Titus Andronicus

As we discussed last week, Taming of the Shrew is a difficult play for a number of reasons. It might make us uncomfortable to think about the idea of “taming” a woman, of subjecting her so thoroughly to a man’s will. And the general consensus was that this discomfort is a productive one: it’s hard to read but it opens up a new understanding of the issues animating Shakespeare’s culture, and the play capitalizes on—refuses to resolve—that sense of unsettled endings.

 

            This week we turn to another troubling play, one that is likely more disturbing for its representation of sexual violence, physical violence, and racism. I think it’s important we tackle this issues early in the semester because we will see the same concerns reconsidered and renegotiated in later plays. In many ways, Shakespeare returns to the concerns in Titus Andronicus again and again in his works: what are the limits and excesses of violence? How central is reputation to one’s life? How can women move within a male-dominated political world? How are black individuals forcibly and rhetorically excluded? These are only a few of the questions that Titus evokes, and my goal is for us to think carefully about how a new genre for us, tragedy, frames these questions.

 

Titus is a revenge tragedy, but one that takes place in historical Rome, although Shakespeare’s Rome in this play is an amalgamation of different cultural mores and political systems (is it a monarchy? Or a republic? It’s a bit unclear). Like today, the early moderns understood that what was represented in historical narratives was a commentary on contemporary conditions. Thomas Heywood, another playwright, wrote “If wee present a forreigne History, the subject is so intended, that in the lives of Romans, Grecians, or others, either the vertues of our Countrymen are extolled, or their vices reproved” (An Apology for Actors. London: 1612: F3v). Titus itself does not recount any true historical events, but is rather a collection and repackaging of several historical realities and myths. Deriving from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are the tales of Tereus, Procne, and Philomel. In Ovid, Tereus is married to the Athenian King’s daughter Procne. On a visit to Athens to invite Procne’s sister Philomel to come visit Thrace, where Procne and her son (Itys) with Tereus are, Tereus begins to lust after Philomel. When they arrive in Thrace Tereus locks Philomel away in a tower and ravishes her. At her threat that she will reveal his crime, Tereus also cuts out her tongue. He returns to Procne, making her believe that her sister died on the trip over. In a year, Philomel weaves what happened to her in a tapestry, which she then sends to her sister. Realizing her husband’s crime, Procne frees her sister and kills her own son Itys. She then tricks Tereus into eating her own son at a private banquet. In Ovid, the two sisters are then transformed into birds—Philomel becomes the swallow, while Procne metamorphoses into the nightingale.

 

            What is interesting about the Ovid narrative is how it is not merely the source for Titus Andronicus. Rather, in Act 4 it will be a prop. It is also a script, teaching Chiron and Demetrius how to, at least initially, ensure that their crime remains secret. They go one step further than Tereus in cutting off Lavinia’s hands as well, preventing her from using tapestry as a language. Repeatedly, Lavinia’s enforced silence is the focal point of the drama’s consideration of sources, fiction, and expression. Prevented from her former means of communication, Lavinia turns to the same text that her violators show such familiarity with. There are no gods or divine influences in Titus, but rather the omnipresent referent of meaning is text, is fiction.

 There are many issues under the microscope in Titus that would have made Shakespeare’s audience aware of contemporary shortcomings. One of the most prominent includes the limitations of the law. If the law is biased, slow, or inadequate to right personal wrongs, then why not take it upon oneself to obtain retribution? The problem with such logic, as many authors and law makers acknowledged, was its excesses. Revenge has a way of going beyond the bounds of eye for an eye to include entire families or, in the case of Titus, nations.

 

            There are many English precedents for tragedy that Shakespeare might have drawn on for his play, but a more potent source was the widely praised and imitated tragedies of the Roman Seneca, whose Tenne Tragedies were collected and translated in English in 1581. We shouldn’t overstate Seneca’s influence, but it is certainly relevant to our discussion: the mode of Seneca revenge tragedy focuses on the suffering body expressing his or her passions. In Titus we see this in Marcus’ response to Lavinia’s ravishment and Titus’ own dismay. But Shakespeare also explores the limitations of language in the face of extreme psychological pain. Titus’ reaction as “HAHAHAHAH” strikes us, perhaps, as uncannily realistic given the horrors he has both caused and experience, those that he must now confront.

 

            It is, ironically, Titus himself who sets in motion the many acts of revenge in the play. Seeking to fulfill a sense of piety and vengeance for the wars, Titus agrees to a human sacrifice of Albarus to their gods in appeasement for the many men, particularly his many sons, that have been lost in the battles. But Titus is also proud, we might say even vain, over the fact that he has given so much of his own blood and so many sons to the Roman cause.

 

            Critics are embarrassed by Titus, and it is one of the less-discussed plays in Shakespearean scholarship. Many attribute the poor word play and crudity to the fact that this is likely an early play, a sample of Shakespearean juvenilia that doesn’t remotely compete with King Lear or Othello. Perhaps that’s right to some extent, but we shouldn’t dismiss the play outright. Instead, as I’m going to argue for our class, Titus is revelatory for a number of reasons. The one I want us to spend at least part of our time considering is the use of theatrical space, how the unique modes for playing with the upper, middle, and lower parts of the stage and the imaginary settings of individual acts establish a parallelism in the revenge plot, in which theatrical and imaginary spaces convey a structural opposition, between Romans and Goths, Bassianus and Saturninus, and importantly, between Titus and Tamora. But these different sites of conflict are also broadly reflected in the play’s surprising shift from the public forum and dark woods of revenge to, at the end of the play, a surprisingly domestic scene. Much has been made of the fact that Titus turns to cooking, and I want us to consider this deceptively simple act of revenge in all of its excesses as symptomatic of the painful play and its insistent reversal of spaces both familiar and unfamiliar, public and domestic.

 

            So first, let’s watch the following video, which gives us a brief tour of the globe and reminds us of some historical conditions of theatergoing in Shakespeare’s England: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-EuwVgM2ts. I want to make even more of a deal out of these physical structures and the ways in which playwrights and actors manipulated such spaces creatively.

 

So in our discussion today, I want us to think about where bodies are: where do they enter the stage and where do they move? Do they ascend or descend? And what does this movement suggest about the structure of the play? Can we approach the experiences of early modern playgoers by plotting as much as stage directions and language will allow where bodies go onstage?

