Titus Harbinger

Just a couple of quick notes on how elements of Titus Andronicus foreshadow developments later in the career of Shakespeare:

Shakespeare will write again about a Moor in Othello (and two additional times in The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest if you believe, as some critics do, that the Prince of Morocco and Caliban are Moorish).  In the later tragedy, however, the Moor is not the villain, but rather the victimized, the tragic hero.  His Moorish-ness is not seen negatively (save by the villains of the piece), bur rather as exotic.  Is this a further extension of Shakespeare toying with contemporary conventional thinking about the “other”?

Looking for villains to match the soliloquizing, wise-cracking, over-the-top Aaron?  Try Richard III, Edmund (though he’s not nearly as funny), and Iago (Othello’s victimizer… it’ll be interesting to compare Shakespeare’s discussion of race and racism in that play as compared to this one).

Shakespeare will come back to this theme, time and again, sometimes in small ways (Macduff), sometimes in larger ways (Romeo), and sometimes in central ways (Hamlet).  There will also be times when these acts of revenge have a more typically Senecan supernatural source (Hamlet).

Shakespeare, despite the success of Titus Andronicus, will never return to this type of horrorshow, and won’t return to tragedy at all for nearly half a decade, when he pens Romeo and Juliet (and when we get to that play, we’ll discuss whether or not he set out to write a tragedy, or if he was just playing with the “doomed lovers” genre he parodies in the mechanicals’ “Pyramus and Thisbe” play-within-a-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream)… and then not another tragedy for another four years when he writes Julius Caesar.  It’s only then will he get a taste for it and go for a tragic streak (nine of the 14 plays written between 1599 and 1609 were tragedies [two problem plays, two romances (or tragi-comedies), only one comedy, and no histories at all]).

Having already visited Roman culture in his poem “The Rape of Lucrece” (which he not only name-checks in Titus Andronicus, but also uses as a source of one of the play’s incidents), Shakespeare will return to Roman history and stories in Coriolanus (which was also referenced in Titus–IV.iv.69), Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra.

Tales and references to Ovid’s Metamorphosis (here used not only as a source but also as Lavinia’s revelatory device) will appear later in (at least) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Winter’s Tale, and Hamlet.

Not bad for a play with so many detractors…


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