Comparing the Use of Language in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet

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Comparing the Use of Language in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet

As characters of high birth and important political positions, Titus and Hamlet are necessarily observed closely by those around them for their reaction to the tragic events that have taken in place in their lives; and it is primarily the unique language with which they express their grief and anger that disconcerts both their enemies and their friends, and keeps them under an exacting scrutiny for the duration of their eponymous plays. The other characters in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet interpret the language of these tragic heroes, the devices it employs, the lack of decorum it exhibits, as the symptom of madness. It is a language born out of suffering and crafted by intelligence and insight, and, above all, a desire to push language to its expressive limit, and as such, a language that characters like Marcus, Tamora, Polonius, Horatio, and Gertrude cannot appreciate, and are quick to label madness. And yet there is also a sense in which this term in not wholly inapplicable, for, as these plays demonstrate, there is a fine line between poetry and madness.

The language of the principal characters in Titus Andronicus is fraught with poetic devices, such as allusion to classical mythology and extended similes, many of which are in the heroic style of Virgil and Homer and appropriate classical themes. Titus compares his return to Rome with "the bark that hath discharged his fraught/ [and] returns with precious lading to the bay/ from whence at first she weighed her anchorage" and voices a desire that the virtues of Rome's new leader, Saturninus, will "reflect on Rome as Titan's rays on earth" (I.i.71-73, I.i.225-226). Lucius describes the bodies of his dead broth...

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...ft, Horatio. The funeral baked meats/Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables," thus realizing, through language, all of the implications of such a union of opposites (I.ii.180-1). Titus is also the only character in his play to make full sense of its themes-through the devices of metaphor, which yokes together seemingly disparate aspects of life, and the device of metonymy, which pares people and concepts down to their very essence, he comes to an understanding of the true nature of violence, grief, and revenge.

Works Cited:

Kurmode, Frank. Shakespeare's Language. The Penguin Group. London, 2000

Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. Ed. Eugene M. Waith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 5th ed. Ed. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2002.
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