Last Updated on August 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10280
"Rape, I fear, was root of thy annoy": The Politics of Consent in Titus Andronicus
Sid Ray, Pace University
Scholars cannot resist the temptation to analyze the startling and eerie succession of hand severings in Titus Andronicus.1 What distinguishes the current study from others is its focus not solely on the hands but on the combined impact of Lavinia's injuries—her rape and the amputation of her hands and tongue—and how they figure within the political context of the play and within early modern ideologies of marriage and monarchy. Only after Lavinia pages through Ovid's Metamorphoses, comparing herself to the raped Philomel, does Titus begin to grasp the range of meaning implied by her injuries. His statement to Lavinia, "rape, I fear, was root of thy annoy" (4.1.49), signals that the rape carries a metonymical significance at least as important as the severed hands and tongue.2 Read collectively, the hand (the body part that demonstrates consent), the tongue (the body part that voices consent), and the rape (non-consensual intercourse) reflect profound anxiety over abrogated rights of consent. Lavinia's initial status as unmarried commodity suggests, more specifically, that her injuries address a bride's right to consent to marriage. If, however, we acknowledge Lavinia as a symbol of Rome and factor in her suitors' political motives, it becomes apparent that themes of political consent, the right of the people to consent to the authority of the monarch, find expression in the same ravished and mutilated body. Exploring both possibilities, this essay argues that in Titus Andronicus Shakespeare associates the right of a woman to consent to marriage with the ancient right of the social body to consent to the ruling power of the monarch. Because he figures the abrogation of those rights so violently, I contend that, in this early play, Shakespeare betrays republican leanings and sympathy for a constitutional form of government.
The assault on Lavinia, which occurs outside the city of Rome some time after Saturninus and Bassianus have articulated their competing philosophies of rulership, seems at first to bear little relevance to the issue of good governance. But an understanding of the analogy contemporary writers evoke between the household and the state and a close reading of Shakespeare's play of language indicate that Lavinia's injuries do, in fact, hold a great deal of political meaning. Before proceeding with an analysis of the play itself, I will therefore examine connections Renaissance theorists make between private and public policy, looking initially at an account of Elizabeth I's infamous directive for the amputation of the hands of two subjects, which took place during her marriage negotiations with the duke of Alençon. Although not the first to note this event's relevance, I hope to extend its significance by demonstrating how Lavinia's mutilated body dramatizes the people's right not only to consent to be ruled but also to advise their ruler. The interwoven marital and political ideologies revealed by this analysis and by a parallel between the Protestant marriage ceremony and the Tudor recognition ritual allow me to theorize a relationship between the domestic and the political in early modern treatises addressing consent.
The issue of consent was made a matter of public debate in 1579 when Elizabeth I demanded the amputation of the right hands of John Stubbs and William Page after they wrote and published a treatise decrying the queen's proposed marriage to the duke of Alençon. Outraged by the publication, Elizabeth "declared that she would rather lose a hand herself than mitigate . . . [the] punishment."3 While the treatise in question, The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf, brashly...
(The entire section contains 10280 words.)
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