Titus Andronicus Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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.

Modern Connections

(Shakespeare for Students)

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, wrongly allowed the killing of Alarbus, and she knows that his daughter's rape will devastate him. It is also because she sees Lavinia not as an individual woman, but as an Andronici.

Modern societies all over the world encourage family loyalty. When one member succeeds, it's expected that his or her family will benefit as well. Siblings fight among themselves, yet if a younger brother or sister is threatened by a neighborhood bully, an older sibling is traditionally expected to intervene and protect them. This concept of family loyalty also exists in groups of non-related people, such as gangs, in which members in a sense ' adopt'' one another as family.

The Andronici share with their enemy Saturninus and with other Romans of this period the view that rape is a disgrace to the family. Through no fault of her own, Lavinia is personally disgraced and brings shame on her family. Traces of this attitude linger in modern societies. Rape victims frequently hesitate to report—to the police or even their own families— what has happened to them. The families of rape victims often do not feel free to talk openly...

(The entire section is 2,136 words.)