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Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
Courtly Margins: Reading Titus Andronicus
Anna Kurian
University of Hyderabad
Abstract: The revival in fortune of Titus Andronicus since the 1980s has
been attributed variously, to the rise in feminist scholarship in academia,
to the importance of trauma studies in today’s world and to the new
determination to focus on objects on the margins. Thus TA, which for
nearly four centuries, was neglected now occupies a fairly central location
in Shakespeare criticism.This essay highlights the movement of Titus, the
eponymous, titular character from the margins to the centre and then dwells
upon his inability to negotiate the centre. In doing so it explores the unease
experienced by Titus on his return from combat and his consequent
immersion in the civil society of Rome, as also his inability to reconcile
the Rome that is from the Rome that he expects. This latter theme is also
connected to the concept of the soldier who returns from the battlefield
to find that he is unable to find his place in a society and culture that have
been re-shaped in his absence. I argue that due to long years spent on the
margins of the Roman Empire, Titus functions primarily as a soldier and
his return to Rome is characterized by an inability to contend with the
contradictory concepts of Rome and Roman society that are operative
around him. This inability is however successfully addressed once Titus
recognizes the similarities between the margins and the centre.
ds: Rome, soldier, court, battlefield, margins, centre.
The revival in fortune of Titus Andronicus (1594, hereafter
TA) since the 1980s can be attributed partially, to the rise in feminist
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture Vol II (2012)
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
scholarship in academia1, to the rising importance of trauma studies
in today’s world and to the new academic determination to focus
on objects on the margins. Thus TA, which for nearly four centuries,
was neglected within Shakespeare studies, now occupies a fairly
central location in the discipline. Perhaps this movement from
margins to centre in terms of critical studies and academic projects
has something to do with the text itself, for TA, as I hope to show
is deeply engaged with the question of margins and centres.
This essay highlights the movement of Titus, the eponymous,
titular character from the margins to the centre and then dwells
upon his inability to negotiate this centre. In doing so it explores a
related theme: the unease experienced by Titus on his return from
combat and his consequent immersion in the civil society of Rome,
as also his inability to reconcile the Rome that is from the Rome
that he expects. This latter theme is also connected to the theme
of the returning soldier, one who returns from the battlefield to
find that he is unable to find his place in a society and culture that
have been re-shaped during his absence. I argue that due to long
years spent on the margins, or outposts of the Roman Empire,
Titus functions primarily as a soldier and his return to Rome is
characterized by an inability to contend with the contradictory
concepts of Rome and Roman society that are operative around
him. (While Titus and the other Andronici see Rome as a space of
safety and a fitting (expected) reward for their services, the residents
of Rome see it as a contested space with vicious strife being a
commonplace.) This inability of Titus is however successfully
addressed once he recognizes the similarities between the margins
he once occupied and the centre he is now located in. This
recognition leads to an understanding/realisation of who the enemy
is, and clarity regarding loyalty and treachery, which finally leads to
a systematic strategy and its execution on his part. In this phase
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
Titus returns to old familiar roles and activities, becoming once
again the general of his forces and a soldier.
In the first section I analyse Titus’ return to Rome and the
gap between Rome-as-Reality and Rome-in-Titus’ perception.
In the second, the focus is on Titus’ growing awareness of Rome
as akin to a battlefield with enemies who have to be defeated for
him to survive. The third section complicates ideas of war, loyalty
and treachery, as Titus prepares to go on the offensive. The
conclusion I draw is that even as Titus finds it possible to act
only when he identifies the resemblance between Rome and the
battlefields, and dies while fighting his final battle, the survivors
also see what transpired as a battle for and in Rome.
A nobler man, a braver warrior,
Lives not this day within the city walls:
He by the senate is accit’d home
From weary wars against the barbarous Goths;
That, with his sons, a terror to our foes,
Hath yoked a nation strong, train’d up in arms.
Ten years are spent since first he undertook
This cause of Rome and chastised with arms
Our enemies’ pride: five times he hath return’d
Bleeding to Rome, bearing his valiant sons
In coffins from the field; (. . .)
