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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene iv

Act II, Scenes i-iii

Act III, Scenes i and ii

Summary

Chiron and Demetrius enter with a ravished Lavinia, whose hands and tongue they have cut off in order to prevent her from revealing the perpetrators of the crime. They insult her before they leave her alone in the wilderness. The wretched girl is discovered by Marcus, who is moved by the sight of the suffering Lavinia to make a long poetic tirade in which the depth of his sympathy is signaled by the length and complex figurativeness of his language. Lavinia tries to flee in shame from her uncle, but he stops her and decides to bring her to her father even though he is sure that such a sight will blind Titus.

Commentary

This scene begins with the stage directions: "Enter...Lavinia, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished." How does Lavinia enter "ravished"? Add to this the horrifying effects of the literal dramatizations in Elizabethan theater (with fake blood and stumps), and it is easy to see why critics decry Titus Andronicus as a play of uncontrolled and unnecessary excess. Not only is there excess in the atrocities committed upon Lavinia, but this excess is also manifested in the text. First of all, we have the physical body of Lavinia as testament to the rape. Next, we have the gloating insults of Chiron and Demetrius, who explain to the audience what they have done to her and why. Finally, we have the moving speech of Marcus when he encounters his niece. It is possible to argue that the successive layerings of verse describing Lavinia, which graduate from the coarse, hurried couplets of Chiron and Demetrius into the poetic, sustained tirade of Marcus, are an attempt to turn Lavinia's flesh into words through progressively poetic language. Therefore, quite contrary to the indulgent excess of violence to which so many critics object in Titus, there is an excess of language at work which glazes over the horrific effects of this rape. Furthermore, Marcus's classical allusions to Tereus, Philomela, Cerberus, and Titan partially transform Lavinia's suffering into more of a textual conceit than a bodily offense.

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Wish I'd Given it a Pass

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, November 06, 2013

In reading all the Bard, I just finished Titus Andronicus: I disliked the play so much I can't even recommend my blog about it:

http://ow.ly/qyHzY

0 Comments

2 out of 2 people found this helpful

Seeing is believing

by trippytheflash, October 09, 2014

This play is a drab on paper but magnificent in person

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