Virgilia

Virgilia Strawberry Hill House, Waldegrave Road, London, England
Virgilia’
Strawberry Hill House, Waldegrave Road, London, England

Virgilia

Strawberry Hill House, Waldegrave Road, London, England

 

Virgilia might be married to a rich and powerful general in the Roman army, but she doesn’t speak much. In Shakespeare’s account of the life of Coriolanus, all she does is worry. And express her dislike of violence. When accounts reach her and her mother-in-law, Volumnia, of Coriolanus’s victory in battle against the Volscian army at the city of Corioli (a victory so overwhelming the Roman consul decide to give Caius Marcius the name ‘Coriolanus’), she’s shocked. But Volumnia revels in the account of the fighting. ‘Methinks I see him stamp thus, and call thus: Come on, you cowards! You were got in fear, though you were born in Rome! His bloody brow with his mailed hand then wiping, forth he goes,’ she rallies. ‘His bloody brow!’ is all Virgilia can manage in response. ‘O, Jupiter, no blood!’ She doesn’t say much either when Coriolanus is later banished from Rome for offending the consul. And when Coriolanus joins forces with the Volscian army to launch an attack on Rome, on his own city and his own people, she remains silent. While his mother Volumnia rails at him that he attacks Rome ‘over her dead body’, all Virgilia can do is cry. But it is, arguably, those tears that win the day. Seeing his wife’s ‘doves’ eyes’, he abandons his plans to attack Rome. In modern times, Virgilia’s silence sits uneasily. She doesn’t have a voice. And Coriolanus is only moved to call a halt to his revenge attack on Rome by her tears. Not her arguments, reasoning or powers of persuasion. And yet, in 1871, when artist Thomas Woolner created this sculpture of her in marble, it was Virgilia’s constancy he was celebrating. He shows her bewailing Coriolanus’ absence after his banishment. He shows her standing by his side through thick and thin. Indeed, towards the end of the play, and shortly before he is assassinated, Coriolanus calls Virgilia the ‘best of his flesh’. Unlike the other characters in the play, Virgilia sees Coriolanus for who he is, without expecting him to be anything, or anyone, else. For Coriolanus, she is his ‘gracious silence.’ And sometimes, there’s as much strength in grace as there is dignity in saying nothing.

 

His gracious silence?
His gracious silence?
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