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Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene iii

Act V, Scenes i and ii

Study Questions

Summary

Lucius speaks to Marcus at his father's house; he asks Marcus to take custody of Aaron so that they might later get testimony of Tamora's crimes. Saturninus enters with his empress, and is heartily welcomed by Titus, who is dressed like a cook. Titus asks Saturninus if Virginius (a heroic Centurion) should have slain his daughter because she had been raped; Saturninus responds that a girl should not survive her shame. At this, Titus kills Lavinia. The emperor is horrified but Titus claims that her real killers are Chiron and Demetrius. When Saturninus calls for them to be brought out, Titus replies that they are already present, in the dishes from which Tamora has already eaten. With this revelation he stabs the empress. The emperor kills Titus. Lucius kills the emperor.

Marcus and another nobleman (possibly Aemilius, depending on the edition of the play) are grieved by the state to which Rome has fallen. Lucius speaks up to defend his actions by citing all the crimes that have been committed against the Andronici. Marcus asks the judgment of the Roman people, saying that he and Lucius will give up their lives if they are judged to be in the wrong. To this, Aemilius calls for Lucius to be emperor, a call taken up by Marcus. Lucius accepts, after which he, Marcus, and Young Lucius pay tribute to Titus's corpse. Lucius orders that Aaron be buried breast-deep and left to starve to death, but Aaron is still unrepentant. Lucius's closing words are for Tamora's corpse to be thrown to wild beasts since she was beastly while alive.

Commentary

The last scene is filled with an almost obscene number of corpses. And yet, after study, it is clear that every one of the deaths here is necessary to clear the way for a new Rome. At the end of this scene, we almost have the same situation as in Act I Scene i. Titus is replaced by his eldest son Lucius as the possible new emperor, and the most serious conflicts (those between Bassianus and Saturninus and between Titus and Tamora) are no more. So profound is the carnage that the only people that remain are the whole and unscarred characters such as Marcus and Lucius; Rome has been blasted clean, and the cycle of revenge seems to have destroyed itself. Still, it is hard to tell if Shakespeare means to leave us with a positive conclusion or not. Marcus says, "O let me teach you how to knit again / This scattered corn into one mutual sheaf, / These broken limbs again into one body" (V.iii.69-71). This states conclusively that the Rome of this play has been one fragmented body throughout. Does a new Rome empty of body fragments symbolize an intact and complete Rome, or a Rome that has lost its most important parts? Various critics have taken Lucius's lines to herald a better age for Rome, but also as acknowledgements that this is a Rome founded on rape and murder, a recognition that even Young Lucius has been tainted by all the crimes he has witnessed. Lucius's last words, after all, are still concerned with execution. One's answer to the question of whether the play ends positively or negatively will determine how one values Titus Andronicus as an artistic work. Is there any uplifting or cathartic element to this tragedy at all? Or does it leave its audience with too few lessons and too much blood?

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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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