A Research Of Whether Titus Andronicus Is A Psychopath

 In Shakespeare’s violent play Titus Andronicus, two sons of a Roman emperor are fighting for their right to succeed the throne when the brother of Titus, a General who has been fighting Goths in a war for 10 years, believes that he should rule Rome. Titus declines and ends up giving the crown to one of the brothers. Demanding that his brothers be avenged from the war, one of Titus’s sons says that the eldest son of Tamora the Queen of Goth’s must be sacrificed. After seeing her son killed with her own eyes, Tamora seeks revenge on Titus and creates a cycle of revenge. In this research paper, I will be taking a psychological and slightly rhetorical approach to explain how Titus slowly turns into a psychopath as the play goes on and how he shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This paper will also be seeing if there is any justification for Titus’s actions and behavior, but first we need to understand what psychopathy and PTSD truly means. 

What is psychopathy and PTSD? According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder is defined by an individual that typically has a lack of empathy, aggressiveness shown through violent acts, disregarding the safety of themselves and others, and failure to conform to social norms. PTSD another mental illness, however, is diagnosed by a person experiencing a traumatic event like war and having constant psychological distress. When talking about mental illness such as antisocial personality disorder or PTSD the background and culture of the individual experiencing needs to be mentioned. At the start of the play, Titus returns from a grueling war where most of his sons are killed by the Queen of Goths Tamora and her army. She is captured and now Titus wants to avenge all his sons that have been killed in the war. Now at the beginning of the play, the reader sees Titus as a normal person who seeks justice for his sons by killing one of Tamora’s sons. Titus shows no signs of PTSD or antisocial personality disorder here. The play doesn’t talk about Titus’s early life when he was a child so as the audience we’re unsure if has practiced any psychopathic tendencies when he was younger. Although psychopathy can only be diagnosed if a person is at least the age of 18, children can show traits that can be developed if they aren’t noticed and develop full psychopathy. 

The first sign of anything that signifies antisocial personality disorder in Titus comes from when he kills his son Mutius when Bassinus seizes Lavinia. Titus has lost most of his sons in the war with the Goths and seems to kill Mutius without any hesitation and no remorse for his actions. As a father your children are your pride and joy and for Titus to kill Mutius without thinking too much about it seems a little strange. This scene also shows how Titus values Rome and signals the beginning of something wrong with Titus. Violent intentions and a lack of empathy are two major traits psychopaths share and here Titus displays both. The main signs of PTSD are when the person experiences nightmares, or flashbacks from the event, and having extremely negative thoughts, however, here Titus doesn’t exhibit any of these symptoms but does seem to have some sort of aggression and emotional detachment. Studies also show that people that are diagnosed with PTSD have a higher chance of developing psychopathy Before Titus and his sons go on a hunt he tells them to be careful as he’s been “troubled in his sleep” and doesn’t trust Saturninus Shakespeare probably just put this quote in for foreshadowing purposes since after the hunt Lavinia is raped, however, it does signal that Titus has trust issues which are also a sign of PTSD. A study was done to see how many war veterans that fought in Vietnam were diagnosed with PTSD. 

Surprisingly, most of the soldiers experience PTSD after the war was over and so Titus may likely have some form of PTSD as he just got back from a 10-year long war. The author doesn’t go in-depth on what “troubled” Titus in his sleep but having trouble sleeping while having any disturbing feels can signify the development of PTSD. Titus also seems very eager about the hunt and symbolizes his desire to inflict violence. Within two we can see that Titus is slowly becoming more detached from himself and practices psychopathic and PTSD traits. Tamora and Aaron plot a devilish plan against Titus’s daughter Lavinia. Demetrius and Chiron need to satisfy their “lusts” and Tamora suggests that they should rape her and dismember her arms and tongue to get her revenge on Titus. After Lavinia is raped and mutilated, Titus sees her and is in disbelief mourning the state that she’s in. This scene is the biggest counterargument that Titus may not be a psychopath. He displays full of emotion and grief of his daughter and shows that he has some sense of empathy which a psychopath should lack. He cares for his daughter is distraught in the situation. Continuing to grieve, he also explains how his grief was at the “height,” as Titus seems to never have felt so much sorrow. While this may be true, there have been recent studies on psychopaths having an empathy “switch” in their brain that allows them not to feel any emotion. 

The default for psychopath’s brains is off, however, some events and special cases can cause it to flip on allowing them to have empathy. As the reader, we don’t know if Titus has this “switch” in the brain that causes him to turn off his emotions, put it in the play it shows that Titus has a rollercoaster of emotions. He feels no remorse for killing his son due to his pride, however, feels in despair when his daughter is raped. Titus’s sons Martius and Quintuis are found next to Lavinia’s body and are blamed for her gruesome disfigurement. We can see now that Titus has not only gone through witnessing his daughter mutilated, but now his sons are being framed for an act they did not commit. These traumatic experiences would make most people not sane, however, we still haven’t seen Titus snap or completely hit his breaking point yet. Titus continues to lament and show some type of emotion when trying to persuade the judges not to execute his sons, but fails and realizes that there’s no point in trying to rescue his sons as the judges won’t listen to his begging. Again, it seems like Titus has shown that he is emotional and doesn’t lack empathy in this scene. Titus feels destroyed and has lost any hope and slowly giving up. 

