepers, you are thorough stay-at-homes; keep, in the sense of remainabide, is frequent in Shakespeare, e.g. Cymb. iii. 5. 46, “She pray’d me to excuse her keeping close,” i.e. remaining in her room; Macb. iii. 2. 8, “How now, my lord, why do you keep alone; below, v. 1. 7, “I’ll keep at home”; for manifest, = notorious, well known, cp. M. M. v. 1. 303, “The duke’s unjust, Thus to retort yourmanifest appeal.”

49. What … here? what needle-work are you engaged upon? A fine spot, a pretty pattern of embroidery; so, Oth. iii. 3. 435, “Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief Spotted with strawberries in your wife’s hand?”, i.e. embroidered with strawberries.

54, 5. O’ my word … son, a true son of his father’s, I declare; a ‘chip of the old block,’ as we say colloquially; ’tis a very pretty boy, cp. A. C. iii. 2, 6, “‘Tis a noble Lepidus”; Tim. iii. 1. 23, “a noble gentleman ’tis.”

55. O’ my troth, I assure you; literally on, i.e. by my truth: looked upon him, watched him playing about.

56. has, on the omission of the pronoun before hasis, was, see Abb. § 400: confirmed, resolute, determined; cp. M. A. v. 4. 17, “Which I will do with confirmed countenance”; Lucr. 1513, “like a constant andconfirmed devil.”

58, 9. and after it again, and immediately he was in pursuit of it again: over … again, down he comes, head over heels, and in a moment up he gets upon his legs again in full chase.

59. catched, here only as a preterite, though used as a participle in L. L. L. V. 2. 69, A. W. i. 3. 176, R. J. iv. 5. 48.

59-61. or whether … tear it, whether his tumble had made him angry, or what was the reason, I don’t know, but, etc. For the superfluous or before whether, see Abb. § 136.

61. O, I warrant … it! I can’t tell you how viciously he tore it to pieces; mammocked, from mammock, a fragment. Halliwell (Arch. and Prov. Dict.) quotes Optick Glasse of Humors, 1639, “Small mammocks of stone”; and The School of Vertue, “Salt with thy knife, then reach to and take. Thy bread cut faire and no mammocks make.” He also refers to Major Moor’s Suffolk Words and Phrases, “to cut and hack victuals wastefully.”

62. One on’s father’s moods, just like his father in one of his fits of passion.

64. A crack, “a slightly contemptuous phrase applied to a child, and used by Valeria to qualify the compliments of her visitor” (Wright); cp. ii. H. IV. iii. 2. 34, “I see him break Scogan’s head … when a’ was a crack not this high.” Grant White thinks that “boys may have been so called on account of their talkative, boastful dispositions.”

65. stitchery, your stitching; the work upon which you are engaged as stitchers.

65, 6. I must … afternoon, I am determined to make you give up your household cares this afternoon and take a holiday; huswife, house-wife; now used only in the corrupted form hussy, a pert girl. Cp. Oth. i. 3. 273, “Let housewives make a skillet of my helm.”

70. by your patience, if you will pardon me: I’ll not … threshold, I will not stir a step from home.

73. go visit, for the omission of to, see Abb. § 340: that lies in, who is in child-bed, who has just had a child born to her.

77. want love, am lacking in good feeling.

78. You would … Penelope, you wish to show your loyalty to your husband as strongly as Penelope; who when Ulysses was at the siege of Troy, and she was pestered by suitors, promised to make her choice among them as soon as she finished a web she was weaving, but, to gain time, undid at night the work she had done by day.

80. I would, I could wish: cambric, a kind of fine white linen. “A corruption of Cambray, a town in Flanders, where it was first made” (Skeat, Ety. Dict.). Cp. arras, from Arras, in Artois; jane, from Genoa; frieze, from Friesland, etc. etc.: sensible, capable of feeling pain; cp. J. C. i. 3. 18, “his hand Not sensible of fire”; L. L. L. iv. 3. 337, “Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible.”

81. leave … pity, cease thrusting your needle into it out of mere pity.

92. the Volsces … forth, the Volscians have marched an army out of their territories into ours.

94. set down, see note on i. 2. 28.

95, 6. they nothing … wars, they have no doubt of overcoming them and making short work of the war; for this indefinite use of it, see Abb. § 226.

96, 7. and so … us, i.e. since I have been able to give you news which may set your heart at rest.

98. Give me excuse, allow me to excuse myself; little more than a periphrastical way of saying ‘excuse me,’ though with a flavour of greater courtesy.

100, 1. as she is … mirth, in her present fraine of mind, she would, if she accompanied us, only spoil our enjoyment, which will be greater without her; better, used proleptically, as dearer. Temp. v. 1. 68, “so their rising senses Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle Their clearer reason,” i.e. their reason which is made clearer by the chasing, etc.; so, “these quartered slaves,” above, i. 1. 189.

102, 3. you … thy, on the change from you to thy, see Abb. § 231.

103, 4. turn … door, banish your sadness; cp. Temp. iii. 2. 78, “by this hand, I’ll turn my mercy out o’ doors and make a stock-fish of thee.”

105. at a word, in a word; cp. M. W. i. 1. 109, “He hath wronged me: indeed he hath; at a word, he hath”; M. A. ii. 1. 118, “Urs. I know you well enough; you are Signior Antonio. AntAt a word, I am not”; and 1. 125: I must not, I am compelled to refuse you.