In Margot's second blog post, she discusses preparing for her role, her first impressions of Volumnia and the relationship between Volumnia and Coriolanus.
Transcript of Podcast
Preparing for the role of Volumnia
I had a couple of sessions with Dominic, the director, one to one just reading through the play together, which was very helpful to go through the play to get the sense. In doing that we just shared ideas about it. Other than reading the play and just letting it sift around in my head, I didn’t really do much preparation.
There are so many brilliant books about Shakespeare, I’m reading Peter Ackroyd's biography at the moment but I’ve still got Stephen Greenblatt's and Richard Wilson's to read too! I like to know about the time when Shakespeare was writing what was going on in his life and what his feelings might potentially have been. It's all speculation around this area, but the fact that there were corn riots in Stratford (and probably the whole of the Midlands) at this time and the fact that his mother died in 1608. It doesn’t mean anything except to me as little thoughts that will just flutter around in my mind and make me think and wonder about why he's writing about this extraordinarily damaged relationship that seems very, very strange to me.
But above and beyond that, I don’t know how to prepare for a part other than doing it. I was saying to Dominic yesterday that I just have to find out what's happening in each scene and in a way the doing of it unlocks what it is. The minute you kneel down or touch somebody or say words to them looking at their face and you engage and you see how your words and actions affects them, it all becomes a lot clearer than reading psychotherapeutic works about the narcissistic Oedipal relationship between Volumnia and Coriolanus.
First impressions of Volumnia
I think that Volumnia is a damaged person herself. In the first half of the play you see her as cut off from suffering and she has no imaginative grasp of what it's like to be other people, she has no empathy at all which has been a great quality for her in surviving as a woman in this society. She has raised her son to be a warrior and certainly if you’re a soldier and if you’re the mother there is no point instilling empathy in your child because you’ve raised a killing machine, essentially, and not somebody who goes around imagining what it's like to be the widow of the man you’ve killed. That's no good, she doesn’t have that in her.
But of course if you split yourself off from feeling in that way there will be consequences and we see that in the play later. Actually, she's so recognisable to me in the scariest way. There are so many appalling mothers and appalling parents around in the world who infantilise their children - love them, adore them, but there's an icy withdrawal if the child doesn’t do what the mother wants. They’re always raising the bar higher. I’m thinking of a family I knew when I was younger: you pass your school exams, you get into school and then you have to be head boy, you have to get into university, you have to be head of the students union - the bar is always raised and the child is always straining for approval and to please the parents. The love is always conditional. It's probably all quite subconscious but that's what happens, I think, with her to Coriolanus so there's huge emotional manipulation of that child going on, which in a modern sense we’d call abusive I suppose.
Volumnia and Coriolanus
What's hard with all abused children is that you can’t be objective about your parents because you haven’t got any other ones to compare them with. You’re born into it, you know it and you love that person and you want to please them. Hopefully by the time most people are teenagers they manage to separate out safely and healthily from the appalling and the nice parents. I’m a nice parent of course! In fact my youngest is 16 and he's right in the middle of that, hopefully, healthy separation, because they’ve got to survive on their own because you won’t be there one day. That hasn’t happened with Coriolanus. He has no means of separating out into some healing, nurturing way of being loved. I’m sure he's tried to establish that with his wife, Virgilia, but it's very hard. I was thinking the other day of people who damage themselves rather than damage the mother or the parent. Maybe in a slow way with alcoholics, people like Oliver Reed and other actors and people I know. People who’ve been sent away to public school when they were seven years old or something and they’ve had to cope, had to be brave, had to survive. I’d say that's our modern day equivalent.
Nurturing is a very rich area for discussion because we’ve all been children and some of us are mothers and its funny when you are a parent you don’t know how to be a parent except as how you were parented. That's why things are carried on. It's interesting that there is a little grandson in Coriolanus who has obviously been brought up in the same way. He's allowed to run after butterflies and tear them to pieces with his teeth and that's thought to be funny. You have to say obviously at an early stage he's not being given an empathetic grasp about what it's like to be another living creature. They’re cutting him off to it and the cycle gets repeated. I think Coriolanus is infantilised by his mother. He's kept as this boy. The word ‘boy’ crops up so many times in the text and the thing that tips him over I think is when Aufidius says ‘Thou boy of tears’. You can see this hurt, furious child in the playground who's always, always got to prove they can fight but of course it gets exhausting.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.