Violence in theTitus Andronicus Essay

Violence in theTitus Andronicus Essay

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Whilst the Greek and Roman predecessors of revenge tragedy showed little compunction in gruesome on-stage violence, the Elizabethan spectators were, by the time of publication and performance of Shakespearian plays, a more educated audience who would appreciate the poetic style and subtle references to classical literature. This is not to say that the sixteenth century public were sensitive to acts of startling brutality; public executions and bear baiting were frequent occurrences that no doubt permeated the psyche of a nation. It has been argued that Shakespeare, conscious of his contemporaries' efforts in this genre decided to `out-do his predecessors' but a far more probable explanation is that Shakespeare, accommodating the fashionable practice of on-stage violence, combined it with his own ideas of tragedy. Contrasting Shakespeare to his classical ancestors, we are able to highlight grounds for such excessively violent literature. For example, Titus' culinary masterpiece can be seen as the relation of Ovid; the parent faced with the heads of their decapitated offspring. Philomel, however, as a character in a story, can participate in the intensely dramatic action of hurling the heads into Tereus' face. The story teller appeals to his audiences' visual imagination, and therefore, argues Baker, the peculiar horrors of the Elizabethan tragedy come, in part, from transposing narrative art directly into dramatic art. So Shakespeare retains certain elements from classical literature, and these certain elements happen to be the graphic portrayal of violence on stage. However, the author uses various techniques to portray the different shocking episodes. For example, whilst Titus' anguish on losing his hand impacts the audience d...


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...e us, we look beyond the brutality at the subtle poetry and rhetoric. Often the language employed by the characters at moments of intense carnage will give us an indication of their own revulsion to it, or perhaps even the playwright's initial intentions with regards to particular scenes. On closer inspection, the episode where it appears Titus has the ability to mourn for his own sons whilst simultaneously condemning other children to death, may be more of a dramatic jigsaw that sacrificed coherency of style to further the plot. Similarly, the words of Marcus upon discovery of Lavinia can either be seen to distance the victim from the audience by a verbal barrier, or to reinforce the visual atrocities presented on stage. Inextricably linked to language, the violence of Titus Andronicus produces a play that is both marvellous in production and enduring in effect.

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