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Coriolanus is a man of action who is finally defeated by words. To what extent do you agree?

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Introduction

'Coriolanus is a man of action who is finally defeated by words.' To what extent do you agree? There is no question that Coriolanus has, like any other tragic hero, a large flaw in his soldier personality, a weakness that could inevitably lead to his downfall. His inability with words against his ability as a warrior is a fatal combination, and this begs the question as to whether it was this one weakness or his military strengths that were ultimately the cause of his defeat. Coriolanus demonstrates right from the beginning of the play that his tactless way with words leads him to become his own worst enemy. In Act 1, Scene 1, Menenius cleverly uses the Parable of the Belly to highlight to the plebeians how fundamental Coriolanus is to their society, that he is 'the storehouse and the shop of the whole body' and they couldn't get by without him. Yet immediately after the citizens have calmed down and accepted Menenius' speech as 'an answer', Coriolanus enters and undoes all that Menenius has said by saying that the 'dissentious rogues' are 'curs...hares...geese' who 'like nor peace nor war', belittling them first through his use of animal imagery and again by implying their weak and fickle nature. ...read more.

Middle

All Coriolanus' rant manages to do is make the citizens turn against him even more and convince them to indeed 'banish him'. This banishment does eventually lead to his death, so in this particular instance the use of words is a key factor in his defeat. Although throughout the majority of the play the tragic hero is seen as a poor public speaker, there are a few examples of words turning from being his enemy to being his friend. Act 1, Scene 4 sees Coriolanus giving a speech to ready his army for battle. Shakespeare cleverly changes his speech into verse for the first time, to highlight the change in the quality of his words and also to emphasise his persuasiveness. He also describes his soldiers as having 'hearts more proof than shields', a powerful metaphor designed to inspire them to fight. He treats the men as his 'fellows' rather than animals, as well as threatening to kill them if they don't fight. This authoritative and influential speech made by Coriolanus emphasises the fact that he is able to use words effectively when he needs to. Act 1, Scene 6 also includes a powerful use of rhetoric by Coriolanus when he asks 'make you a sword of me?' which incorporates the extended metaphor of the body politic and of all the men working together, a very significant element as it is the first time this play sees the men working as one with the protagonist. ...read more.

Conclusion

She 'rejoiced in [his] absence' when he was fighting and was 'pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame'. Honour was what mattered most to her, and her guidance had managed to lead Coriolanus astray, as she steered herself and her son through her delusional plans to make him a great leader. She counts his wounds and 'thank[s] the gods for't', which is a very unaffectionate thing to do. This lack of a true maternal presence in his life is what some believe to be the leading factor that made him abandon Rome to fight alongside Aufidius after he was accused of being a traitor and ultimately what led to his death. This is then another possible example of the use of words against him as his own mother shaped him into the man he became through her words. Although Coriolanus is capable of speaking effectively and using words to his advantage when under pressure, he has essentially been brought up to be a soldier and is therefore not only a victim of the harmful words of others but also incapable of defending himself through his own speeches, which is the fatal flaw in his character that leads him to be defeated. Shakespeare clearly shows that, apart from a few exceptions, Coriolanus is certainly a man of action defeated by words. ...read more.

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