Symptoms of PTSD include having a low self-belief and negative thoughts. It’s clear in this scene Titus has given up and is now in the lowest point of his life. He barely trusts anyone and does not have any faith that any of the judges will pay attention to a word he’s saying being pessimistic about the future and only thinking negatively. His comment on Rome is particularly special to understand how Titus views his surroundings and his sons. Lucius tries to explain to Titus that he can save his sons, but Titus declines and says that they are better of dead now, as Rome is just a “wilderness of tigers”. This comment is very strange as Titus has been fighting for Rome for almost all his life and now disregards it as he thinks it’s just a zoo filled with savage animals. At this point, Titus has completely given up on his own sons. It’s also very strange how quickly Titus changes his emotions, before he was desperately trying to save his sons, and now it seems like he does not care what happens to them knowing they did nothing wrong. Throughout the play we can see the dipping points of Titus’s life where he shows some signs that he may be experiencing antisocial personality disorder and PTSD, however, it’s still uncertain if he is sane or not. As Titus is still undecided about his true feelings going back and forth in his emotional stability, Aaron walks in the court and explains how Titus can save his sons by cutting off one of his hands. When Titus hears Aaron’s proposition he is extremely eager to cut his hand. This part of the play can be perceived in two ways the first one being that he wants to save his sons so badly that he will chop off one of his hands, or the fact that he has completely lost all judgement and sense of direction that he wants to inflict damage to himself. 

Psychopaths tend to enjoy inflicting or receiving pain and are impulsive in doing so. In this altercation with Titus and Aaron, we see that Titus doesn’t hesitate when wanting to chop off his own hand. As the reader we are not completely sure why Titus was so eager about doing so and took no time to think this over, it really could be the fact the Titus really does love his sons, however, it’s extremely difficult to understand Titus’s true feelings as a moment ago he did not care if his sons died and said that they would be better off dead. But now that there’s an opportunity to inflict an injury upon himself he’s suddenly extremely eager to cut off his own hands without trying to reason with the judges again or Aaron himself. Titus ends up cutting his hands before Aaron tricks him and reveals Titus his son’s heads separated from their body. Titus has now experienced what no human should endure, this part signifies the start of Titus giving up and hitting his breaking point where he has lost all sanity. After Aaron had deceived Titus, Titus begins to laugh hysterically, nonstop laughter submerged by his grief. Marcus in some disbelief asks Titus “why dost thou laugh?” and Titus begins to explain how grieving and lamenting is now of no use to him and only seeks for revenge. Titus has now completely lost it and now wants to go down the path of violent and gruesome revenge. Titus, who thought that the only thing he could do was grieve now decides that he just wants to inflict pain into Tamora. This scene also makes Titus look disturbing as laughing hysterically after seeing one of your children’s heads ripped off is frightening. It seems Titus suddenly turned off his empathy and his stimulus to emotion and just wants to go in for the kill in a horrific fashion. 

While eating with Lavinia, Marcus, and Lucius, Titus states that he and Lavinia have both lost their hands now and describes how both “want [their] hands”. Lavinia tries to express her feelings to Titus using different hand gestures, however, instead of trying to comprehend what she’s trying to say he speaks for her. This part shows how Titus feels towards Lavinia now objectifying her and talking for her. He doesn’t see Lavinia as a person anymore and now just an object reflecting his pride for himself. Psychopaths tend to objectify people as their lack of being able to feel emotions also complements they way they have trouble reading other people’s feelings (Antisocial Personality Disorder, DSM 5th Ed). It’s also apparent that Titus does not try to avoid talking about Lavinia and his situation as if it’s normal for him to bring up the fact that he and his daughter have both lost their hands in front of their family while eating. Within the same scene, Marcus kills a fly, which upsets Titus and explains how if that fly could have had a “father and mother”. When killing a fly most people don’t think twice of its feelings as its just a meer annoyance to us most of the time which makes Titus interpretation on the fly even more strange. Titus cares more about an insect’s feelings more than his own daughter and sons. This warped perception of reality is very odd as it seems that Titus is trying to remorse with a dead fly instead of trying to reconnect with his family. However, when Marcus explains that the fly was supposed to represent Aaron Titus exerts joy. 