 

            First, theaters themselves and the plays within them were controversial. They were opposed quite strongly by religious sects in England that viewed plays as frivolous, idle pastimes or, even worse, as immoral spurs to lust and violence. As gathering places for large crowds, the theaters were closed during the frequent bouts of plague in the early modern period, and even during uninterrupted spans of staging plays were subject to intense criticism on the vices for sale (both onstage and among the crowd). Against these objections, however, the court and particularly Queen Elizabeth (and later James I and Henrietta Maria) were fans of the theater. In this precarious position between court favor and religious and civic opposition, those in the theater business constructed the standing theaters outside of the precincts of London proper. One of the earlier permanent stages was built by James Burbage in Shoreditch (a London suburb outside of London proper) in 1576 and named, creatively, The Theatre. Other commercial theaters followed in its wake, including the Curtain, the Swan, and the Globe. In 1599, James and Richard Burbage dismantled the Theatre and moved it to the southern bank of the Thames. The newly constructed theater was christened the Globe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 1595 sketch of the Swan Theatre.

The basic layout of a theater was simple: a pit where the “groundlings” who paid a penny for performances would stand. This pit was open to the elements. This area was surrounded by galleries, where the more expensive seats would be those with the best acoustics for hearing the play. The stage itself thrust forward, with multiple doors at the back of the stage. These led to the “tiring” house or the dressing room. The doors, however, would be ascribed different levels of significance based on whether they represented someone’s doorway, an entrance to an impregnable castle, or a trail out of desolate wastes. Think about the visual contrast when figures enter from different doorways on each side of the stage, signaling before anything is said that these two parties are, at least at that moment, separate (there may have been a third door at some playhouses). The flat stage had a trap door, which represented hell. I want us to think about that image particularly in Titus. Special effects like music or smoke from underneath could establish the presence of the supernatural or the demonic in plays.

            Above the stage were the “heavens,” a small roof that likely had an opening for figures or devices to be lowered onto the stage. Between the stage and the heavens was an upper gallery that could be used for actors (as in Juliet’s balcony) and known as the “Lord’s room,” but were likely not utilized very often in performance, in part because these were also expensive seats that patrons could pay for.

            Until the indoor theaters constructed later in the period, playhouses had no roof and performances took place during the day, utilizing the natural light. This also suggests something about playing time: performances began in the afternoon and had to be completed before dark. The Prologue in Romeo and Juliet speaks of the “two hours’ traffic of our stage,” and this may signal that there were no breaks in the action (no intermission or music to divide up Acts, which is a modern imposition on the plays), and spoken quickly. Playhouses could hold somewhere from 2,000-3,000 patrons for each performance. We have to keep in mind, too, that the stage used little if any scenery. Instead, setting and characters’ relative social positions were signaled through language and costume. Costumes were ornate and continually in demand: playhouses purchased used clothing and used a variety of wigs and perhaps other protheses to mark out characters.

            Of course, many plays were performed in entirely different places—at court or in the Tudor hall when a playing company was traveling. But Shakespeare and other playwrights capitalized on the iconographic resonances of commercial playing houses, and certainly understanding their general physical layout has something revelatory to teach us about the plays performed there.

            When we turn to Titus, we discover that places and the placement of bodies matter. The first Act is relentless in the back-and-forth of bodies, the lowering of corpses, the tableaus of begging and the ascendancy of the Goths upon the stage as they gain political power. But before we witness any of this movement, we discover that the first conflict in the play is not between Romans and Goths, but among Romans. Saturninus and Bassianus are vying for the rulership of Rome, while Titus is seemingly another, albeit unwilling, contender to the crown. At the very beginning, Bassianus and Saturninus, with their followers, enter from separate sides of the stage, appealing to the Romans (and perhaps in this moment speaking directly to us as audiences, inviting us in this early moment to pick a side). They speak not only for different people to rule the State, but for different political systems entirely. Saturninus believes that the rule should be hereditary, and as the oldest son of the former Caesar he demands we acknowledge his “successive title” (1.1.4). Bassianus, on the other hand, avers that merit should determine who rules Rome, arguing for “pure election” (1.1.16). Visually, the brothers are poised on equal sides of the stage, with tribunes and other Roman officials in the gallery (the Lord’s room) above, looking down at these two claimants. Marcus, Titus’ brother and a Roman tribune, may also be in this gallery, as the Folio stage direction specifies, Marcus enters aloft. Once Marcus convinces the two brothers to stand down and await the arrival of Titus from the wars, the brothers dismiss their followers. This is something else we might notice, when the stage is relatively empty, we are forced to make the comparison more directly. No longer surrounded by their followers, the two brothers are more visible and thus more subject to our criticism or acceptance. They too go above to the gallery to join the other Roman tribunes and senators.

            As sensational as this opening conflict might be, Saturninus and Bassianus are reduced to spectators of the following procession, when Titus, his sons, and the prisoner Goths enter. Let’s dwell here not on the language but on the stage directions, which also include inserts in brackets that are a modern editor’s clarification:

Sound drums and trumpets, and then enter two of Titus’s sons, [Martius and Mutius]; and then two men bearing a coffin covered with black; then two other sons [Lucius and Quintus]; then Titus Andronicus; and then Tamora, the Queen of Goths, and her three sons [Alarbus,] Chiron, and Demetrius, with Aaron the Moor, and others as many as can be. Then set down the coffin, and Titus speaks. (SD at 1.1.69).

In performance it would likely take some time for all the actors to file in, particularly if the drums and trumpets announce their entry. The order of the procession has been carefully planned, with Titus right between his four sons and Tamora and her three sons, acting as the centerpiece and honorary figure of this entry. And yet the stage direction also calls for a strain on a playing company’s recourses, demanding that as many figures representing soldiers and prisoners fill the stage, “as many as can be.”

            I want to suggest that this stage direction, which may or may not be authorial, is nonetheless helpful in our reading of the play, if only because revenge itself seeks to encompass “as many as can be.” This is a play of excesses and reversals, of exceeding limits in human dignity, violence, and emotion. We get glimmers of this when we first hear Titus speak, in which he directs his language to not simply the others above and around him, but to the stage itself, representing in the trap door the tomb of Andronici. It’s a long speech but worth dwelling on precisely because it does swing from human audience to flat-boards, a door in the stage that is transformed through language into the home for his dead sons:

            Hail, Rome, victorious in thy mourning weeds!

            Lo, as the bark that hath dischared his freight

            Returns with precious lading to the bay

            From whence at first she weighed her anchorage,

            Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs,

            To re-salute his country with his tears,

            Tears of true joy for his return to Rome.

            Thou great defender of this Capitol,

            Stand gracious to the rites that we intend!

            Romans, of five-and-twenty valiant sons,

            Half of the number that King Priam had,

            Behold the poor remains, alive and dead.

            These that survive let Rome reward with love;

            These that I bring unto their latest home,

            With burial amongst their ancestors.

