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.
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Titus Andronicus is frequently linked to a kind of drama known as "revenge tragedy." In this genre, once a person vows to avenge a wrong done to him or someone in his family, there is no turning back. The cycle of revenge, filled with violent and bloody incidents, is not complete until everyone who committed the wrong or was associated with it in any way has been punished. Forgiveness is an alien concept in revenge tragedy.
Cycles of revenge continue throughout the world in the late twentieth century. One faction or ethnic group within a nation oppresses or harms another. The oppressed group strikes back or waits until it reaches a position of power, then avenges the wrongs done to its members years ago. In some countries, people are presently fighting to avenge crimes that were committed against their ancestors decades or even centuries ago.
Group solidarity, an admirable trait in itself, is one ingredient in maintaining these cycles. Family solidarity is also, in itself, a virtue. The Andronici stand shoulder to shoulder against the world. They adhere to the Roman tradition that an attack on one member of the family is an attack on everyone related to them. They have intense disputes among themselves, but once an Andronici is threatened or harmed by someone outside the family, they close ranks. Their enemies behave similarly. Tamora allows, even encourages, her sons to rape Lavinia. This is partly because Titus has, in her view,...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Broude, Ronald. "Four Forms of Vengeance in Titus Andronicus." Journal of English and Germanic Philology LXXVIII, no. 4 (October 1979): 494-507. Broude sees four kinds of revenge in the play: human sacrifice to pacify the spirits of dead warriors, family vendettas, human justice, and divine vengeance. He regards Titus as the man chosen by the gods to carry out their revenge and help restore human justice in Rome.
Brower, Reuben A. "Titus Andronicus: Villainy and Tragedy." In Shakespeare: The Tragedies, edited by Robert B. Heilman, 28-36. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984. Brower focuses on Timon as an undeveloped tragic hero. He suggests that Timon represents a noble man subjected to unspeakable suffering, whose cries for justice remain unanswered. A principal failure of the play, Brower contends, is that it offers Timon only a grim set of possible responses: he can go mad, increase his suffering by rigidly adhering to "the very qualities that made him a hero," or become indistinguishable from the evil people who have tormented him.
Charney, Maurice. "Titus Andronicus." In All of Shakespeare, 211-18. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. In this chapter from a book written for students, Charney discusses the play's chief characters and principal themes. He argues that Lavinia still has a crucial role even after her tongue is cut out and she can no longer speak; that while the audience...
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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....
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