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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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The play opens with a ritual display of the splendor of Rome. The election of a new emperor and Titusí triumphant return from the wars are presented in formal groupings and processions, with drums and trumpets and a verse of pomp and elaborate heroic simile. Saturninus and Bassianus are shown in the full pomp of a Roman election to Emperorship it is a ceremonial scene, centered on the crown itself.

Titus is the triumphant warrior who has returned home with the bodies of his dead sons. There is a ceremonial build - up from his elaborately magnificent entrance to the tomb. From political interest the focus now shifts; the tomb suggests a morbid aspect to Roman greatness. A latent brutality in the Romans is revealed in the sacrifice of Tamoraís son by Lucius who is almost barbarous himself. Ostensibly Alarbusís murder is a religious sacrifice. But religion is just a veil for a savage revenge revealed by Lucius, "new his limbs". The Goths compare the Romans to Scythians. Scythia was for the Elizabethans, as for the Romans it is the land beyond the fringe of civilization, full of wild beasts. The irony lies in the fact that the "barbarians" (Goths) are accusing the Roman, who, are proud of their civilized sophistication, of savagery. The root of the tragedy revealed here is the emergence of barbarity in the Romans themselves.


Another tragic blunder is established when Titus refuses the position of the Emperor but accepts the role of an arbitrator between the two princes. So far both Saturninusí and Titusí adherence to the primogeniture principle are acceptable. But as the conversation proceeds, it is clear from Saturninusí violent and stupid interruptions contrasting with Bassianusí moderation, that Titus has made a grave error. Titus persists in appointing the boor Saturninus to a post for which he is so patently unfit, and the tragic consequences of this blunder immediately unfolds. As a sign of his gratitude Saturninusí offers to marry Lavinia and his proposal is accepted by Titus. But the next irony emerges in which Saturninusí evident lechery for Tamora. The trap springs at once: Bassianus claims Lavinia as his betrothed and carries her off with the support of Titusís family. Mutius who stays behind to cover their escape, is slaughtered in anger by his father Titus. The brutality already apparent in the play is now revealed in Titus himself: the barbarity within the Roman has come out, and that theme is now associated with his obvious blunder of electing Saturninus.

Titusí attempts to appease Saturninus fail and the latter rejects him insultingly. Titusí adamant refusal to forgive his dead son and allow his body to be buried in the family tomb shows a complexity of character that establishes the grounds of tragedy that is befall him. Titus is reduced from pomp and circumstances to rejection and despair, and the bare recognition is impressively uttered. " I know not, Marcus, but I know it is." From that knowledge he builds up a pathetic suggestion of hope which anticipates his coming madness.

Titus optimism is immediately rendered impossible by further revelations of Saturninus and Tamora. As Saturninus lapses continually from the high imperial tone to mere boorishness he is met with patience from Bassianus and Titus. Thus it is left to Tamora to intervene and to restore the imperial voice, explaining the principles of political dissension. It reveals the power she will come to wield her marriage had met only made her his wife but a woman of great power and influence, assisted both by her position and her mind. She advises him to "Dissemble all your grief and discontents.....Iíll fins a day to massacre them all." He is persuaded and imitates of Titus" invitation to a hunt. Although Saturninus has known Tamora for a very short period of time he easily accepts her influence in his life and agrees to her advice of pretending to forgive Titus and his family. Titus is totally unaware of the danger that now hangs over his head when he invites Saturninus for the hunt. And Saturninus acceptance of the hunt has sinister undertones for the fate of Titus and his family.

This act establishes the roles and relationships of all the principal characters, with the exception of Aaron. Simultaneously, one of the playís Themes, the dignity of man opposed to vengeful bestiality is clearly defined. Act I reflects deliberate control as each "discovery" immediately follows its anticipation (example, the revelation of Saturninus boorishness at the moment when Titus decides to elect him). The structural control is seen in the language, in the shifts of tone, as well as in the implanting of ideas essential to the subsequent development. The weakness of the act lies in its over elaboration. The discoveries are brilliant but there are too many of them. The stress on brutality tends to overlay the more subtle development. Only two murders are committed, but the tale of Titusí innumerable sons being killed extends the violence over the whole act, and the effect is endorsed by the stress on ritual murder.

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