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Does Coriolanus make mistakes or errors in judgement that lead to his downfall? If so, what are they and how did they lead to his downfall?
The play Coriolanus concerns the downfall and eventual death of a Roman general turned politician, Cauis Martius (later given the name Coriolanus after conquering the city of Corioles). Equipped with the traits of a brave soldier, a short temper and arrogance, these characteristics aid in his downfall which was also aided by several other factors.
Whether it be a mistake or an error in judgement on Coriolanus’s side, it is the result of either one which causes trouble for him. After announcing that he is reluctantly joining the senate, his mistakes and errors in judgement along with the rest of him would be publicly scrutinised, questioned and judged before the public. He lost the advantage of making mistakes and errors in judgement in the course of war where they would most probably end in his own death or personal injury. Additionally they would be looked at as victory scars or and as a mark of heroism rather than a result of a foolish and rash decision.It comes down to the fact that he would not have to answer for his mistakes in war as opposed to his mistakes against the plebeians who are not particularly fond of him.
Coriolanus, though he is brave, ferocious and strategic in the context of war where the consequences of miscarried and miscalculated actions do not bring great effect, he is helplessly out of his element when his mother Volumnia coerces him into politics. ‘I have lived to see inherited my very wishes…. only there’s one thing wanting,….but which our Rome will cast upon thee.’. Running for consulship was clearly a mistake, because firstly, he has no desire for it, ‘Though he obeys his mother’s wishes and dons the gown of humility. It is clear through his thinly veiled contempt for the people he is unsuited as he regards them as ‘hares, geese’, unworthy animals. Wholly unsuited for a career in politics due to his arrogance, brutal honesty, tactless manner and moreover his inability to conceal his true self and to pretend to care for the well being of the plebeians, Coriolanus himself said so, ‘Would you have me false to my nature, Rather say I play the man I am,’ Though he stands for himself, his own idea backfired and it resulted in his banishment.
To call Coriolanus obeying his mothers orders a mistake would be inaccurate as he is predisposed and psychologically unable to refuse her demands. It is fair to say that Coriolanus relentlessly seeking for her approbation aids in his downfall. Going against his wishes to satisfy her wish for him to fight for his place in the consul by humiliating himself further; apologising to the plebeians. She, (Volumnia) says to Coriolanus, ‘To beg of thee is more my dishonour than thou of them…’. She gives up and plays the role of the disappointed mother and Coriolanus caves in. ‘Prithee mother, pray be content… chide me no more…’ Though he would certainly be aware that listening to his mother was a mistake if her were not so dependent on her approbations and love. Though not a clear cut mistake, it certainly aided in his downfall.
Coriolanus certainly obtains some time away from the influences of people when he is banished. He arrives at Antium, where he is prepared to die at Aufidius hands for all the harm he has done, ‘If he slay me, He does fair justice…’. Though he goes on to say, ‘if he give me way, I’ll do his country service.’ he switches his allegiances to Aufidius. This was an independent decision where he was influenced by his country’s hatred for him and it lead him to serve another country whose wish is to destroy his home. This portrays Coriolanus as a vengeful, hateful and hyper aggressive as his first task is to seek revenge by destroying Rome, the city who did not fully appreciate their hero. This is not entirely a mistake as he would have gone through with his plan if not for him obeying and pleasing his mothers wishes which often carry dangerous consequences.
This was more of an error in judgment as he depended on his dejection, rejection and anger to govern his decision to join Aufidius in order to be against Rome. He fails to see his tether to Rome; his family and to a certain degree, his father figure, Menenius. At their profuse begging for mercy upon Rome he complies but at the cost of his life. The fatal ending of his life stems from his being independent in deciding to fight Rome but his tether to it prevent him from his plan of joining Aufidius and being a great soldier. It also leads him to a death as a traitor at the hands of his jealous ally who was playing second fiddle to Coriolanus. It further reminds Aufidius of his losing to Coriolanus and this has placed him in the line between ally and enemy, one of his officers even say, ‘And you darkened in this action sir. Even by your own;’
By being the great soldier he is he has subtly wounded the ego of his ally who is second to him as a soldier and a leader. He was unaware of Aufidius’s wounded pride after beating him in battle, 5 times. The signing of the peace treaty with Rome pushed him into being a traitor in Aufidius eyes and those of Antium. After a heated verbal confrontation between Coriolanus, Aufidius and his conspirators, Coriolanus is killed.
It is fair to say that Coriolanus’s actions affect the most influential people in his life, and events. His being a good obedient son to a domineering, persuasive mother lead him to the event that highlights his flaws as his primary characteristics; the event being running for consulship. His inability and refusal to veil his hatred for the plebeians who are so easily influenced lead to his banishment. In the end, in him ‘playing the man am I am’ a great soldier, prompted envious and jealous feelings in his ally who later did not need much to kill him. Coriolanus’s mistakes and errors in judgment were all leading to his eventual death due to him being governed by negative people, like his mother. Also negative emotions; his arrogance, and pride which refused and was unable to control due to his nature of seeking pleasure in violence, anger and was in full accordance of his warped upbringing by his war-hungry mother who has only projected maternal sense.