Titus Andronicus Lecture

Titus Andronicus
“One of the stupidest and most
uninspiring plays ever written.”
- T.S. Eliot
Five Act Structure, Rising & Falling Action
Solitary men struggling with human existence
We feel for the characters, learn through their mistakes
What is the title character’s tragedy?
What & when is the catharsis?
The violence of tragedy: this strange beauty is given to the
most horrific suffering.
Revenge Play
Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds…Hamlet
 “Elizabethan blockbusters” (Epstein, 308).
 “Although seriously concerned with
retribution, family honor, and justice, revenge
plays can also be quite funny, and some may
even be considered black comedies” (309).
 In this play, we have 2 revenge plots: Timora’s
revenge, and Titus’ revenge.
Probable Main Sources
Hecuba, by Euripides (480?-406 B.C.)
 Thyestes and Troades, by Seneca (3 B.C.-65 A.D.)
 Shakespeare may also have imitated the bloodand-guts horror and brutality evident in The
Spanish Tragedy, by Thomas Kyd (1558-1594).
 Metamorphoses, by Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 17)
The action of the play takes place in Italy—including
Rome, a forest near Rome, and plains near Rome—after
the Romans defeat an army of Goths (a Germanic people
that frequently raided Roman provinces).
 Titus Andronicus is fictional, but it is set against real events
that took place in approximately the Third, Fourth, and
Fifth Centuries AD. At that time, the Roman Empire was in
decline and Goths from the north were pushing southward
and threatening Rome and its provinces.
Protagonist: Titus Andronicus
Antagonists: Tamora, Aaron, Saturninus
The play starts with Romans in the process of selecting a
new Emperor:
Saturninus (old dude…son of the old Emperor)
Bassianus (younger son of the old Emperor, in love with Lavinia,
Titus’ only daughter)
Titus Andronicus: Noble Roman general who has won a
long war against the Goths but lost many of his sons in
battle. 25 sons.
Titus returns from battle with the captured Queen of the
Goths, Tamora, and her 3 sons
Aaron: A diabolical Moor, beloved of Tamora. Aaron is evil
personified, but he has a redeeming quality: love for his
The term derived from the name of the Greek
word for “dark” (mauros) and the country
Mauritania but was used to refer to North
Africans, West Africans or, even more loosely,
for non-whites or Muslims of any origin.
Who Were the Goths?
Originally from Sweden, the Goths later settled in
regions around the Baltic Sea and later the Black
Sea. Around AD 370, the Goths broke into two
groups: Those that moved eastward became
known as Ostrogoths; those that moved westward
became known as Visigoths. They gradually
extended power and influence in Europe and in
410 entered and pillaged Rome.
“The blood and gore of Titus Andronicus may strike us as
excessive or farcical, but for Shakespeare’s audience, such
grisly spectacles were part of everyday live. Punishment in his
day was made ghoulishly public, mainly because the
enforcement of law was so difficult, but also, in the case of
political prisoners, because the public needed to be
discouraged from taking part in rebellion against the state. In
Queen Elizabeth I’s time there was no proper police force,
only a few constables to keep law and order.
If you lived in London you could witness the sickening sight
of prisoners being hanged, drawn and quartered. Traitors were
strung up till they were half-deat, their bodies chopped into
quarters, their bowels ripped out and their limbs cut off, and
their flesh tossed into a vat of boiling water” (Kiernan 280).
 The word revenge and its forms, such as revenged, occurs 34
times in the play, vengeance 7 times, vengeful twice, and
avenge once. Words associated with revenge are spoken
hundreds of times. They include blood (and its forms, such as
bloody), 38; murder, 26; kill, 19; slaughter 3; slay, 2.
 Tamora, enraged by a plot against her, imposes revenge as a
duty on her sons, telling them,
had you not by wondrous fortune come,
This vengeance on me had they executed.
Revenge it, as you love your mother's life,
Or be ye not henceforth call'd my children. (II.iii.118-121)
In all the acts of vengeance in the play, the protagonist, Titus,
outdoes everyone.
 Commiting Evil for Evil's Sake
 .......Aaron's actions carry on the tradition of the
malevolent Duke of Gloucester in an earlier
Shakespeare play, Richard III, and foreshadow the
machinations of the diabolical Iago in a later
Shakespeare play, Othello.
The Four Humours
A traditional theory of physiology in which the
state of health - and by extension the state of mind,
or character - depended upon a balance among
the four elemental fluids: blood, yellow bile,
phlegm, and black bile.
These were closely allied with the four elements
(air, fire, water, and earth). Their correspondence
is described as follows…
The Humours
 Hot and moist; (Air)
 Amorous, happy,
Black Bile
 Cold and dry ; (Earth)
 Gluttonous, lazy,
– Cold and moist;
(Water )
– Dull, pale, cowardly
• CHOLERIC: Yellow
– Hot and dry; (Fire)
– Violent, vengeful
The Humours
The "humours" gave off vapors which ascended to the
brain; an individual's personal characteristics (physical,
mental, moral) were explained by his or her
"temperament," or the state of that person's "humours."
The perfect temperament resulted when no one of these
humours dominated.
By 1600 it was common to use "humour" as a means of
classifying characters; knowledge of the humours is not
only important to understanding earlier medieval work,
but essential to interpreting Elizabethan drama.

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