Halloween Horror Nights - Titus Andronicus
In Response To: Freaky Goth Girls ()

Notes on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus:

1) The genre of Titus Andronicus is referred to today as "Pulp Fiction". The play was wildly popular when it first appeared in London in the mid-1580's. Later, Victorian attitudes about sex and violence led to the play falling out of favor. It has returned from obscurity in recent years and is now recognized as one of Shakespeare's most sophisticated adaptations of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

2) The main inspiration for the play was "The Rape of Philomela", one of the mythological vignettes found in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book VI). