A Theme Of Revenge In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
Revenge and violence transforms into a force that decimates everything and everyone in its way. This is the premise that shapes William Shakespeare’s tragedy and is the driving force behind the revenge tragedy play, Titus Andronicus. Above all, the reader explores a relationship with the speaker’s conception of revenge and violence within the text. The interpretation of the play is a tale of tragedy experienced by Titus and his family, which stems from Titus murdering the eldest son of Tamora the queen of Goths. Thus, the reader begins to implicitly grasp Titus’ true acts of revenge, and if his actions have been misled alongside the motif of revenge and violence.
From the beginning of the revenge tragedy, the world of Titus Andronicus, has been set with the history of the Roman Empire which thrives on the extreme depiction of violence and gore. The rich image portrays a different heritage of the Elizabethan period, so readers can identify that the society is corrupt which causes a need for justice to individual vengeance. Immediately the reader becomes introduced to the code of the battlefield and the traditions of Rome, as the character, Titus Andronicus, proceeds with his honour and dedication to Rome. Thus, the communication between the reader and the speaker elucidates towards an act of murder being not only appropriate but right.
Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh
Before this early earthly prison of their bones,
That so the shadows be not unappeased,
Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.
The reader learns the initial act of revenge through the interpretation of religious symbolism to the portrayal of the code of honour established on the battlefield.
The reader identifies the fixture on the code of honour through, “the proudest prisoner of the Goths” as the diction of “proudest” indicates that the weak are not being accepted. Thus, the Romans will no longer be disturbed with ‘prodgies’ or ‘supernatural calamities’ due to the sacrifice of the Goths. Northrop Frye argues that the common mythic meanings are derived from the rhythms of nature (day and night) which imagery is extruded and archetypes are formed. This is evident through the acts of violence that are symbolised through the dismemberment of limbs, “hew his limbs and on a pile” and “Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh”.
The connotations of “sacrifice” becomes a merciless metaphor towards the Roman society, as the reader questions how a dreadful act of dismemberment can bring peace and harmony amongst civilisation. The Gods are appeased and will not bring any ill omens and prophecies; however, this also becomes a symbolism of the Roman society as the speaker is mirroring the detachments of limbs with the political bodies of the Roman society. The figurative language of “earthly prison of their bones”, exposes the acts of dismemberment through the diction of “earthly” which represents a Religious comparison of heaven and earth. The reader explores how revenge amongst a “disturbed…earth” signifies to the Gods and ghosts that it is essentially outweighing their power; hence a proper burial does not bring the peace that Titus is looking for.
Throughout Titus Andronicus, the speaker of the blank verse becomes dehumanised through the lines “I give him you, the noblest that survives/The eldest son of this distressed queen.” The reader is exposed to the corruption of a militaristic ordered society of the Roman Empire; in that, Titus offering up Tamora’s eldest son, Alarbus, reiterates religion being a leading factor towards the elegy and cruelty set for Tamora to bear. This causes violence and cruelty to become a driving source towards revenge, due to Titus murdering for religion and to appease the Roman Gods. However, contradiction is evident as violence and revenge is seen as a tool of justice, hence indicating that Titus is devoting his life to the Roman customs and laws to create honour, however by signifying sacrifice and violence Tamora’s son it becomes dishonourable.
As the plot has begun to unravel, events begin to tie together the heavy wheel of tragedy. Each line presents language that reflects the action of its character, and the reader is presented with the most powerful eloquent speech by Tamora for the well-being of her son. This introduces the motifs of revenge, but also family obligations hence violence is unexpected as the good will never change. The relationship between Tamora and the reader reaches a common ground, as Tamora tries to invest sympathy in this situation to save her son.
Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother’s tears in passion for her son!
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O, think my son to be as dear to me.
The poignant syntax elucidates to Tamora asking Titus to empathise with her as a parent and not as a Roman general. The reader is viewed with an image of Titus who appears to be a cold-hearted murderer but is led to empathise with Tamora. According to Northrop Frye, literature develops from the primitive to the self-conscious, in order to show a gradual shift of the poet’s attention from the narrative to significant values. Thus, indicating the bitterness and conflict evident in this moment and how thin the mirage is. The rhyme of ‘thee’ and ‘me’, displays the underscores of Tamora and Titus’ status, as real power is only evident in men of action rather than those who disregard their duties and responsibilities. Collectively there becomes a natural break with syntax and alliteration of ‘s’ seen in, “But must my sons be slaughtered in the streets/For valiant doings in their country’s cause?” Continuously, Tamora argues that her sons were accomplishing the same duties and responsibilities on the battlefield as the reader continues to experience the viewpoint of a mother pleading for justice for her son and Titus to rest on sympathy, yet her calls for mercy are fallen on deaf ears.
On the other hand, both Tamora and Titus share similar intents and purposes. Titus may be introducing a barbaric and coldblooded nature, but he needs to make up for his own misfortunes which would be seen as justifiable. This alternative perspective illustrates an understanding between Titus and the reader, as Titus is responding in a way that any paternal figure would, which is the reason he has chosen to deliver the same upon Tamora. Thus, due to feelings of betrayal and pursuit, Titus breaks down and feels hopeless.
Although revenge is an alluring and tempting idea, it is however, harmful in response to loss. Titus is forced to enter into a desire of revenge which leads to violence, in order to transition from father to general to fulfil a code of honour. The reader looks out upon the motifs of violence and revenge throughout Titus Andronicus, as they are presented with the relationship of two speakers who are fouled with bitter emotions in hope for revenge. The reader has their conception of revenge and violence expanded through the overwhelming acts of recklessness through one’s anger and inner turmoil rather than reason.