And now at last, laden with honor’s spoils,
Returns the good Andronicus to Rome,
Renowned Titus, flourishing in arms. (I,i 25-41)
This is the first reference to Titus Andronicus in the play,
spoken by Marcus Andronicus, and it fixes him for us as a warrior
and a general, as someone who has been injured, bled and grown
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
weary in battling the Goths, who has lost many sons to the war
and who is now finally returning, summoned by the Senate,
carrying with him “honor/horror’s spoils”.2 It also juxtaposes
his return “home”, to live once again “within the city walls” to
his previous returns to the city, bleeding and carrying his sons’
“coffins from the field”. This “home” space of Rome is also set
against the “field” where he has spent the previous years, battling
“enemies”. His return to “within the city walls” of Rome is thus
an indication also of a return to safe, uncontested spaces, in
opposition to the “field” (battlefield) to which he was
accustomed. Thus by virtue of Marcus Andronicus’ words Titus
is presented to us as soldier, general and father, in that order. But
what we also see is a positing of Rome, the city as a contrast to
the battlefield, an idea that cannot be accepted without
reservation, as we have already seen the late emperor’s sons (and
their followers) battling for the crown. Thus our perception of
Rome is already unsettled, the city seen as refuge and safe space
for and by the Andronici while it is already a battlefield for the
Emperor’s sons.
If the Romans perceive Titus as enunciated by Marcus, he
also articulates a similar perception of his self. Thus Titus’ first
speech draws a comparison between himself and a vessel that
returns to its home port, speaks of himself as “victorious” and
goes on to reference his sons as those that were “slain in your
country’s wars” and those who survived whom he hopes “Rome
(will) reward with love” (74-85). Later in the scene when offered
a chance to compete with the late Emperor’s sons for the position
of ruler he declines:
Rome, I have been thy soldier forty years,
And led my country’s strength successfully,
And buried one and twenty valiant sons,
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
Knighted in field, slain manfully in arms,
In right and service of their noble country
Give me a staff of honour for mine age,
But not a sceptre to control the world:
Upright he held it, lords, that held it last.. . . .
(I,i, 196-203)
But even as he looks back at his career and successes he
also posits himself as someone who has retired from active service.
Thus the Titus who emerges from the action and speeches in the
first scene is someone who sees himself as a soldier primarily but
also now old: as he puts it, his head “shakes for age and feebleness”
(I,i, 191). He looks forward to retirement and hopes now to
“sheathe (his) sword” (I,i, 88) finally.
If we consider Titus in Act I, Scene i, we see a concurrence
of two dominant ideas that he has: of himself as a valiant warrior
and of a “kind Rome” (168) as the port where he can drop
anchor and spend the remainder of his days peacefully3. Of the
other speakers Bassianus also invokes Rome as an ideal, speaking
of Rome’s “imperial seat” (14) “to virtue consecrate,/To justice,
continence and nobility” (14-15). This positing of an ideal Rome
is however part of Titus’ world view as well, as he “re-salute(s)
his country with his tears / Tears of true joy for his return to
Rome” (78-79) and elevates Rome at every turn.
However the reader has an alternate view of Rome, one
which circulates from the initial moments of the play. This is a
Rome where the succession to the throne is hotly disputed, where
a prisoner of war is sacrificed to appease the shades of Titus’
sons and which is characterized by the Goths as “ambitious” and
doubly “barbarous” when compared to Scythia (134-5). It is
also a Rome wherein Saturninus, aware of the possibility of losing
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
the throne to Titus, wishes that Titus “were shipped to hell” (I, i,
209) (a hope/wish that comes to pass, ironically enough as the
city of Rome is transformed from a safe refuge and reward for
the surviving Andronici to a hell, a “wilderness of tigers” in III.i,
54). It is a Rome where once given the crown at Titus’ behest
Saturninus asks Titus for Lavinia’s hand, even while it is known
that she is betrothed to his brother Bassianus4, and having gained
it then proceeds to ogle Tamora, the Goth queen. Thus the Rome
that Titus expects and imagines is at variance from the Rome
that we, as audience/reader, see in the text. For Titus his Rome
is, in I.i still “a noble country” (200), one which he has idealized
during the years spent on the margins and outposts of Rome,
the time he spent protecting what he thought of as the centre of
his world. This disjuncture between what is and what Titus expects
is of course intensified in the second Act. However once Bassianus
takes Lavinia away and Saturninus marries Tamora, Titus’ rosyhued (almost imagined) return to Rome deteriorates rapidly.
Expecting honours and respect from the Roman state, and
Emperor (especially given his role in the elevation of Saturninus
to the throne) Titus laments that he is not asked to “wait upon”
the new bride and instead is left to “walk alone, / Dishonoured
thus and challenged of wrongs” (341-3).
In addition we also see that Titus, though now no longer
on the battlefield, continues to behave like a general and a soldier.
When Bassianus claims Lavinia and her brothers help him to
abduct her, Titus calls them “traitors”, their act “treason” and
calls for the “emperor’s guard” (286-7) to safeguard his rights.
Further when Titus is stopped by Mutius, his son, from following
Bassianus and the others, Titus “kills him”: the action of a soldier
and a general, accustomed to killing the enemy which “barr’st
(his) way” (294)5. While Titus still sees events and people in
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
fixed ways, the others show more proficiency in recognizing the
reality around them and altering their views accordingly. [Thus
Saturninus who earlier called Titus “father of my life”(256) turns
around and slights not just Titus but also his sons (“thy lawless
sons”) and Lavinia (“that changing piece”(315, 312)).] Titus’
inability to recognize the sophistry and corruption around him
leads him to hope that Tamora will actually be “beholding to the
man / That brought her for this high good turn so far” (399400). In a similar fashion he believes that the fact of his having
“loved and honoured Saturnine” (430) will be apparent to all
even as he sees Bassianus and his sons as having “dishonoured”
(388) him. The quick shifts and changes in opinion and loyalty
customary to politicians are alien to Titus who instead operates
with a largely monolithic (and militaristic) worldview, wherein
his loyalties are clearly stated and there are no abrupt shifts in
allegiance and command.
Titus, who has lived away from Rome for ten years, been
a soldier for forty and constantly been on the outskirts/margins
of Rome fighting Rome’s enemies, enters Rome with the
certainty that this, the centre of his world, is at utter and
complete variance with the margins that he has previously
occupied. His soldier’s mind sees Rome as different from the
battlefield, as a constant space of civility, graciousness and
decorum but that Rome may not be this idealized space is an
idea that does not occur to Titus and even when faced with the
changes of others’ opinions he continues to adhere to his views.
On the margins of the Roman world there were monsters, he
recognized them as such and fought them decisively but the
fact that battlefields and theatres of war might operate in similar
fashion to political capitals and courts (and vice versa) is
something that he cannot comprehend. This lack of
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
comprehension and flawed perception also paralyses him in
terms of certain kinds of action: in Rome while Titus can kill
his own son for a lack of obedience to himself he finds himself
unable to move against any other, even when those others offer
him studied insults and outrage his sense of his own worth. It
appears that for Titus certain actions are inappropriate in Rome
because of his perception of what Rome is. Thus for him to
act in Rome as he did on the battlefield is possible only after
he can see, recognize and accept the similarity between Rome
and the combat zones that he is accustomed to.
That Titus himself sees Rome and the Romans as refined
and superior to other groups is evident from his words in I.i.
He is confident of Rome’s recompense/reward to him and his
sons as he returns from his battles (“these that survive let Rome
reward with love”(85)); Lavinia is seen as a “cordial” “lovingly
reserved” for him by “Kind Rome” (168-9); Rome itself has a
“glorious body” which deserves a “better head” (190) than he
could provide6; etc. Even as midway through the first scene and
act, Tamora marries Saturninus, the Roman Emperor, Titus
continues to believe in Rome as incorruptible and as righteous
a judge as the heavens: “Rome and the righteous heavens be my
judge” as he says (429)7. Thus Act I ends with Titus hoping to
reinstate himself in the graces of Saturninus and his empress
by organizing a hunt, even after Titus has been insulted and
disgraced in public.
It requires all the horrific events of Act II for Titus to
make the mental shift that Rome, capital city of the Roman
Empire and the court of the Emperor Saturnine might be as
barbaric and destructive as the battlefields where he spent most
of his life.
