Titus Andronicus

by: William Shakespeare

Study Questions

1

Is Titus Andronicus written by William Shakespeare? Where does it stand in the canon of Shakespearean plays? Is it serious enough to be counted as one of his Roman plays, or should it be consigned to the scrap heap of "practice" plays? Is it even important to ask such questions?

It would be impossible for the average reader/viewer, without complete understanding of the history of the publication and attribution of the play, to determine the authorship of the play. It is enough to know that many early critics have tried to deny that Shakespeare had anything to do with it. Lewis Theobald and Edmund Malone, two of Shakespeare's most famous editors in the eighteenth century, claim that he did not write it. Other critics have analyzed everything from vocabulary to meter to feminine endings in an attempts to prove that Shakespeare was not the author; not one of them succeeded in reaching conclusive proof. What is most useful in asking these questions is the insight they provide as to how different eras react to this play, and the revelations about those eras' values that their reactions shed. Eighteenth century objections to the play, for example, betray the period's neoclassicism in its jealous guarding of "Art" and "Nature" from such gory violation.

2

Philip C. Kolin writes, "In Shakespeare's earliest and bloodiest venture into the form [of tragedy], eyesight is tragically linked to the process of generating and deciphering texts." Discuss the importance of eyesight and of the text in Titus Andronicus.

Anyone can see that there is a very heavy emphasis in Titus Andronicus on reading and writing texts. The audience is presented with books, scrolls, maps, lines, seals, stamps, supplications, orations, letters, and quotes. In the course of the play, it is vital to be able to decipher texts to be one step ahead of the enemy, and it is possible to use texts as weapons against one's foes. Shakespeare communicates this by transforming the stage into a script, and by making words out of the flesh of his characters. In this way, he is engaging in a sort of metamorphosis, which appears as a tribute to Ovid, whose myth of Philomela from Metamorphosis Shakespeare quotes substantially. The difference is that Shakespeare's metamorphosis is not that of one physical form to another, but from the physical/visible form into the poetic/legible one.

3

Tragedy of blood, revenge tragedy, history play, political play, Roman tragedy, horror comic, parody play, Grand Guignol, daddy of all horror plays...which is it? Break down and analyze the structure and organization of Titus Andronicus to arrive at a classification of the play, if possible. If not, discuss what generic attributes the play holds, and how they help us to understand Shakespeare's intentions in writing it.

Titus Andronicus is most often seen as a tragedy because it appears on so many counts to be a forerunner of King Lear. It also bears hints of Coriolanus and Othello. And yet the play does not contain the subtlety, characterization, or intelligence of most Shakespearean tragedies. For this reason, critics often describe Titus Andronicus as a practice play, as Shakespeare stretching his writing muscles in anticipation of later efforts. More likely than not, Titus Andronicus is a studied imitation of the Senecan tragedies so popular with Elizabethan audiences at the time of its writing. One sees this in the determined revenge hero of Titus, as well as in the unwavering figure of evil of Aaron. Whether this revenge play is seen as sincere or as a distanced parody will depend on the individual opinion and argument.


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