Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Rome. Center of the Roman Empire, where the play opens at Emperor Titus’s royal court. The entrance of the emperor’s sons through different doors opens the play and denotes the division and divided loyalties that will plague Rome, preparing the audience for the political strife that ravages the court. In contrast, the tribunes and senators of Rome, along with Marcus, the brother of Titus, appear aloft on the balcony, in order to underscore the tradition of a once mighty and proud Rome that remains “above” the fray of petty squabbles and familial strife. Into this contrasting setting appears Titus on the main stage in his triumphal entrance to the city, bringing both prisoners and Roman dead, as he moves to the trapdoor, which functions as the burial site for those slain in battle.
Later in the play, the trapdoor becomes a pit dug in the countryside of Rome, used by the sons of the evil queen to hide a murder and to ensnare two of Titus’s sons. Thus the location of the play is less important than the symbolism of where characters perform. In and nearby the court of Rome may be the referenced sites, but the playhouse stage reveals more, offering the medieval concept of theatrum mundi, or “world as a stage,” which measures all things vertically, from hell below to heaven above, as mankind “frets and struts his hour upon the stage,” as Macbeth says in another of Shakespeare’s plays.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bessen, Alan C. Shakespeare in Performance: “Titus Andronicus.” Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1989. Dessen follows the stage history of the play, noting that the watershed performance was the highly successful 1955 production by Peter Brook, starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Dessen also addresses the numerous staging problems involved in a production of Titus Andronicus.
Bowers, Fredson T. Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587-1642. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940. Although somewhat old, this book is still useful and enjoyable. It traces the origins of the revenge tragedy to the plays of Seneca. Bowers shows how Titus Andronicus follows a pattern first formulated in English by Thomas Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy.
Hamilton, A. C. “Titus Andronicus: The Form of Shakespearean Tragedy.” Shakespeare Quarterly 14 (1963): 201-213. Suggests that Titus’ fault is in attempting to be godlike in the sacrifice of Alarbus. The rest of the play makes him increasingly human.
Rozett, Martha Tuck. The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. Argues that the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and election was influential upon Elizabethan tragedy.
Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. This is where all studies of Shakespeare should begin. Includes excellent chapters introducing the poet’s biography, conventions and beliefs of Elizabethan England, and reviews of scholarship in the field.