            Here Goths have given me leave to sheathe my sword.

            Titus, unkind and careless of thine own,

            Why suffer’st thou thy sons, unburied yet,

            To hover on the dreadful shore of Styx?

            Make way to lay them by their brethren.

                                                They open the tomb.

            There greet in silence, as the dead are wont,

            And sleep in peace, slain in your country’s wars!

            O sacred receptacle of my joys,

            Sweet cell of virtue and nobility,

            How many sons hast thou of mine in store

            That thou wilt never render to me more! 1.1.70-95

Significantly, during this speech the tomb is addressed and opened, but not closed. It is not until several lines later that the coffin (perhaps representing the death/bodies of several of Titus’ sons) is placed in the family tomb. Instead, the tomb is addressed not only by Titus, but Tamora refers to the empty receptacle that threatens her son’s life. Lucius demands that the dead brothers receive a living sacrifice, and Titus grants her son Albarus to serve as this tribute to his dead sons. Such a move immediately undercuts the opposition between the civility of the Romans and the “barbarism” of the Goths. Instead, the Romans are depicted as equally if not more bloody in their decision to murder a human rather than offering propitiation to the shades with animal sacrifice or other acts of piety. Trace the term piety and pity in this play: it carries ironic resonances throughout that we might consider in light of the rapid onslaught of vengeance and violence. In Tamora’s words, the pious Titus should show restraint now that they are no longer on the battlefield but rather in the streets of Rome:

            Tamora [kneeling]:

                        Stay, Roman brethren! Gracious conqueror,

                        Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,

                        A mother’s tears in passion for her son;

                        And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,

                        Oh, think my son to be as dear to me!

                        Sufficeth not that we are brought to Rome

                        To beautify thy triumphs, and return

                        Captive to thee and to thy Roman yoke,

                        But must my sons be slaughtered in the streets

                        For valiant doings in their country’s cause?

                        Oh, if to fight for king and commonweal

                        Were piety in thine, it is in these.

                        Andronicus, stain not thy tomb with blood!

                        Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?

                        Draw near them then in being merciful.

                        Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.

                        Thrice noble Titus, spare my firstborn son. 1.1.104-120.

Of the many ironies in the play, this particular speech is riddled with them and emblematic of many of the larger issues in the play: What is pity? Who does one owe pity to? What are the acceptable modes of behavior on and off the battlefield? And what does this speech say about Tamora as a character? We only learn later of her relationship with Aaron and her deliberate complicity in the ravishment of Lavinia.

            We might also look at the only drawing of the play from the period, Henry Peacham’s 1595 drawing:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the drawing, Tamora kneels as well. Peacham obviously found the stage directions here evocative or memorable. We might also think about how editors have configured the stage movement, while keeping in mind that editorial stage direction inserts are supplements and, importantly, only interpretations of a scene. Hopefully you’ll take away from our class the idea that indeed these stage directions are pliable.

            Using the Pearson textbook, here are the stage directions excised for just Act 1, which admittedly has a lot going on. But in the following list, pay attention to the movement of bodies that is called for, the almost persistent rising and descending of bodies on the stage. In the following, the brackets are editorial insertions, while the other portions are in the Folio.

Act One Stage Directions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In extracting all of the stage directions, we can see all of the kneeling and the centerpiece of the tomb.

            Tamora’s character is difficult to understand in part because she seems to be a mass of stereotypes: the voracious woman with a great sexual appetite, the bloodthirsty fury seeking vengeance, the pleasure-seeking wanton, and, oddly, the mother-like figure to the callow Saturninus. She says to him, in her acceptance of her new groom: “If Saturnine advance the Queen of Goths, / She will a handmaid be to his desires, / A loving nurse, a mother to his youth” (1.1.331-333). Handmaid, nurse, mother. Tamora presents herself as a multitude of personas, and the play undermines our assumptions about women’s various roles—we can’t set up a simple dichotomy between Tamora and Lavinia (i.e., between temptress and saint) because both women challenge such a simple oppositional logic. As I mentioned before, the play seems ready to draw several simplistic oppositional lines or mirror-images, but continually undercuts those parallelisms in overturning our initial assessments.

            One of those assessments might be that Lavinia is the dutiful, but passive, ideal Roman woman. Such a claim is well-founded in the first Act, though perhaps through tone and gesture it becomes clear that Lavinia would rather not be Saturninus. In any case, in Act II she readily confronts Tamora in language that is shocking in its maturity and level of accusational ire.

            Under your patience, gentle Empress,

            ’Tis thought you have a goodly gift in horning,

            And to be doubted that your Moor and you

            Are singled forth to try experiments.

            Jove shield your husband from his hounds today!

            ’Tis pity they should take him for a stag. 2.3.66-71.

Lavinia’s speech is dripping with sarcasm, and her accusation—that Tamora is an adulteress—is painful in part because it is true. But it’s also quite a charge to lay against another woman, particularly the Empress of the Roman state. Lavinia, in other words, is more bold here than we might have expected, and she pushes back against Tamora’s bullying.

We cannot of course ignore the violent victimization of women in this play, and I encourage you to skip the following portion if it makes you uncomfortable. But at the center of Titus is the mutilation of Lavinia, which seems to exceed the two-part structure we have already seen in the play, in which one character is pitted against his or her opposite—Bassanius and Saturninus, Titus and Tamora, or more broadly Romans and Goths. This duality is quickly undone when we acknowledge that Tamora’s revenge for the death of her son Albarus goes beyond transactional logic in which one of Titus’ sons might be killed in exchange. Instead, she orchestrates the death of two of his sons, the banishment of another, and of course the horrors done to Lavinia. We can’t deny that Titus is a study in violence, one that goes beyond our sense of decorum—it carries the same sense of unbounded passionate violence as Game of Thrones or even The Sopranos. The prevailing see-saw of revenge and counter-revenge tends to gather others in its furious wake, including women but also children. We have to wonder, for example, how Young Lucius can inherit and recover from such a bloody legacy.

            However we might admire Lavinia’s initial bravado and her eloquence in pleading for death rather than defilement, however, she learns a painful lesson in this play about the shortcomings of language. Tamora twists language, and yet when Lavinia is threatened by her sons, Tamora refuses to heed her pleas. The action in Act 2 escalates quickly, and we discover how poor language is when confronted by passions (emotions) and the ominous setting.

            The setting in Act 2 is key, because it contrasts so starkly with the Roman opening of the play and is another one of those uncanny dualism in the play. The woods, and particularly the pit, are read different by characters, and even a single character might reinterpret the woods in a few short lines. Think, for example, about the following two passages:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, in the second passage, Tamora is being facetious, lying boldly to recast the supposed threat of the setting redirected to her. But what are our impressions of the setting? What has Tamora done to reshape our initial assumptions about woods to become darker, more sinister?

            We then come to the most famous staging in the play, the ominous pit of Act 2, Scene 3. Recall that this pit is the trapdoor that was coded as the tomb in the first Act, where it again stayed gaping open during an extended scene of dialogue. Once again, the trapdoor associations with death and hell are present, though now even more poignant. Bassianus’ body is tossed in the pit, and Titus’ sons Quintus and Martius are led to it by Aaron. When they encounter it, the brothers intuit that something evil is about to occur. They tremble at the sight and connotations of the bloody pit. I want us to spend some time on what associations the pit raises and what questions it provokes. Aaron brings the brothers onto the stage:

Aaron:             Come on, my lords, the better foot before.

                        Straight will I bring you to the loathsome pit

                        Where I espied the panther fast asleep.

Quintus:          My sight is very dull, whate’er it bodes.

Martius:           And mine, I promise you. Were it not for shame,

                        Well could I leave our sport to sleep awhile.  

                                    [He falls into the pit.]

Quintus:          What, art thou fallen? What subtle hole is this,

                        Whose mouth is covered with rude-growing briers

                        Upon whose leaves are drops of new-shed blood

                        As fresh as morning dew distilled on flowers?

                        A very fatal place it seems to me.

                        Speak, brother. Hast thou hurt thee with the fall?

Martius:           Oh, brother, with the dismal’st object hurt

                        That ever eye with sight made heart lament!

Aaron:             [Aside] Now will I fetch the King to find them here,

                        That he thereby may have a likely guess

                        How these were they that made away his brother.       [Exit]

Martius:           Why dost not comfort me and help me out

                        From this unhallowed and bloodstained hole?

Quintus:          I am surprised with an uncouth fear.

                        A chilling sweat o’erruns my trembling joints;

                        My heart suspects more than mine eye can see.

Martius:           To prove thou hast a true-diving heart,

                        Aaron and thou look down into this den

                        And see a fearful sight of blood and death.

Quintus:          Aaron is gone, and my compassionate heart

                        Will not permit mine eyes once to behold

                        The thing whereat it trembles by surmise.

                        Oh, tell me who it is! For ne’er till now

                        Was I a child to fear I know not what.

Martius:           Lord Bassianus lies berayed in blood,

                        All on a heap, like to a slaughtered lamb,

                        In this detested, dark, blood-drinking pit.

Quintus:          If it be dark, how dost thou know ’tis he?

Martius:           Upon his bloody finger he doth wear

                        A precious ring that lightens all this hole,

                        Which like a taper in some monument

                        Doth shine upon the dead man’s earthy cheeks

                        And shows the ragged entrails of this pit.

                        So pale did shine the moon on Pyramus

                        When he by night lay bathed in maiden blood.

                        Oh, brother, help me with thy fainting hand—

                        If fear hath made thee faint, as me it hath—

                        Out of this fell devouring receptacle,

                        As hateful as Cocytus’ misty mouth.

Quintus:          [Offering to help] Reach me thy hand, that I may help thee out,

                        Or, wanting strength to do thee so much good,

                        I may be plucked into the swallowing womb

                        Of this deep it, poor Bassianus’ grave.

                        I have no strength to pluck thee to the brink.

Martius:           Nor I no strength to climb without thy help.

Quintus:          Thy hand once more; I will not loose again

                        Till thou art here aloft or I below.

                        Thou canst not come to me—I come to thee. 2.3.192-245.

There is so much going on in these lines. Although a longer section, it is key to how we understand the play’s manipulation of space. What are your impressions of these lines? Can we move beyond a Freudian reading of the scene to consider the physical and psychic implications of the moment? How does it resonate with the play on pity/piety that we considered earlier? We should notice, too, that the tragedy explicitly points us to the connection to the Andronici tomb when Titus begs the Emperor in front of the pit to release his sons on bail: “For, by my fathers’ revered tomb, I vow” (2.3.296).

            Around the question of pity the play has much to say. In begging Tamora, Lavinia assumes the Empress will understand the notion, but Tamora proves obdurate in her conception of pity:

Lavinia:           Oh, be to me, though thy hard heart say no,

                        Nothing so kind, but something pitiful!

Tamora:           I know not what it means.—Away with her!

Lavinia:           Oh, let me teach thee! For my father’s sake,

                        That gave thee life when well he might have slain thee,

                        Be not obdurate; open thy deaf ears.

Tamora:           Hadst thou in person ne’er offended me,

                        Even for his sake am I pitiless.

                        Remember, boys, I poured forth tears in vain

                        To save your brother from the sacrifice,

                        But fierce Andronicus would not relent. 2.3.155-165.

Titus’ response to Tamora’s lack of pity is, as scholars have noted, one grounded primarily in the passions. In the early modern period, emotions were referred to as “passions,” and they were influenced/caused by the humors in the body—blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. This complex system of understanding the body’s physical makeup, then, refereed not only to the body but to the mind. And Titus, in Act 3 in particular, is a passionate character, one whose body and mind are interconnectedly disturbed, muddied like the fountain he imagined pouring his tears into.

            When we move to Act 3, we might be suffering from exhaustion. In later Shakespearean tragedies, the build-up leads to a number of deaths near the end of the play. But Titus in the first two Acts shows us the death of one of Titus’ sons, Tamora’s son, Bassianus, the outrage done to Lavinia, and the anticipated deaths of sons number twenty-three and twenty-four, or Martius and Quintus. It is in this context that Marcus’ speech at (and the AT and not to here is important) seems so startlingly: an interjection of rhetoric and poetry in a play that has not yet slowed down. But Act 3 at lest gives us some glimpse into the passionate effects of trauma and tragedy, with an entirely different Titus, one who is shocked, stunned, and later, speechless.

            Another duality of space/sites that we have to consider is the one only representational for the most part of the play: the difference between Rome and the land of the Goths, and of course the difference between the Goths and Romans more generally. The play asks us to query which nation, if any, has the label of “civil,” and we see that these categories are challenged throughout. In his grief, Titus tells his son Lucius:

            Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive

            That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers?

            Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey

            But me and mine. How happy art thou then

            From these devourers to be banished!

            But who comes with our brother Marcus here? 3.1.53-58.

And at this moment Marcus leads in Lavinia. Some scholars have read Lavinia as emblematic of Rome itself—she is the ideal, chaste matron and her violation is symbolic of the violent irruption of the stranger Goths into the Roman state. But if she is this symbol, she is a silent one after Chiron and Demetrius have ravished her, and perhaps the tragedy is suggesting that Rome has been infected by the presence of the Goths.

            Despite the many horrors he encounters, Titus is driven by revenge, and his pity is now directed towards the remnants of his family. We see this quite powerfully in a swap of verb tenses when Marcus brings Lavinia onstage:

            Marcus: This was thy daughter.

            Titus: Why, Marcus, so she is. 3.1.63)

Consciously or not, Titus maintains his link to Lavinia (and in the symbolic reading, to Rome) through insisting on the present tense.

            Together, I want us to consider Act 3, Scene 2, which is surprising too in its pacing and its relative slowness compared with the rest of the play. In groups, please read the scene together, paying attention to some of the issues in staging and dual-logic that we’ve discussed.

            For next class, on our second day of Titus, we will consider setting again, alongside the parallelisms drawn in the play. My question for us will be, then, where we fit Aaron. We have not yet considered how race fits into Titus’s negotiation of contrasts. I want us to focus on that piece for next class.

Day Two Discussion

In our second day on Titus, I want us to devote some time to the figure of Aaron and to consider the use of Ovid as a stage prop, as a script, and the act of writing more broadly in the play. Act 4 in particular is full of texts, and we might think about how these texts break down by the time we get to Act 5.

            So let’s start with Act 4’s writing technologies before we think about Aaron’s role in this play and his racial identity. In many ways, against the proscribed script of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the revenge tragedy genre, Aaron escapes these bounds. The two are linked because Aaron, like other Shakespearean villains, writes his own script. He doesn’t follow a familiar narrative, and his moving protection of his son is another way in which Aaron is metaphorically outside of the text.

            At the beginning of Act 4, we see the text we’ve been hearing so much about. Young Lucius runs onstage carrying the text, with his aunt Lavinia chasing after him. Titus expresses surprise at Lavinia’s choice of text: “But thou art deeper read and better skilled; / Come and take choice of all my library” (4.1.33-34). Lavinia is insistent, however, that Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a text so familiar to Elizabethan grammar school graduates, is the one she desires. She turns to the tale of Philomel and Tereus, and as we discussed last time, such a narrative will also shape the end of the play: Titus too will follow this script for his own purposes by killing and putting Demetrius and Chiron in a dish feed to Tamora. The book also prompts Marcus’ idea that Lavinia guide a stick in the stand to spell out her accusers’ names.

            This sandy plot is plain; guide, if thou canst,

            This after me. I have writ my name

            Without the help of any hand at all.

            Cursed be that heart that forced us to this shift!

            Write thou, good niece, and here display at last

            What God will have discovered for revenge.

            Heaven guide thy pen to print thy sorrows plain,

            That we may know the traitors and the truth! 4.1.70-77.

Lavinia then writes the names of Chiron and Demetrius in the sand. Titus’ response is curious, because he wishes for the text Lavinia writes to have more permanence. He resolves:

            I will go get a leaf of brass,

            And with a gad of steel will write these words,

            And lay it by. The angry northern wind

            Will blow these sands like Sibyl’s leaves abroad,

            And where’s our lesson then? 4.1.103-107

Titus becomes somewhat obsessed with language and text, and he sends to Chiron and Demetrius weapons with mottos. These messages too are charged with meaning, and once again we see Shakespeare’s ties to the grammar school tradition. Chiron even says, “Oh, ’tis a verse in Horace; I know it well. / I read it in the grammar long ago” (4.2.22-23). Aaron, of course, recognizes the subtext, that Titus knows the Empress’s sons are villains. If they have read Ovid for their script in how to treat Lavinia, Titus has read the same text. Interestingly, Titus plays the same role as Procne in the tale, and his revenge in Act 5 is decidedly domestic. As we discussed last class, Titus is a play that is careful to establish setting, to pit dualities of place against each other. So it’s perhaps surprising that the play ends not back in the dark woods, or even in the Roman forum. Instead, we are in the home, and throughout Acts 4 and 5 the Andronici home becomes more and more important to the plot as Titus’ own family (and perhaps his wits) diminish.

            Titus returns again to text through the letters to the gods that he sends via arrows into Saturninus’ courtyard. Like in Lear, however, there are no gods in this world, or they are resolutely silent. To emphasize their absence, Titus focuses on physical messages to them. When Tamora and her sons visit Titus dressed as Revenge, Rapine and Murder, Titus’ initial concern is that he will indeed lose the texts he has so laboriously produced:

            Is it your trick to make me ope the door,

            That so my sad decrees may fly away

            And all my study be to no effect?

            You are deceived, for what I mean to do,

            See here, in bloody lines I have set down,

            And what is written shall be executed. 5.2.10-15

Just as Lavinia’s words were imprinted upon the ground, and just as Aaron uses the language of stamp and seal to describe his son’s skin color, so too does Titus utilize the topos of the written word, the semi-permanence of recording, as a mode of expression. Articulating out loud his pain has proven to be inadequate, as we discussed last class—in moments of horror, Titus laughs or has no words. But in the act of writing, Titus points to the extension of the body’s pain to the page—he writes in his own blood, the language itself becoming an extension of his body. What does this suggest about how different characters view/use texts in the play? What is the play teaching us about the value and the shortcomings in the act of recording?

            Of course, one of the more durable ways to leave a mark, as we learn from The Sonnets, is to have a child. We should not forget that this chain of events begins because Tamora loses her son. And Aaron, too, believes that he must protect his child at any cost, and his defense of his son turns repeatedly to images of “my stamp” or “my seal.” On Tuesday, we were not able to think carefully about Aaron’s role in this play and his position vis-à-vis both the Goths and the Romans. To begin, then, Aaron is designated as “the Moor.” In the period, Moor could suggest a range of different individuals. As Emily Bartels summarizes:

While blackness and Mohammedism were stereotyped as evil, Renaissance representations of the Moor were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory. As critics have established, the term "Moor" was used interchangeably with such similarly ambiguous terms as "African," "Ethiopian," "Negro," and even "Indian" to designate a figure from different parts or the whole of Africa (or beyond) who was either black or Moslem, neither, or both. To complicate the vision further, the Moor was characterized alternately and sometimes simultaneously in contradictory extremes, as noble or monstrous, civil or savage. (“Making more of the Moor: Aaron, Othello, and Renaissance Refashionings of Race,” Shakespeare Quarterly Winter 1990: 434).

Regardless, however, of the varied traditions of the Moor in the Renaissance, the figure was also always viewed as essentially non-European, non-white, or as “Other.” This is in part why Othello so insistently describes himself as a Christian and as noble: excluded from white European society, Othello works to establish his inclusion in Venetian society through religion and nobility. Aaron, on the other hand, acknowledges openly his difference, particularly in his identification with and defense of his son.

Fatherhood changes Aaron, or at the very least gives us an entirely new perspective on his character. Thus far in the play, he has reveled in his villainy, using asides to flaunt his cleverness in orchestrating harms upon the Andronici. When he has a son, however, Aaron exhibits a racial pride and depth of character that may surprise us simply because nothing in his previous language or behavior has prepared us for this moving assertion. In response to the Nurse’s onslaught of denigrations regarding the child’s race, Aaron is vehement in his care for the child. The Nurse claims:

            A joyless, dismal, black, and sorrowful issue!

            Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad

            Amongst the fair-faced breeders of our clime.

            The Empress sends it thee, thy stamp, thy seal,

            And bids thee christen it with thy dagger’s point. 4.2.67-71.

I want us to look closely at how Aaron responds, and consider how this might be staged as well. First, Aaron grabs the child from the Nurse, and defends his son from Chiron and Demetrius:

            Sooner this sword shall plow thy bowels up.

            Stay, murderous villains, will you kill your brother?

            Now, by the burning tapers of the sky

            That shone so brightly when this boy was got,

            He dies upon my scimitar’s sharp point

            That touches this my firstborn son and heir!

            I tell you, younglings, not Enceladus

            With all his threat’ning band of Typhon’s brood,

            Nor great Alcides, nor the god of war

            Shall seize this prey out of his father’s hands.

            What, what, ye sanguine, shallow-hearted boys!

            Ye white-limed walls! Ye alehouse painted signs!

            Coal-black is better than another hue

            In that it scorns to bear another hue;

            For all the water in the ocean

            Can never turn the swan’s black legs to white,

            Although she lave them hourly in the flood.

            Tell the Empress from me, I am of age

            To keep mine own, excuse it how she can. 4.2.88-106

What does this speech reveal about Aaron? About his pride? To me, it’s a stirring speech, one in which Aaron asserts that this identity is one that cannot be touched or changed by others. He and his child are unchangeable, and that to Aaron is a source of pride.

            He continues to declare his identity and what he has given to his son in the following passage. While Chiron and Demetrius show their emotions by blushing, Aaron argues that his son inherits a countenance that has its own advantages:

            Why, there’s the privilege your beauty bears.

            Fie, treacherous hue, that will betray with blushing

            The close enacts and counsels of thy heart!

            Here’s a young lad framed of another leer.

            Look how the black slave smiles upon the father,

            As who should say, “Old lad, I am thine own.”

            He is your brother, lords, sensibly fed

            Of that self blood that first gave life to you,

            And from that womb where you imprisoned were

            He is enfranchised and come to light.

            Nay, he is your brother by the surer side,

            Although my seal be stamped in his face. 4.2.117-128

Aaron cares more about defending his child than he does about somehow thriving at the court. Rather than renounce and kill his son, he flees with the child.

            However we might view Aaron in these moments, his final moments see a return to his celebrating his evil deeds. Perhaps this is simply defiance, or a last bit of theater before he believes he will leave the stage (i.e., relinquish his life). And yet before his confession, he evokes a poignant reason for demanding that Lucius swear upon his gods:

            Lucius:             Who should I swear by? Thou believest no god.

                                    That granted, how canst thou believe an oath?

            Aaron:             What if I do not? As, indeed, I do not.

                                    Yet, for I know thou art religious

                                    And hast a thing within thee called conscience,

                                    With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies

                                    Which I have seen thee careful to observe,

                                    Therefore I urge thy oath. For that I know

                                    An idiot holds his bauble for a god

                                    And keeps the oath which by that god he swears,

                                    To that I’ll urge him. Therefore thou shalt vow

                                    By that same god, what god soe’er it be

                                    That thou adorest and hast in reverence,

                                    To save my boy, to nourish and bring him up,

                                    Or else I will discover naught to thee. 5.1.73-85

Aaron is a sharp commentator on human motivation and belief. As an outsider, he can peer into the shortcomings of both Romans and Goths. To point out Lucius’ belief in the gods and thus his conscience, Aaron signals his disdain for such “popish tricks and ceremonies.” He avers his own singularity as a villain, and however disgusting his pranks have been, Aaron nonetheless is a compelling character precisely because he knows how to manipulate others’ pain and emotions. His “confession,” whether we believe it to be true or not, is an artful expression of theater.

            Even now I curse the day—and yet, I think,

            Few come within the compass of my curse—

            Wherein I did not some notorious ill,

            As kill a man, or else devise his death,

            Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,

            Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,

            Set deadly enmity between two friends,

            Make poor men’s cattle break their necks,

            Set fire on barns and haystacks in the night

            And bid the owners quench them with their tears.

            Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves

            And set them upright at their dear friends’ door,

            Even when their sorrows almost was forgot,

            And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,

            Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,

            “Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.”

            But I have done a thousand dreadful things

            As willingly as one would kill a fly,

            And nothing grieves me heartily indeed

            But that I cannot do ten thousand more. 5.1.124-144.

It seems our class was divided on this issue: is this pure theater or is it genuine? As Meredith pointed out, such a question allows us to envision the histories of such characters as Aaron before he walks onstage. I think such an approach is provocative and useful. We should keep the “pre-history” in mind when we turn to Richard III.

[Flourish.] Enter the tribunes and senators aloft; and then enter [below] Saturninus and his followers at one door, and Bassianus and his followers [at the other,] with drums and trumpets.

 

[Enter] Marcus Andronicus, with the crown.

 

Exeunt soldiers [of Bassianus].

 

[Exeunt the soldiers of Saturninus.]

 

[Flourish.] They [Saturninus and Bassianus] go up into the Senate House.

 

Enter a Captain.

 

Sound drums and trumpets, and then enter two of Titus’s sons, [Martius and Mutius]; and then two men bearing a coffin covered with black; then two other sons [Lucius and Quintus]; then Titus Andronicus; and then Tamora, the Queen of Goths, and her three sons [Albarbus,] Chiron, and Demetrius, with Aaron the Moor, and others as many as can be. Then set down the coffin, and Titus speaks.

 

They open the tomb.

 

Tamora [kneeling]

 

Titus [raising her]

 

Exeunt Titus’s sons with Alarbus.

 

Enter the sons of Andronicus again [with their swords bloody.]

Sound trumpets, and lay the coffin in the tomb.

 

Eventer Lavinia.

 

Lavinia: [kneeling]

 

Lavinia: [She rises.]

 

[He offers Titus a white robe.]

 

[Saturninus is crowned. A long flourish till they come down.]

 

[A tribute is laid at Saturninus’ feet.]

