Numbers: Midpoint (or, “Woe is me”… and not ironically, either)

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Titus Andronicus.

There are 2522 total lines in the play (using our Pelican Shakespeare text, the ones we are using for the entire series).  The midpoint comes at line 239 of Act Three, Scene One.

Martius and Qunintus have been arrested for Bassianus’ murder.  Lucius has been banished from Rome for trying to rescue his brothers.  Marcus has brought the raped and mutilated Lavinia to Titus.  Aaron has come with false word that in exchange for a severed hand from either Titus, Lucius, or Marcus, the Emperor is willing to release Titus’s two sons from captivity.  Aaron has cut off Titus’ hand at the general’s behest and taken it to the court.  The Andronici have waited in hope until a messenger arrives from Saturninus “with two heads and a hand” (III.i.ff 233 s.d.).  The messenger proclaims:

Worthy Andronicus, ill art thou repaid
For that good hand thou sent’st the emperor.
Here are the heads of thy two noble sons,
And here’s thy hand, in scorn to thee sent back:
Thy griefs their sports, thy resolution mock’d;
That woe is me to think upon thy woes,
More than remembrance of my father’s death.

— III.i.234-240

A decade ago, this would have struck me only in a philosophical way, as something only in the abstract.  Three years ago this December, I lost my mother.  I was very close to “Ma,” closer than I am to my father (chalk that up to a military early childhood).  I have never been so devastated by a loss in my life (and I hope I never do again [because that would mean the loss of my wife or one of my boys]).  The sense of grief and depression was pretty intense, and very difficult to get over.

This messenger has suffered such a loss, and even remembrance of that pales in comparison to that which he feels now looking on and thinking about Titus’ state.

“Woe is me to think upon thy woes, // More than remembrance of my father’s death,” indeed.

I think this is a clue to the director: the horrors must have emotional resonance.  They can’t simply be blood for blood’s sake.  It doesn’t mean that there can’t be wicked, over-the-top comic turns or that the gore shouldn’t be horrific.  It just means that what befalls Titus must MEAN something to us, the audience.

In this case, it looks like Shakespeare is giving us a clue that he wants the production to deliver the Aristotelian concept of catharsis.

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