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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scenes iii and iv

Act IV, Scenes i and ii

Act V, Scenes i and ii

Summary

Titus brings Marcus, Young Lucius, and his kinsmen Publius, Sempronius, and Caius to shoot arrows at the constellations. These arrows are tipped with petitions to the gods for justice. Marcus adds a practical touch by advising the men to make certain their shafts fall into the court so as to scare the emperor. Along comes a clown carrying two pigeons; he tells them he is going to court to settle a personal dispute. Titus convinces the clown to bring a message on his behalf to the emperor, with the promise of a hefty monetary reward.

In the court, Saturninus is furious about the arrows he has found, for they have advertised his crimes to all of Rome. The clown enters with the two pigeons and Titus's letter. Saturninus reads the letter and immediately has the clown hanged. Next, the messenger Aemilius enters with word that Lucius has gathered an army of Goths and is already advancing on Rome. Saturninus flies into a panic; he has often heard rumors that the people would support Lucius over himself. Tamora calms him by comparing him to an eagle that tolerates the song of smaller birds because he can silence them at will. Furthermore, she promises him that she can persuade Titus to entreat Lucius to desist in his war efforts. She sends Aemilius to the Goth camp to ask Lucius to go to a meeting at the house of Titus.

Commentary

Titus cries, "We will solicit heaven and move the gods / To send down justice for to wreak our wrongs" (IV.iii.51-2). With these words is performed one of those most lyrically inspired moments of the play: Titus and his kinsmen shoot arrows at the unfeeling sky from the mortal earth. First, this action calls up the poetic heroism of characters who push beyond their human reach to lay their narrative on the doorstep of godliness. At the same time, because their arrows fall meekly to the earth, they are shown to be the pathetic humanity they are: powerless, impotent weaklings left to fight one another in a world after "Terras Astraea reliquit [The goddess of justice has left the earth]" (IV.iii.4). Finally, because the arrows, each freighted with a description of Saturninus's crimes, fall into Saturninus's court, they serve as a crystallization of the metaphor of attacking an enemy through words. The effectiveness of this scheme is shown by Saturninus's distress when he rages, "Sweet scrolls to fly about the streets of Rome!" (IV.iv.16) In this image, we begin to see how Titus reconquers the city of Rome by literally covering it with his words. If well dramatized on the stage, this scene's conflation of human pathos, divine absence, and witty strength has the potential to demonstrate some of the play's most important themes.

A problematic figure in these two scenes is that of the clown. He does nothing but deliver a message to Saturninus on Titus's behalf, which in turn leads to his execution. But the content of the letter he carries is never revealed to the audience. The comic relief the clown offers is little more than a weak confusing of Jupiter's name. The only real cause for his presence is that it allows Titus to display a degree of insanity by mistaking the clown for a messenger from heaven. For these reasons, the figure of the clown is often excluded from productions of Titus Andronicus.

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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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