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
Battles and battlefields presuppose a recognized and
recognizable enemy: modern warfare and terrorist activity which
complicate the idea of friend and enemy are relatively recent
developments. Yet Shakespeare’s work also unsettles these categories,
maybe most famously in Macbeth. When the Captain from the
battlefield reports to Duncan he says “So from that spring whence
comfort seemed to come / discomfort swells” (I.ii, 27-28), reporting
the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery, a shift that continues to operate
through the play. Similarly in Coriolanus the coming together of
Coriolanus with the Volscians complicates ideas of treachery and
loyalty. The English history plays with their troubled families and
succession issues also show the tension inherent in the idea of a fixed
enemy and/or a friend, when that enemy/friend is located, not in
the sphere of the personal, but the public and the political.
In TA, written nearly fourteen years before Coriolanus
Shakespeare explores these concepts of political allies and enemies
in a world which begins with clear denunciations of the Goths as
“barbarous”(28) but which are unsettled soon after when the
Goth prince, Chiron, says of the Andronici’s sacrifice of his
brother: “Was ever Scythia half so barbarous?” (134). While
Marcus exhorts Titus to let him bury Mutius, Titus’s son, he uses
the phrase “Thou art a Roman; be not barbarous”(381). As
these references from Act I, Scene i demonstrate, there is no
consistency in TA as to who can be considered barbarous and
who can be considered ‘cultured’. However for Titus, initially, all
Romans are refined and so is Rome.
Titus, on the battlefields of the Roman empire, assumed,
rightly, that the enemy was the Goth army and nation, and behaved
accordingly. But once Tamora is married to the Roman Emperor
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
he takes her statement that she is “incorporate in Rome / a
Roman now adopted happily” (I.i, 465-6) at face value, and
accepts her as such. Her earlier status as Goth and enemy is erased
from his mind and he only sees her as Saturninus’ “lovely bride”
(II.ii, 4). This simplistic acceptance of people is predicated upon
Titus’ binary vision which sees easy equations of Goth and enemy
while Roman is only, always, well-wisher and friend (this in spite
of Saturninus’ own viciousness towards the Andronici in I.i). It
requires the injustice of his sons being sentenced to death for
him to reassess the Emperor, Tamora and Rome itself.
To see Tamora as the reason for the contamination of Rome
is not just too easy but also evidence of poor reading skills (!) as
Rome is already compromised when Tamora and the other Goths
enter it in Titus’ wake as his prisoners of war. Further the sacrifice
of Tamora’s eldest son by the Romans, led by Lucius, also
complicates the virtuous idealistic, imagined, Rome. The killing
of an enemy on a battlefield is unremarkable; however the same
enemy when killed in the civic and civilized spaces of Rome makes
for a shattering of the idea of Rome itself. However Tamora’s
‘incorporation’ into Rome via her marriage to Saturninus does
make Rome slightly more unsettled: Eugene Giddens states that
Tamora is “placed in a threshold, between other and non-other,
Roman and Goth” (2010-11: np): an enemy queen, then a
prisoner of war led in triumph by the victorious general is further
transformed into a humble supplicant, kneeling in the streets of
Rome begging for her son’s life (this last incident is felt most
strongly by Tamora herself who vows to visit vengeance upon
Titus that he and the other Andronici might know what it is to
“let a queen /kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain” (4578). From that low point (literally so) she rises to become empress
of Rome (again literally) as Saturninus says, “Ascend, fair queen,
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
Pantheon” (336), advising her husband and constituting herself
“a loving nurse, a mother to his youth” (I.i, 335). Rome as a
space of virtue and nobility is thus complicated by Tamora’s
presence, seeking vengeance, even as it has been from the first by
Saturninus, against whom we are warned by Bassianus in the
second speech of the play. The fact that Saturninus gladly
exchanges Lavinia, emblematic of all that is good in Rome
(“Rome’s rich ornament” (I.i, 55) for Tamora, an outsider and
an enemy queen, speaks for the transformation of Roman social
spaces as well as Saturninus’ own transformation.