 

[Tamora, Chiron, Demetrius, and Aaron are released. Sound drums and trumpets. Saturninus starts to leave, attended.]

 

Bassianus: [seizing Lavinia]

 

Lucius: [joining Bassianus]

 

[Exeunt Bassianus, Marcus, Lucius, Quintus, and Martius, with Lavinia.]

Mutius: [guarding the door]

 

Titus: [He stabs Mutius.]

 

[He dies.]

[During the fray, exeunt Saturninus, Tamora, Demetrius, Chiron, and Aaron.]

 

[Enter Lucius.]

 

Enter aloft the Emperor [Saturninus] with Tamora and her two sons and Aaron the Moor.

 

Exeunt omnes [except Titus.]

 

Enter Marcus and Titus’s sons [Lucius, Quintus, and Martius].

 

The brother [Marcus] and the sons kneel.

 

[They rise.]

 

They put him [Mutius] in the tomb.

 

They all kneel.

 

[They rise.] Exeunt all but Marcus and Titus.

 

[Flourish.] Enter the Emperor [Saturninus], Tamora, and her two sons, with [Aaron] the Moor, at one door. Enter at the other door Bassianus and Lavinia, with others [Lucius, Martius, and Quintus].

 

Titus: [he kneels.]

 

[Lucius, Martius, Quintus, and Lavinia kneel.]

 

Marucs: [kneeling]

 

[The Andronici rise.]

 

Exeunt. Sound trumpets. Manet [Aaron the] Moor.

Have I not reason, think you, to look pale?

These two have ’tice me hither to this place.

A barren detested vale you see it is;

The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,

Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe;

Here never shines the sun; here nothing breeds,

Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven.

And when they showed me this abhorred pit,

They told me here at dead time of the night

A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes,

Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins,

Would make such fearful and confused cries

As any mortal body hearing it

Should straight fall mad or else die suddenly.

No sooner had they told me they would bind me here

Unto the body of a dismal yew

And leave me to this miserable death.

And then they called me foul adulteress,

Lascivious Goth, and all the bitterest terms

That ever ear did hear to such effect;

And had you not by wondrous fortune come,

This vengeance on me had they executed.

Revenge it, as you love your mother’s life,

Or be ye not henceforth called my children. 2.3.91-115

My lovely Aaron, wherefore look’st thou sad,

When everything doth make a gleeful boast?

The birds chant melody on every bush,

The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun,

The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind

And make a checkered shadow on the ground.

Under their sweet shade, Aaron, let us sit,

And whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds,

Replying shrilly to the well-tuned horns,

As if a double hunt were heard at once,

Let us sit down and mark their yellowing noise;

And after conflict such as was supposed

The wand’ring prince and Dido once enjoyed

When with a happy storm they were surprised

And curtained with a counsel-keeping cave,

We may, each wreathed in the other’s arms,

Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber,

Whiles hounds and horns and sweet melodious birds

Be unto us as is a nurse’s song

Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep. 2.3.10-29

Discussion Questions In Order

 

To what extent is vengeance justified? In today’s society? In the text? (Ex. characters are taking today’s “death penalty” into their own hands… is this murder justifiable? Or, what would be considered a reasonable measure of payback, or crime to fit this punishment?)

  1. Murder of Tamora’s first son 1.1.96-156

  2. Tamora’s instruction for her sons to avenge her 2.3.114-115

  3. Murder of Chiron and Demetrius 5.2.155-161

 

What do you make of the beginning of the play before Lavinia is abducted by her brothers and Bassianus? How does it present Rome, and how does this differ from how Rome is presented later in the play?

  1. “Noble patricians, patrons of my right, defend the justice of my cause with arms; and, countrymen, my loving followers…” (1.1.1-3)

  2. “Romans, friends, followers, favorers of my right” (1.1.9)

  3. “And Romans, fight for freedom in your choice” (1.1.17)

  4. “Know that the people of Rome, for whom we stand…” (1.1.20)

  5. Andronicus described as “Patron of virtue” (1.1.65) minutes before sentencing man to ritual sacrifice over the pleas of his mother

...

  • “Was never Scythia half so barbarous” (1.1.131)

  • “Thou art a Roman; be not barbarous” (1.1.379)

  • “That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers? Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no orey but me and mine. How happy art thou then from these devourers to be banished!” (3.1.54-57)

  • ‘Tis well, Lavinia, that thou hast no hands, for hands to do Rome service is but vain” (3.1.79-80)

 

In this play we see the continual theme of heriosm linked with intelligence. There’s a lot  of classical references, notably in Act 4 Scene Two when Young Lucius brings the weaponry marked with script: “Integer vitae, scelerisque purus, Non eget Mauri jaculis, nec arcu.”

  1. Why is it significant that Aaron can understand the meaning of this and not the brothers?

  2. How does this scene develop Aaron’s character? His intentions in the play?

 

This text includes a plethora of violent, gory, and abusive encounters. How do you envision viewers of the time reacting to such treatment?


 

Consider the dichotomy of representation of female characters in the play - Tamora and Lavinia are the only 2 female characters. Compare and contrast them - their roles in their respective families, their characters and their roles in the play.

  1. My personal belief is that this is an example of the classic virgin-whore dichotomy which is apparent in a lot of old literature - that an important female character is represented as either a virgin or a whore - if she is a virgin, she is good and pure, and if she is a “whore,” she is corrupt and evil. Does this stem from the fact that they are a virgin and “whore” respectively, or does the good and evil come first?

  2. Is Tamora the matriarch of her family, the equivalent of Titus in the Andronicus family? Is she the mastermind of all of her plans, or is it Aaron the Moor?

  3. See the passage in which they speak directly to each other (2.3.136-191)

 

The most unsettling part of this play (for me) was in Act 2, Scene 3, the conversation between Lavinia and Tamora  

  1. Examine line 136, Tavinia - “O Tamora! Thou bearest a woman’s face--”

    1. Is Tamora acting like a woman in this scene? Is that identity part of her in any entirety of the play? -- Interesting to me also since on stage Tamora wouldn’t be a woman at all.

 

In Act 4, Scene 3, Line 51-52: Titus - “We will solicit heaven and move the gods, to send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs”

  1. This was interesting to me, especially when Titus says “our wrongs” - Is this a moment of realization for him that he isn’t entirely the innocent party?

  2. Is Titus a character to sympathize for? Are the consequences of his actions justifiable?  

 

What do you think of Marcus’ speech after discovering Lavinia in the forest? Did it surprise you? (2.4.11-57)

  1. It’s gentleness surprised me quite a bit. He seems to really empathize with her and not lay any blame on her, which wouldn’t be an unexpected reaction for Roman or Shakespearean times.