Titus is emotionally unstable and constantly switches between showing empathy and not showing it. As the audience we’re unsure of what Titus really thinks or feels, which is the main question we often ask ourselves when trying to understand psychopaths. Titus begins on trying to stab the fly repeatedly now that he thinks of the fly as Aaron. A fly is completely harmless and for Titus to try to stab it while it’s already dead shows the extremes of his mental state. Titus has gone insane, stabbing the fly shows his anger and rage with Aaron and continues to make him more susceptible of antisocial personality disorder. This act is the biggest breaking point of Titus’s character as it seems he has lost all his morals and has just gone mad. Another act of madness in the play is when Titus and Lucius shoots arrows to the “gods” to ask for divine judgment upon Tamora, her sons, and Aaron. Even Lucius thinks his father is going mad blatantly and can’t understand what’s going on in Titus’s head. Titus’s want for revenge has made him go deeper into psychopathy. Titus’s own family seems to be worried about Titus’s mental state, but realize it might be too late for him to come back into being sane again. Tamora and her sons dress themselves up as the personification of “revenge” and explain how they will help justify Titus. Tamora even knows how mad Titus has gone and believes that she will deceive him just because of his poor mental state. Titus, however recognizes the disguises and asks Tamora to leave both Demetrius and Chiron to him. When Tamora leaves Titus cruelly ties them up and stabs both of them to death. Titus doesn’t look like a noble general for his city now he looks like a psychotic creature excited to inflict any pain. Of course any father would want to seek revenge on the people who have raped their daughter, but it almost seems as if Titus is enjoying it and adds to his psychopathic behavior. 

Violence has been a major trend throughout all these acts and as the play progressed Titus has gone more and more mad turning off all his emotions. After killing Tamora’s two sons and exacting his revenge, Titus explains how he will use their blood as “paste” and will “crush [their] bones” to show how the death of his sons and his vengeance has destroyed him. As the reader, it seems like Titus is exaggerating as nobody sane would ever even think of this, however, later on, we figure out that Titus wasn’t lying at all which makes it more disturbing and wants Tamora to suffer as much as humanly possible. The tragic death of his sons has taken Titus over the edge and it seems like a psychotic serial killer talking instead of a noble general who is supposed to have some integrity and decency. Titus makes Tamora eat her own sons in a pie which now makes us question if we can’t consider Titus to have some sort of mental illness. Before feeding her own children to Tamora, Titus kills his only daughter Lavinia in a controversial scene and exclaims with they shame thy father’s sorrow die!”. In this scene it’s now evident that Titus only sees Lavinia as an object that reflects his pride. He kills her only for him to feel less shame for himself and doesn’t hesitate when thinking about whether to kill Lavinia or not. Again and again Titus has shown that he wants to inflict damage and doesn’t compute that others have feelings around him. In an interview with a convicted psychopath named Gary Leon Ridgway he killed 48 women. When asked about how he felt when killing all these women he didn’t have any emotion towards them and they were just “objects” to him. Like the psychopath in the interview, Titus shows no sign of emotion and obviously treats Lavinia as a thing instead of a person. As we have seen in the play there are not any moments where Titus where Titus explicitly has nightmares over his traumatic events besides the night before the big hunt. 

So how can he have PTSD? One theory from Deborah Willis from Shakespeare Quarterly, explained how Titus uses revenge to “bypass” severe PTSD symptoms such as recollecting memories of past trauma or nightmares. It is obvious that something is wrong with Titus’s mental health and uses his grotesque revenge as a way to try to ignore any past emotions he has had and is solely focused on inflicting any pain he could put out. It is also said to try to seek help or comfort before being diagnosed with full PTSD, but Titus walks by himself in the darkness and it seems that it is too late to seek any help the damage has already been done to his mental state. Is there any justification to Titus’s actions considering his mental issues? An article suggests that most psychopaths should not be blamed for their actions because of their lack of their sense of morality. However, if the individual understands what morality is the psychopath should be punished. Most parents of course would want to avenge their children if they had died or have been wronged, but the extent of Titus’s revenge needs to be questioned. Before in this paper it is stated that Titus uses his revenge to cope with the loss of his sons and the damage caused to his daughter. With this in mind, Titus cannot be justified his actions are far too cruel to have any justice to them. As the audience we cannot truly understand Titus’s mind in some parts it seems he has a sense of morality and in others it is far from it. Titus’s revenge should not be an excuse for his actions and should not be justified even if he is a psychopath. In the scene where he kills Tamora and Lavinia it seems that he has no sense of morality which should excuse him for his actions, however, his extremely savage way of revenge cannot be forgotten and does not justify him. 

Overall from the occuring events Titus has experienced one can conclude that Titus is a psychopath with some sort of PTSD, or he just practices psychopathic tendencies. However, from all the symptoms Titus has it’s probably clear that Titus has antisocial personality disorder. As the audience we can clearly see Titus’s breaking point where he has lost all sanity when he laughs hysterically after the grief of witnessing his both of his son’s heads. Justifying Titus is a subjective argument and not really an objective one and depends on how one sees Titus’s outlook on morality. This paper was meant to show how Titus slowly progresses into psychopathy and with the given evidence from the play Titus most likely has a mental illness, although it is not clearly mentioned in the play. 

16 August 2021
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