By the time Titus’ appeals to the Roman tribunes have gone
unheard/unheeded (III.i, 1-26), Titus has recognized that “Rome
is but a wilderness of tigers”(54) and is able to rebuke Lucius
for not perceiving this fact. He also points out that “Tigers must
prey, and Rome affords no prey/But me and mine” (55-6). At
this point in the text Titus’ simplistic scheme of categorizing
friends and enemies begins to break down. It does not however
give way completely because when Aaron brings the message,
supposedly from the Emperor, that for the hand of one of the
Andronici he will pardon Titus’ sons, Titus believes him. The
point at which Titus understands completely that Rome is as full
of enemies as the Goth battlefield, is also one of the most
astonishing moments in the play: when Titus bursts into laughter
at receiving his sons’ severed heads and his own severed hand. As
he enquires the way to “Revenge’s cave” (III.i, 270) his earlier
binarism is reversed to the point that he asks Lucius to “Hie to
the Goths and raise an army there” (III.i 285).
The recognition that Rome is infested with enemies to the
Andronici, even as previously the battlefields were, is the moment
at which Titus’ earlier paralysis ends. Till this point, when faced
with injustice or hatred Titus nonetheless functioned as a Roman,
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
believing that he would be given a hearing, that his prior service
to the state would be recognized and honoured and that the
Rome that he believed in would pity him and his:
Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay!
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept;
For all my blood in Rome’s great quarrel shed;
For all the frosty nights that I have watch’d;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks;
Be pitiful to my condemned sons, (. . .) (III.i, 1-8)
Holding on to these beliefs all that he could do was appeal
to the systems of Roman justice and law. But once the
incontrovertible proof comes before him of Rome’s unbending
stance towards his family he realizes that he has been caught in a
nightmare and an inertia. “When will this fearful slumber have
an end?”(III.i, 252) he asks on seeing his sons’ heads and his own
severed hand. That is also the moment when Titus begins to renegotiate his own perceptions regarding friend/enemy/wellwisher/Roman/Goth. And once Titus sees and recognizes this,
his inaction and inertia give way: for Titus the distinction between
the margins and the centre is elided and that elision makes it
possible for him to become an active combatant once again.
That by this time Titus has arrived at a recognition of
Roman iniquity and evil, something that was to him unthinkable
and unimaginable, indicates also the transformation of Rome
itself in Titus’ mind and imagination. The Andronici who earlier
looked upon Rome as the fountain of honour now see it as “proud
Rome” (Lucius in III.i, 290), “ungrateful country” (Marcus in
IV.i, 111), “ungrateful Rome” (Titus in IV.iii, 17), and Titus
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
speaks of “the wicked streets of Rome” (V.ii, 98). Interestingly
the Goths, old enemies of the Romans and the Andronici, now
allies, refer to and understand Rome in a similar fashion,
acknowledging Titus’ “high exploits and honourable deeds” which
“Ingrateful Rome requites with foul contempt” (V.i, 11-2). But
it is also necessary to accept that the Andronici do not see the
Roman people as responsible for their situation: Titus concedes
that he it was who “threw the people’s suffrages” onto Saturninus
(IV.iii, 19-20) and Lucius receives letters from ‘Great Rome’ which
tell him of the “hate they bear their emperor” (V.i, 2-3).
The shift to active combat is marked by a preliminary
moment wherein Titus mulls over possible plans of action/
strategies. These are in part shaped by his own grief-struck and
traumatized self coming to terms with the events that have
brought him to this point: thus at the dining scene with Marcus,
Lavinia and Young Lucius we see a Titus who is still uncertain of
the course of action he should/will undertake (III.ii). The
floundering we see in this and similar scenes has been read by
Deborah Willis as Titus learning to cope with the trauma that he
and the others have undergone until such time as he has a
mechanism in place which makes it possible for him to avenge
himself (Willis 2002). Numerous actions in this scene show a
Titus hesitant and uncertain about the course of action to adopt
or as demonstrating to us, the readers/viewers, his slow but
meaningfully plotted return to his familiar stance and standing
as General Titus Andronicus. These include: the almostfloundering actions that we see in this scene where Marcus strikes
at a fly (III. ii, stage direction after line 51); the following scene
where Titus decides to send a message to Chiron and Demetrius
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
via Young Lucius (IV. i, 113-117); the scene where Titus and his
family members shoot arrows at the Gods pleading for justice
and finally send a Clown to Saturninus (IV. iii).
The sending of weapons and a coded message to Chiron and
Demetrius (IV.i) can be seen as a challenge, a call to combat, albeit
coded: the irony being that only Aaron, the Moor recognizes it as
such: “(. . .) the old man hath found their guilt, / And sends them
weapons wrapped about with lines / That wound, beyond their
feeling, to the quick”(26-8). The Andronicus family, down to Young
Lucius, knows exactly what is meant by the “gifts”: “(. . .) with his
gifts present / Your lordships, that, whenever you have need, / You
may be armed and appointed well” (14-6). The shooting of arrows
to the Gods with petitions wound about them, pleading for justice is
more problematic as it cannot be seen as a step in a military campaign,
unless we read it as a final attempt to secure peace without open
warfare. Thus Titus shoots arrows into Saturninus’ courts, sends the
Clown and hopes, even thus, to secure justice for himself and his
family, if not from the “wicked emperor” then from the Gods (IV.iii,
23). It is when all avenues are blocked, all attempts to make/gain
peace proved futile, thatTitus wages war.This is recognized by Marcus
Andronicus, Titus’ brother and a tribune of Rome when he says that
Titus will “Join with the Goths, and with revengeful war / Take
wreak on Rome for this ingratitude, / And vengeance on the traitor
Saturnine. (IV.iii, 33-35, emphasis added).
Even as Titus now sees the truth of Rome, as no longer the
location of all virtue, he also begins to see that it is so because of
the presence of Saturninus within it. He, when still unaware of
the identity of Lavinia’s rapists, suspects Saturninus of having
“slunk” out to “sin” (IV.i, 63-4) and refers to Saturninus as he
who “doth tyrannize o’er me” and “This wicked emperor” (IV.iii,
20, 23). Interestingly and ironically it is Marcus who appears to
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
believe that Rome has been rendered evil by the presence of
traitors within: he considers Tamora’s sons and Saturninus to be
the traitors (IV.i, 93 and IV.iii, 35).8 Loyalties, which determine
who can be accounted treacherous, are never a given in the case
of either the Empress and her sons, Aaron or even Saturninus.
While Tamora claims to be a Roman she also swears loyalty to
Saturninus, in I.i. Though shortly afterwards Aaron in his
soliloquy, announces with clarity that Tamora will work towards
Saturninus’ “shipwrack and his commonweal’s” (II.i, 24).
Saturninus’ affections and allegiance are shifting: while he berates
Bassianus in I.i, 406 as “Traitor” in II.iii he is “grieved with
killing grief ”(260) upon hearing of Bassianus’ death. Earlier Titus’
own loyalties were suspect: his allegiance was to Rome and dynastic
monarchy even in the face of injustice to his daughter; his sons
chose fidelity to their family above their devotion to their
Emperor. Given this conflicted state of affairs, with all loyalties
suspect, Titus arrives at his final campaign, certain only of his
own family as now the army for this last battle.
While Titus is certain of his family members, while he
knows who the enemy is whom he has to defeat, he is still
uncertain of the location where this battle will take place and
the strategies that he will need to adopt. It is left to Tamora to
precipitate the final crisis even as she comes to Titus, in the guise
of Revenge, with her two assistants, Rape and Murder. Her
ostensible reason is to help Saturninus, who, having heard of
Lucius’ imminent arrival at the head of a Goth army, now wishes
to parley. Her own decision to “gloze with all” (IV.iv, 35), that
is, to speak deceptively to both Saturninus and the Andronici,
and her pleasure in further filling Titus’ “aged ears, with golden
promises” (IV.iv, 97-8), leads her to plan the banquet at Titus’
house, wherein she (in her disguise as Revenge) promises to
Margins : A Journal of Literature and Culture
bring in the empress and her sons
The emperor himself, and all thy foes,
And at thy mercy shall they stoop and kneel,
And on them shall thou ease thy angry heart.
(V.ii, 116-19)
That Titus Andronicus is no longer paralysed by grief and
shock, that he might even have a strategy in mind is apparent at
the alacrity with which he takes her up on this offer, sending
Marcus to bring Lucius, and then threatening to call back Marcus
if Revenge does not permit Rape and Murder to stay behind
with Titus. Titus admits as much when he says in an aside as
Tamora and her sons decide what to do: “And will o’erreach
them in their own devices”(143) and later having called his
kinsmen and bound Chiron and Demetrius he says, “Oft have
you heard me wish for such an hour, / and now I find it” (V.ii,
159-60, emphasis added). Minutes later as he acquaints them of
the fate that he has planned for them he says: “This is the feast I
have bid her to /And this the banquet that she shall surfeit on”
(V.ii, 192-3). Titus in these final scenes is no longer lost and
floundering in Rome: he is quick at grasping the opportunities
that present themselves, plans out horrific sequences and as we
see in V.iii acts them out with precision and attention to detail.
As general and soldier Titus puts together a revenge scenario in
the final scene, which is complete in all details. He demonstrates
the acumen and planning that made him the scourge of the
enemies of Rome, on the battlefields on the boundaries of Rome,
except that he does so now in the very heart of the Roman Empire.
Is it that he shifts the battlefield into the centre? Or is it that the
distinction between the margins and the centre is so slight that
in this instance it is irrelevant? These are not Titus’ doubts as he
works at what he knows best: to decimate his enemies, dying in the
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process, killed by Saturninus, himself killed by Lucius, Titus’ only
living son.
In the aftermath of the cannibalism and violent on-stage
killings, an un-named Roman Lord speaks, inviting Lucius to
state his case:
Speak, Rome’s dear friend (. . .)
Tell us what Sinon hath bewitched our ears,
Or who hath brought the fatal engine in
That gives our Troy, our Rome, the civil wound.
(. . .)
Here’s Rome’s young captain, let him tell the tale,
(V.iii, 80, 85-7, 94)
After having witnessed Lucius stab and kill the emperor
Saturninus, the Roman Lord nonetheless recognizes him as
“Rome’s young captain” (94) and his references to Rome as Troy,
the “fatal engine”(86) and the “civil wound”(87) further
complicate the idea of treachery and loyalty to Rome even as
they introduce the idea of a civil war. Rome as a battlefield, even
as Troy was, the presence of a Sinon and a ‘fatal engine’ in Rome
draw parallels for us between Troy, defeated by a subterfuge and
the presence of the enemy within and Rome here and now, nearly
defeated, in distress, but not quite defeated.
Lucius’ response to the Roman Lord’s request answers some
of his pressing questions but also retains a degree of ambiguity
as to who the enemies of Rome really are/were.
That cursed Chiron and Demetrius
Were they that murdered our emperor’s brother;
And they it were that ravished our sister:
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For their fell faults our brothers were beheaded;
Our father’s tears despised, and basely cozen’d
Of that true hand that fought Rome’s quarrel out,
And sent her enemies unto the grave.
Lastly, myself unkindly banished,
The gates shut on me, and turn’d weeping out,
To beg relief among Rome’s enemies:
Who drown’d their enmity in my true tears.
And oped their arms to embrace me as a friend.
I am the turned forth, be it known to you,
That have preserved her welfare in my blood;
And from her bosom took the enemy’s point,
Sheathing the steel in my adventurous body.
(V.iii, 97-112)
Lucius begins with identifying Chiron and Demetrius as
enemies to the Andronici, proceeds to laud his father as “true” in
sending Rome’s “enemies to the grave”(103) and then re-aligns
the Goths as once “Rome’s enemies” but who “drown’d their
enmity” in his “true tears” (106-7). The narrative is further
complicated in his lines regarding himself: as him who preserved
Rome, taking the “enemy’s point” and “sheathing the steel”(11112) in his own body. It can be argued that Lucius speaks of himself
as emblematic of the entire Andronicus clan and thus ends the
story of Rome’s enemies by speaking of the sacrifice of life by
Titus and the other Andronici, “preserved her welfare in my blood”
(110). But the question of who Rome’s enemies were remains
unanswered. The Goths having been recast as friends, that leaves us
with only Saturninus, Tamora and the dead Chiron and Demetrius.