  2. I also find the imagery he uses to be very interesting. In describing her mutilated mouth: “Alas, a crimson river of warm blood, like to a bubbling fountain stirred with wind, doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips, coming and going with thy honey breath” (2.4.22-25)

    1. He uses soft, beautiful metaphors to describe the horrible mutilation, and continues to refer to her as sweet, gentle, and beautiful. I think he could have easily described her in the opposite terms - ravished, mutilated, humiliated, etc. It shows a tender love amidst all the horrible violence in Titus

  3. Also: “Oh, had the monster seen those lily hands tremble like aspen leaves upon a lute and make the silken strings delight to kiss them, he would not have then touched them for his life!” (2.4.44-47)

    • “Touched” is quite the euphemism for what they did to her!

    • He uses another euphemism early, continuing with the flower metaphor and saying that she was “deflowered” (2.4.26) rather than brutally raped

  4. The final lines: “Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee. Oh, could our mourning ease thy misery!” (2.4.56-57)

    • Tells her not to run away in shame, that they mourn with her. Empathizes with her, acknowledges the misery she is in and wishes that they could take some of it away for her

 

Consider Titus’s relationship with his daughter Lavinia.  

  1. Does his attitude towards her change between his finding her injuries…

    1.  “Give me a sword, I’ll chop off my hands too” 3.1.72

    2. “Gentle Lavina, let me kiss thy lips” 3.1.120

  2. And his killing her? What was his intention in doing this? (Ex. was it genuinely to keep her from a life of suffering or did he view her as a burden?) 5.2.43-47

 

Discuss the role of religion in the play, and how the view of “the gods” has changed. What does this say about how religion is viewed? Is it all religion or just the paganism of the Romans?

Specifically analyze the following passages:

  1. Tamora: “Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods? Draw near them in being merciful.” (1.1.117-118)

Titus: “Oh, here I lift this one hand up to heaven and bow this feeble ruin to the earth. If any power pities wretched tears, to that I call! What, wouldst thou kneel with me? Do, then, dear heart, for heaven shall hear our prayers, or with our sighs we’ll breathe the welkin dim and stain the sun with fog, as sometimes clouds when they do hug him in their melting bosoms” (3.1.206-213)

 

Titus Andronicus Class Discussion

1. Why, in a room full of his enemies, does Titus kill his only daughter, Lavinia? And if we think about her as this sort of “image of the ideal Rome” what does it mean to have Rome’s most dedicated and loyal warrior kill this hopeful image of Rome’s future?

(Act 5.3.34-47)

 

2. In the play, loyalty, honor, and titles seem so easily transferable. For example, Tamora Queen of the Goths becomes Tamora Empress of Rome, and Lucius who once fought against the Goths becomes their leader. So how does this change the way we view conflict in this play? What kind of weight does Shakespeare assign to titles?

 

3. Is Aaron a purely evil character or does he have some redeeming quality? In other words, does he have a rhyme to his reason or a justifying motive? (Act 5.1.124-145)

 

4. In Act 5, scene 2, Titus has an aside to the audience where he states that he is just pretending to be mad. Yet, is Titus’ madness truly an act, given the atrocities he has committed, even against his family? Is he a tragic hero?

 

5. Thinking about the fact that Tamora gave her sons permission to rape Lavinia and that Lavinia held her father’s severed hand in her mouth, what does it tell us about how women are portrayed in this play? Is it misogynistic, empowering, or both? How does Tamora’s use of power reflect this? Did Shakespeare do this to condone this portrayal of women? Or did he intend for audiences to reject this characterization?

 

6. Though Aaron the Moor experiences harsh racism in this play and is painted as the villain, he seems to show more care and empathy for his bastard child than Titus shows for his children. How can we interpret this choice of Shakespeare’s? Is he more dynamic than we understand upon first meeting him? How does this compare/contrast to his final speech? (5.1.124-145)

 

7. Titus Andronicus is categorized as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Would you agree with the categorization, and if not, where would you move it?

 

8. Throughout the play, the conflict between the families of Titus and Tamora is very much characterized by theatrical performance and showmanship. Is there a kind of play within a play? How does this showboating affect the plot? Does it cause mistakes that would otherwise not have occurred if they had gotten to the point? (Act 5.2.180-196) What does this tell us about Shakespeare and the dangers of showmanship?

 

9. At several points during the play, women are described as animals. Lavinia is described as a “dainty doe” (Act 2.1.110-130). The nurse is described as a squealing pig (Act 4.2.147-148). Who is really the animal/beast though? The victim or the perpetrator? Does Shakespeare intend for this irony to be read as such?

 

10. What kind of role does blame have in this play? At the end of the play, even after the deaths of Lavinia, Titus, Tamora, and Saturninus, Marcus and Lucius still insist on assigning blame for all of the events that have occurred thus far (Act 5.3.95-136). Is blame intended to be portrayed as a necessary step towards achieving peace? Or is it portrayed as a cause for the dark events of the play?

 

Key passages in the play:

 

Act 2.3.288-291 - Titus finds himself in the same position as Tamora, kneeling and begging for the lives of his children.

 

Act 2.4.11-57 - Marcus projects onto his niece: he mourns the loss of those things which make her valuable in Roman society - he and Titus and others treat her like a broken object

 

Act 3.1.33-48 - Titus personifies the stones, describing them as a greater tribune than any ever made of humans

 

Act 3.1.266-280 -Transformation of Titus from mourning to vengeful - reference to Revenge as well, whom Tamora tries to portray later on in the play

 

Act 4.2.65-85 -Intense racism and raunchy humor found within the same 20 lines - what is the purpose of juxtaposing comedy with deep-seated prejudice?

 

Act 4.2.88-106 - Aaron’s defense of his son

 

Act 4.3.97-115 - Titus’ is so intent on showmanship that he is even willing to sacrifice an innocent man’s life

 

Act 4.4.95-103 - Tamora describes her own abilities of persuasion almost as though she were a goddess - this confidence eventually leads to her own downfall when she attempts to portray Revenge

 

Act 5.1.124-144 - Aaron gives the opposite of a confession: he delights in all of the wrongful acts he has committed in his life

 

Act 5.2.64-69 - Titus very quickly and suddenly buys Tamora’s story about Revenge and Rape and Murder - done too quickly so that the audience doesn’t quite buy it

 

Act 5.2.175-176 - Lavinia described as an object, with her chastity as her most important feature

 

Act 5.3.34-66 - Very quick progression of actions and deaths - climax of the play

© 2020 by Dr. Katherine Walker

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