Saturday, October 22, 2011

Titus Andronicus

In Titus Andronicus- a play full of murder, rape and war- Shakespeare uses children and youth to give the impression of a positive future in store for Rome. The old ideals, that lead to the demise of Titus, the majority of his family, and his enemies, will be replaced by a new outlook that is more accepting and less barbaric.

Among other things, the play focuses around the conflict between the Andronicus family and Tamora’s Goth family; for this reason, children (although not necessarily youth) fill the scenes. However, not all the children present indicate a change in views that will bring about the positive future discussed above, the individuals that do include; Bassianus, Lucius, and young Lucuis. For the purpose of my argument, please note that Bassianus is deemed a ‘youth’ or ‘child’ due to him being younger than his brother Saturninus.

After the death of the Roman Emperor, Saturninus fights to become emperor. He does this not because he would be the better ruler for Rome but because he believes in the pre-established monarchy and his right to the throne as the eldest son. When he supposes that Titus is not going to support him he instantly shouts “Patricians, draw your swords, and sheathe them not/ Till Saturninus be Rome’s emperor” (I.i.208-9). On the other hand, Bassianus fights for a more democratic government and respects whatever decision will be made, as the best thing for Rome, confirming this with Titus by saying ““Andronicus, I do not flatter thee,/ But honor thee, and will do till I die” (I.i.215-6). As can be seen in the language, Saturninus is an instantly angry, unreasonably and self-interested person, whereas the younger Bassianus supports whatever is for the greater good of Rome’s inhabitants. Through Bassianus, Shakespeare is showing a more reasonable thought process held by the younger characters.

Although a warrior like his father, Lucius Andronicus holds a more modern idea of honour and would sooner protect his family than any promises to the city-state. After his brother, Mutius, has been killed trying to protect Lavinia, Lucius instantly stands up to his father, “My lord, you are unjust, and more than so,/ In wrongful quarrel you have slain your son” (I.i.295-6). Lucius is not only willing to protect his family but also put himself in harm’s way to do so; at the time, Rome held a view of power being given to elders yet Lucius sees that the only way to truly be a family man he must stand against his elder, Titus. It is hard to argue that protecting ones family is a complete sign of unselfish values but it isn’t just his own kin that Lucius tries to keep safe. When Aaron the Moor reveals that he has a baby and asks Lucius “To save [his] boy, to nourish and bring him up” (V.i.84), Lucius doesn’t falter in replying “Even by my god I swear to thee I will” (V.i.86). Although Aaron the Moor was integral to; the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia, the death of Quintus and Martius, and the amputation of Titus’s hand, Lucius does not hold a grudge against the blameless baby but protects it due to it’s innocence. In addition to the hatred he holds for Aaron, the baby is also half negro, and although that would give the child less rights at the time, Lucius can still “say thy child shall live” (V.i.69). In protecting Aaron’s child, Lucius shows a shift from feudal blood grudges and moves into a more educated way of thinking by understanding that individuals shouldn’t be held responsible for the crimes of their family; which is the complete opposite of his way of thinking at the beginning of the play when he demands,

the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh
Before this earthy prison of their bones.

Even during the narrative of the play we can see the maturing of Lucius’s understanding of the world; this provokes the audience into believing only good can from Lucius after the curtains close.

Lucius’s good deeds are also extended to his enemies, he will do what is right even for those that have wronged him and his family. When Saturninus dies, Lucius still orders “some loving friends convey the emperor hence,/ And give him burial in his father’s grave” (V.iii.191-2). Even though he has just murdered Titus, Lucius still provides a respectful burial for the former emperor as it is the honourable thing to do despite their former differences. This is completely opposite to the way we could imagine Titus would have acted in the same situation, especially considering when Lucius pleads to “let us give him burial” (I.i.350), regarding his slain brother Mutius, Titus replies,

Traitors, away! He rests not in this tomb:
This monument five hundred years hath stood,
Which I have sumptuously re-edified.
Here none but soldiers and Rome’s servitors
Repose in fame; none basely slain in brawls.
Bury him where you can, he comes not here.

Titus wouldn’t even allow his own son to get a admirable burial due to a family disagreement but Lucius can put aside differences with an enemy to do the right thing. Through the father and son, Shakespeare is showing us a shift from unreasonable, fiery actions to more logical, moral decisions.

These positive changes in Lucius are also passed on to his son, Young Lucius. When Titus is wrapped up in terrible events that have fallen on his daughter, Young Lucius suggests “Good grandsire, leave these bitter deep laments./ Make my aunt merry with some pleasing tale” (III.ii.46-7). The Grandson is able to understand that Titus focusing on his own pain is not beneficial to helping the situation that has and his energy would be better put towards actually helping his daughter deal with her own pain.

In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare contrasts the actions of the youth with those of the elders to show that the future of Rome is likely to take a positive turn and move from barbaric actions to a civilized way of solving problems. The words and actions of these figures of youth throughout the play symbolize this change when compared to the pre-established ideals of Rome we can see in the older characters.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-14-071491-3.

Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. Toronto: Penguin Pelican Shakespeare, 2000. Print.

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