EN3535 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Elizabeth Pentland
Lecture 3 – Titus Andronicus – Part 2 – Sept 27
Titus Andronicus (1592-1594)
o Livy’s history of Rome, book 3 (story of Appius and Verginia)
Early history of Rome; transition from Monarchy to Republic.
Corrupt magistrate (Appius) secretly arranges for a young woman
(Verginia, betrothed to another man) to be abducted from her
father’s house, enslaved.
When her father seeks justice, Appius rules against him.
Rather than see his daughter sent to a ‘brothel’, Verginius, a
respected soldier, kills her.
Rioting ensued, and Verginius raised a rebellion, ousting of corrupt
officials, restoring justice, and establishing new laws to protect
rights and freedoms of the Roman people.
o Ovid’s metamorphoses, book 6 (story of Tereus and Philomela)
Tereus (a king) abducts and rapes Philomela (his wife’s sister); tier
her hands and cuts out her tongue.
She weaves her story into a piece of cloth, has it delivered to the
queen (Procne, wife of Tereus).
Procne vows revenge; rescues her sister.
In her rage, Procne kills her son, Itys, because he looks like Tereus.
Prepares a ‘sacred feast’ for her husband, and watches as he ‘east
alone and, with his own flesh, fills his belly’.
Tereus calls for his son, and only then does Procne reveal the truth,
unable to conceal her ‘cruel delight’.
- Shakespeare’s play set in Rome, but what kind of place is this?
- A grotesque, nightmarish vision in which ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ are withheld, the
cycle of violence (revenge) spins out of control.
- The kind of setting typical to Revenge Tragedy; Rome corrupted, out of touch
with its founding values.
- Excess: Titus’ rigid adherence to the Roman code of honour, sense of futy to the
state, putting loyalty to the state (no matter how arbitrary its demands) before the
needs of his family.
- ‘A wilderness of Tigers’ (savagery at the heart of Rome).
16 Century Analogues
o Andre Thevet (ca. 1558), a French explorer, described the inhabitants of
Brazil as a ‘marvellous strange wild and brutish people, without faith,
without law, without religion, and without any civility, but living like brute
beasts, as nature hath brought them out.’
- French Civil Wars (1562-1598). o Sectarian violence (Catholic vs. Protestant); ‘savagery’ accusations of
o Michel de Montaigne (ca. 1580) questioned whether France wasn’t more
savage than the ‘uncivilized’ nations of the New World.
Revenge vs. Justice?
- Shakespeare’s contemporary, Francis Bacon, called revenge ‘a kind of wild
justice, which the more man’s nature runs to it, the more ought the law to weed it
- Revenge was seen as inherently tragic by Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
- The revenger’s pursuit of justice brought him into conflict with the legal system
that had failed him.
- Keyword in the first scene of the play.
- Virgil calls his epic hero, founder of Rome, ‘pius Aeneas’.
- Roman sense of ‘duty’ (to the state, empire, people of Rome), often requiring
great personal sacrifice.
- Titus described as ‘Andronicus surnamed Pius / For many good and great