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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes i and ii

Act IV, Scenes iii and iv

Act V, Scene iii

Summary

In the Goth camp, Lucius tells the Goths that he has received news from Rome detailing how much the Romans hate their emperor, and how eagerly they await Lucius's coming. The Goths are proud to fight alongside the man who was once their bane, and promise to follow his lead into battle. A Goth soldier has discovered the fugitive Aaron, along with his baby, in an abandoned monastery, and brought him back to camp. Lucius's impulse is to hang the father and child, letting the child hang first so that the father will have to watch. The Goths bring a ladder and make Aaron climb it. From that position, he makes a bargain with Lucius to preserve the child in exchange for Aaron's knowledge of all the horrors that have occurred. When Lucius swears by his gods that he will spare the child, Aaron reveals the parenthood of the child, the rapists of Lavinia, the murderers of Bassianus, his own trickery to get Titus's hand; finally, he takes credit for every act, saying, "And what not done, that thou hast cause to rue, / Wherein I has no stroke of mischief in it?" (V.i.109- 10) Lucius is aghast, but the inveterate Moore goes on to list the other crimes he has committed in his life, claiming his sole regret is that he does not have the chance to commit ten thousand more. Lucius is so horrified that he has Aaron taken down, claiming hanging is too sweet a death for the Moore. Aaron is gagged so that he will stop speaking.

Aemilius enters then with the request from Saturninus for a meeting. Lucius agrees.

In the second scene, Tamora and her sons appear to Titus in disguise, masquerading as Revenge and her attendants Rape and Murder. She says to Titus, whom she believes to be mad, that she will punish all his enemies if he will convince Lucius to attend a banquet at Titus's house. Her plan is to wreak confusion among the Goths while their new leader, Lucius, is at the banquet. Titus, who has simply been playing at madness all along, agrees on the condition that Revenge leave Rape and Murder (Chiron and Demetrius in disguise) with him. Upon Tamora's departure, Titus gets his kinsmen to gag and bind the two young Goths. With Lavinia holding the basin to catch their blood, Titus "play[s] the cook" who slits their throats. He elaborates on his plan to grind their bones to dust and to make a paste of it with their blood, which he will turn into "coffins," a word that also meant pie crust. He will then bake Tamora's sons in their "coffins," and serve the dish to their mother at the banquet.

Commentary

In Act I Scene i, Aaron gets an opportunity to flaunt his evil through long, uninterrupted speeches that reveal his blasphemy, his absence of scruples, and his utter lack of regret about anything he has done. Not only does he explain his own part in every atrocity that has been committed, he heaps insult on injury by describing how much he delighted at the suffering of his victims. To the excess of his violence is matched the voracity of his appetite for wrongdoing. This scene can only inspire horror in an audience, effectively erasing any sympathy one might have mustered for Aaron as a paternal figure.

Tamora's little costume-show for Titus functions as a play-within-a-play, drawing attention to the theatricality of Titus. What is interesting here is that in disguising themselves as Revenge, Rape, and Murder, Tamora and her sons in fact assume the abstract roles they have occupied throughout the play. In taking on disguises, Tamora and her sons reveal themselves. It is ironic that Titus should be the one to say "but we worldly men / Have miserable, mad, mistaking eyes" (V.ii.65-6) for it is the empress and her sons who have had their eyes tricked by Titus's feigning of insanity. Titus's line that he "will o'erreach them in their own devices" (V.ii.143) proves exactly right. Tamora plays at disguise but in doing so reveals her true self, while Titus proves him self a master at hiding his intentions. Titus's line, however, has deeper implications: it is a fine description of what Shakespeare has done in this play; he has revived classical myths and allusions only to expand and intensify them. Lavinia has been a bused "worse than Philomel," and in response, Titus will be avenged "worse than Procne" (V.ii.194-5). It is on this "o'erreach" that the play is largely based.

It has been said that the whole of Titus Andronicus is based on one pun, that the word "coffin" also means "pie-crust." This observation can be used to trivialize the play. Or, it can be taken as another example of how the play spins on a twist of words, on the way a double entendre allows Titus to turn the womb of the mother into the tomb of her offspring, so that she eats what she has produced.

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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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