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Thread: Titus Andronicus

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Titus Andronicus

    During the next couple of months, we will be reading Titus Andronicus with our discussion group.

    This is a general thread to post your opinions and questions about the play. There also will be individual threads for each act as we read them weekly.

    Happy reading and discussion!
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    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
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    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    If anyone's interested two 3rd Quarto texts can be seen here:
    http://molcat1.bl.uk/treasures/shake...disp=d#DispTop

    and the First Folio can be viewed here:
    http://ise.uvic.ca/Library/facsimile.../SLNSW_F1/Tit/

    X
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

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    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    So, the discussion's moved on to Titus. Since the discussion seems to have understandably lagged (most people don't find the prospect of discussing the second act of T.A. all that appetizing) I thought I'd put in a little background material that doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet.

    Unless I missed a comment here, no one's mentioned how indebted this play is to Ovid's Metamorphoses, and particularly the tale of Philomela. If you don't know the story, there's a translation here: http://english.sxu.edu/boyer/304_rdg..._for_titus.htm. You may or may not be interested in reading the story in the Golding translation too, which was the Elizabethan translation that Shakespeare would have used: http://www.elizabethanauthors.com/ovid06.htm. The Philomela story begins at about line 542.

    Shakespeare parallels this story throughout Titus Andronicus, starting with act two and the rape of Lavinia and again strongly in the final act. One significant change is that in the Ovid Philomela was raped and had her tongue cut out, but still had her hands and was able to weave a tapestry to tell her sister about the outrage done to her. Both in Shakespeare's day and today, Philomela's weaving has been a symbol of art as a means for communication and resolution in the face of violence. Thus, by purposely changing the story so that Lavinia's hands are cut off, leaving her unable to weave her story as Philomel did, Shakespeare certainly seems to be consciously excising any possibility for art in this play. I think this ties in to some extent with Virgil's complaint that the play in general seems artless. The change to the Ovidian source ensures that T.A. will be relentlessly grim and frustrated.

    Another source that you may want to keep in mind while reading this play is the drama of Seneca. Senecan tragedy was fairly popular among the Elizabethans and is known for its relentless violence. Certainly the bloodiness of T.A. must have been at least partly patterned on Seneca's work. There are also some specific thematic parallels between Seneca's Thyestes and the end of T.A., but I won't go into specifics now, since I don't want to spoil the end for those who haven't read it before.

    As a final parting thought, when I taught this play, I began by approaching it from the point of view of modern day horror movies. I suggested to the class the way Shakespeare was following the bloody violence of Seneca from the classical era, and the way our own society continues to be fascinated with gratuitous violence in movies like Saw II etc. I think approaching this play from the point of view of modern day popular horror flicks helps in part to explain why it was apparently a huge early success for Shakespeare on the public stage. People have apparently been long fascinated with gore. Comparing Titus with Horror films also helps suggest what the humor in the play is doing there (for example, that awful scene where the two rapists joke about their victim), since very often modern day tales of horror are told with a sort of kitschy dark humor.
    Last edited by Petrarch's Love; 04-08-2007 at 02:44 PM.

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Thanks Petrarch. That was wonderful. Now next time I see Texas Chainsaw Massacre I'll have to think that Shakespeare got his start in works like this.

    A future Hamlet below, perhaps.

    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

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    in angulo cum libro Petrarch's Love's Avatar
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    Thanks Petrarch. That was wonderful. Now next time I see Texas Chainsaw Massacre I'll have to think that Shakespeare got his start in works like this.
    Glad I could help.

    A future Hamlet below, perhaps.

    "In rime sparse il suono/ di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core/ in sul mio primo giovenile errore"~ Francesco Petrarca
    "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."~ Jane Austen

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    I'm not part of the book club, however, I just finished reading Titus Andronicus.

    I hated it; just as I hate horror movies. Human life means nothing to any of the characters.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seraph404 View Post
    I'm not part of the book club, however, I just finished reading Titus Andronicus.

    I hated it; just as I hate horror movies. Human life means nothing to any of the characters.

