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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Act III, Scenes i and ii

Act II, Scene iv

Act IV, Scenes i and ii

Summary

Titus entreats the judges who are leading his sons away to spare their lives for the sake of his war efforts and age. They ignore him, and he prostrates himself upon the ground, saying that he will rain tears on the earth so that it will refuse to drink the blood of his sons. Lucius enters with his sword drawn and tells his father, "You recount your sorrows to a stone" (III.i.29). To this, Titus replies that stones are softer than the tribunes of Rome. Lucius unsuccessfully attempts to free his brothers, and is banished; Titus calls him a lucky man for escaping the "wilderness of tigers" (III.i.54) that Rome has become. Marcus enters with the ravished Lavinia, and all break down in tears, with Titus calling relentlessly for them to "look upon her" (III.i.65).

Aaron enters with the message for Titus that if Titus cuts off one of his own hands, the Emperor will spare his sons. Marcus and Lucius argue that they should sacrifice their hands, but while Titus sends them off for an axe, he gets Aaron to cut off his hand (with the fantastically embarrassing line "Lend me thy hand, and I will give you mine"). The message turns out to be a trick: after Titus has lost his hand, a messenger returns with the severed heads of Quintus and Martius. Titus begins to laugh for the tears he can no longer shed (III.i.263). He retires to his home with his brother and his daughter, sending Lucius off to raise an army of Goths against Tamora and Saturninus.

In the second scene, Titus, Marcus, Lavinia, and Lucius's son, Young Lucius, have a small banquet where Titus feeds his daughter while he deciphers the sorrow behind her mimed actions. For example, he understands that she will have no drink but her tears. When Marcus kills a fly, this causes Titus to wax sympathetic for the parents of the fly. Marcus humors him by saying that it is a black fly like Aaron. Titus reacts with delight, which convinces Marcus that he is mad. Titus then takes Lavinia and young Lucius away to read.

Commentary

When Titus prostrates himself and makes a plea to a non-existent audience, he represents the ultimate demise of Rome: its greatest hero reduced to an unsuccessful supplicant to the soil. In his speech to the banished Lucius, the "civilized" rivalry between Romans and the savagery and bloodlust of beasts converge: "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers" (III.i.54). Together with the "consuming sorrow" (III.i.61) of the abused Lavinia, this scene lays the foundation for a plot that increasingly concentrates on a circle of revenge that is rapacious and all-consuming. This all-consuming cycle ultimately finds concrete form in Titus's final scheme for retribution, in which the consuming of men is transformed from the metaphorical to the literal, and Titus's enemies are forced to eat their offspring. At the same time, so great are Titus's troubles that he is overwhelmed by them: "Like a drunkard must I vomit them" (III.i.230). The play has reached a point of gross excess that even those involved cannot help but note: "These miseries are more than may be born" (III.i.242). But such is the nature of revenge that having this knowledge does not stop the process. A cycle of revenge feeds itself, and those involved are swept up in its passionate carnage.

The first scene is also significant because of Aaron's aside, in which he says, while tricking Titus into cutting off his own hand, "O how this villainy / Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it! / Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace; / Aaron will have his soul black like his face" (III.i.201-4). This statement can be taken in two contrasting ways. It can be seen as locating Aaron's evil within his blackness, as popularly accepted in racial stereotypes. Or, it can be taken as proof that his villainy is a deliberate choice rather than the natural characteristic of a Moore. Either his soul is inherently black because he is black, or he decides to make his soul black because he has been treated so badly for simply having black skin.

The second scene is one of the most moving. In it, Titus enacts his first role as cook/feeder, in this case to his daughter Lavinia (later he will feed a horrendous feast to Tamora). This marks the only time in Titus when eating is portrayed as a natural and even nurturing act, as opposed to the ravenous, corrupt appetites portrayed in other parts of the play. In this scene, the textualization of Lavinia's body begun by Marcus in Act II Scene iv is completed as she is described as a "map of woe" (III.ii.12), whose sign language must be interpreted. From her mute motions, Titus says that he will "wrest an alphabet" (III.ii.44). The role of Lavinia is very important to consider as a symbol of theatricality in the play. She becomes central to the play (as a reason for revenge) just when she loses her ability to speak and is left with no communicational means but her gestures. This draws our attention to the fact that this is a play to be staged, and that Lavinia is to be looked at and not just heard.

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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

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