Given that Chiron and Demetrius were killed by Titus, as also
Tamora, Lucius can take credit only for the killing of Saturninus,
is it that he indicates this in the last four lines cited above?
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If we link this to the Roman Lord’s queries as to who
Sinon was who let in the ‘fatal engine’, etc we are again left with
no definite answers: if Saturninus fits the role of Sinon, in a
certain way, having enabled the ‘incorporation’ of Tamora and
her sons into Rome, so also does Aaron, who advises the empress
and her sons, but ironically, so also does Titus who brought
Tamora and her sons into Rome!
But the reference to the ‘fatal engine’ of Troy is indeed
pertinent to this reading of TA: as the Trojan horse transformed
Troy into a battlefield where the earlier ten-year war had been
waged on the fields outside Troy, so also Rome, hitherto a safe,
secure city is transformed into a battlefield, wherein Titus regains
the only roles that he knows how to play, that of soldier and
See Willis (2002) which gives a succinct yet detailed account
of feminist scholarship since the 1980s, but also comments on the
quantum of academic work on TA which has “increased most
dramatically in the past twenty years”(Willis 2000: 21-22). In the
decade after Willis academic attention to TA has continued apace as
evidenced by essays in the major Shakespeare journals as well as those
such as Atlantis (2007) and Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability
Studies (2012) etc.
All quotations are from the Pelican Shakespeare text of Titus
Andronicus, edited by Russ McDonald (2000). McDonald uses
‘honor’s spoils’ but the MIT Shakespeare, the OpenSource
Shakespeare, etc use ‘horror’s spoils’ which is particularly apt for this
essay, pointing as it does to the horror of war, which nonetheless
yields spoils.
On how that particular passage effeminizes his masculine
glory see Giddens (2010-11).
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It can be debated that Saturninus was unaware of Lavinia’s
betrothal to Bassianus as the text does not make it clear and different
productions play it differently. However the fact that all Titus’s sons
are aware of it and see it as final and binding gives the clue to the fact
that it must have been known, if not by the general public but by
both families at the very least. It also makes more problematic Titus’
easy acquiescence to Saturninus’ proposal.
Paul Innes in a 2012 essay remarks the resemblance: “As a
soldier faced with insubordination, Titus strikes and kills Mutius”
This phrase of course refers to Early Modern concepts regarding
kingship, the body politic and the ruler as the head of the body politic.
It is only by Act IV. Scene iii that Titus discovers that the
heavens are indeed similar to Rome: both are unresponsive to his
pleas for justice.
The phrase he uses (“traitorous Goths”) is curious as it is
only if they are Romans that they can be traitors to Rome: as Goths
they would be evidencing the right loyalties via their cruelty to Titus
and his family.
Works cited
Escolà, Jordi Coral. “‘Vengeance is yours’: Reclaiming the Social Bond
in The Spanish Tragedy and Titus Andronicus.” Atlantis 29.2
(2007): 59-74. Jstor. Web. 25 May 2013.
Giddens, Eugene. “Masculinity and Barbarism in Titus Andronicus”.
Early Modern Literary Studies 15:2, 2010-11 http:// Accessed on 25.5.13,
Imbracsio, Nicola M. “Stage Hands: Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
and the Agency of the Disabled Body in Text and Performance”.
Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 6.3 (2012):
291-306. Project Muse. Web. 25 May 2013.
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Innes, Paul. “Titus Andronicus and the Violence of Tragedy”. Journal
of Literature and Trauma Studies 1.1 (2012): 27-48. Project
Muse. Web. 25 May 2013.
Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. (1594). Ed. Russ McDonald.
New York: Penguin/Pelican, 2000. Print.
—. Macbeth. (1605-6). Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet, 1963.
Willis, Deborah. “‘The Gnawing Vulture’: Revenge, Trauma Theory
and Titus Andronicus”. Shakespeare Quarterly 53.1(2002):
21-52. Project Muse. Web. 25 May 2013.