    You couldn't have misread this play more. Titus Andronicus is a play about many things. It is not, however, a play that discounts human life. It does, however, subbordinate life to loyalty to Rome. Titus is a very traditional and loyal character. All of his decisions in the first act are based upon precedent, tradition, and Roman law. This is why he sacrafices the eldest son of the Goths (starting the cycle of revenge that drives this play), Why he gives the crown to Saturninus (the eldest and rightful heir to the throne by law, tradition, and precedent) why he gives Lavinia to the Emperor (Loyalty to the state before the family), and why he slays his son Mutius (for dishonoring him in Rome, an incredibly Patriarchial society). This tension between the loyalty to Rome (which is incredibly corrupt and undeserving of Titus' loyalty) that leads to Titus' descent into "madness" (as some argue) which leads him to the search for Justice (shooting the arrows into the sky, fishing in the sea, drilling into the earth) and leads him to realize that Justice is "not on earth". This is why Tamora dresses as revenge (which Titus of course sees through, one reason I don't agree with madness). Titus can only be revenged becasue there is no Justice to be had in the corrupt state of Rome. His revenge is the death of the remaining sons (as all but one of his sons are dead) and the feeding of them to the basely evil mother who has caused his family so much pain. He kills her, Saturninus kills him for her, and Lucius kills Saturninus for the death of his father. This is not the devaluing of human life. This is an elaborate cycle of revenge that can only really end with the death of everyone involved BECAUSE there is no justice in a corrupt state. (the state is corrupt because an emperor who only cares about himself is allowing himself to be lead by his wife, Tamora, former Queen of Goths, who only wants to revenge herself on Titus for making her "kneel in the streets and beg". Ultimately it cannot be said that this devalues life because Aarons child is left alive. If there was a devaluing of life then he would be killed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aswelch View Post
    You couldn't have misread this play more. Titus Andronicus is a play about many things. It is not, however, a play that discounts human life. It does, however, subbordinate life to loyalty to Rome. Titus is a very traditional and loyal character. All of his decisions in the first act are based upon precedent, tradition, and Roman law. This is why he sacrafices the eldest son of the Goths (starting the cycle of revenge that drives this play), Why he gives the crown to Saturninus (the eldest and rightful heir to the throne by law, tradition, and precedent) why he gives Lavinia to the Emperor (Loyalty to the state before the family), and why he slays his son Mutius (for dishonoring him in Rome, an incredibly Patriarchial society). This tension between the loyalty to Rome (which is incredibly corrupt and undeserving of Titus' loyalty) that leads to Titus' descent into "madness" (as some argue) which leads him to the search for Justice (shooting the arrows into the sky, fishing in the sea, drilling into the earth) and leads him to realize that Justice is "not on earth". This is why Tamora dresses as revenge (which Titus of course sees through, one reason I don't agree with madness). Titus can only be revenged becasue there is no Justice to be had in the corrupt state of Rome. His revenge is the death of the remaining sons (as all but one of his sons are dead) and the feeding of them to the basely evil mother who has caused his family so much pain. He kills her, Saturninus kills him for her, and Lucius kills Saturninus for the death of his father. This is not the devaluing of human life. This is an elaborate cycle of revenge that can only really end with the death of everyone involved BECAUSE there is no justice in a corrupt state. (the state is corrupt because an emperor who only cares about himself is allowing himself to be lead by his wife, Tamora, former Queen of Goths, who only wants to revenge herself on Titus for making her "kneel in the streets and beg". Ultimately it cannot be said that this devalues life because Aarons child is left alive. If there was a devaluing of life then he would be killed.
    Maybe that's how you see it, but I really didn't feel that way after reading the play. I was digusted at everyone's hypocracy and disregard for one another. Like one person said above, the play really is comparable to a modern horror movie. In fact, some of the notes in the back of my copy of the story say that a lot of people back in the Elizabethan times couldn't believe Shakespeare had even written it at all.

    I just can't see Titus as a loyal hero defending the noble ways of Rome: I saw him as a blind fool who cared more for his pride than the life of his own son. I guess it also doesn't help that I've always hated Roman society.

    I'm sure the play overall wasn't meant to discount human life, however, just about every character does. Especially Aaron: he's a sick bastard. He's no different than Ivan the Terrible.

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    "I just can't see Titus as a loyal hero defending the noble ways of Rome: I saw him as a blind fool who cared more for his pride than the life of his own son. I guess it also doesn't help that I've always hated Roman society. "

    Ahh, but he is a blind fool who puts a corrupt Rome above his family. This is his downfall. You are supposed to see him this way.

    "Especially Aaron: he's a sick bastard. He's no different than Ivan the Terrible."

    Aaron is a sick bastard. He is supposed to be. He is the Evil Moor. His soul is "as black as his skin". You aren't supposed to like these people. That is the thing about this play. You are supposed to connect with these characters. That is not the object to this play. This is why many people feel like this is unShakespearian. It is more likely that this is an outlier of his work. It is different than the rest of his plays. You can even think of it as a working out of the ideas for his later plays.

    "the play really is comparable to a modern horror movie."

    But isn't the subject of the play "horrific"? Do you not find the violence justifiable in a society where Justice is unattainable? Is this not a glimsp of what happens to people when they are in this horrific situation?

    I just don't think you have looked deep enough into this play. You wrote it off becasue you were turned off by the blackness that is in a human being. This is a portrait of the worst that humans are capable of. Do you find this to be an innacurate portrayal? Have we not wiped thousands of people off this Earth with bombs and warfare? Aren't we letting people kill each other and starve for food when a few countries have a huge surplus? I think you are closing your eyes to the real issues inherent in this play.

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