Coriolanus: for the love of… wounds(?)

So, anybody else out there curious about the repetitious use of “wound” in Coriolanus? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?


I was struck by it. So much so that I dipped into — what’s my friend? That’s right… — the concordance over at OpenSource Shakespeare. For those who don’t know, a concordance is an exhaustive listing of the uses of any word within a given body of work. And if you’ve been following along for any length of time (or have just checked out the not-so-digital tools of the trade), you know I love the one over at OpenSource Shakespeare. I like to take a dive into it when I notice words cropping up frequently or become seemingly more important than just a surface reading would suffice, like “nothing” in Much Ado About Nothing, “gulling” in Twelfth Night, “man” and “play” in As You Like It, “noble” and “honor” in Julius Caesar, “play” (again) in Hamlet, and “mercy” in Measure for Measure.

And I checked it for “wound,” and its variants.

And guess what?

If you eliminate “swounds” (like “zounds,” short for the exclamation “God’s wounds”… and it’s only used twice, both in Hamlet), and use of the word/variant in stage directions, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida all crack the double-digits with 10 appearances. And that’s a four-way tie for second place, and a distant second it is.

Coriolanus uses the word/variant 22 times. Over double the next highest total.

So. Wounds.

Volumnia and Menenius, before Martius arrives back in Rome, catalog those on her son’s body:

A letter for me? It gives me an estate of seven years’ health, in which time I will make a lip at the physician. The most sovereign prescription in Galen is but empiricutic and, to this preservative, of no better report than a horse drench. Is he not wounded? He was wont to come home wounded.
O no, no, no!
O, he is wounded, I thank the gods for ’t.
So do I too, if it be not too much. Brings he victory in his pocket, the wounds become him.

Where is he wounded?
I’ th’ shoulder and i’ th’ left arm. There will be large cicatrices to show the people when he shall stand for his place. He received in the repulse of Tarquin seven hurts i’ th’ body.
One i’ th’ neck and two i’ th’ thigh—there’s nine that I know.
He had, before this last expedition, twenty-five wounds upon him.
Now it’s twenty-seven. Every gash was an enemy’s grave.
  • II.i.115-120, 142-152

To paraphrase the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn: there’s pride and joy in the discussion of those wounds, wounds, that when shown to the people, are supposed to compel them to support Martius to be named Consul…a refusal that would seen as an “ingrateful injury” (II.ii.31).

But it’s not just “wound”…there’s almost fetishlike fascination with injuries in the play:

  • Volumnia waxes damn near ecstatic over the possibility of Martius’ “bloody brow” (I.iii.34);
  • She also says that Hector’s forehead “spit[ting] forth blood” was lovelier than him as a child suckling at Hecuba’s breast I.iii.40-2);
  • Martius talks of his own “blood…this painting / Wherein you see me smeared” (I.v.18,, blood Cominius will note is drying on Martius’ face (I.ix.92);
  • Menenius speaks of the “blood [Martius] hath lost” (III.i.299);
  • and Martius tells Aufidius of the “drops of blood / Shed for [his] thankless country” (IV.v.73-4)

That’s a lot of wounds and blood.

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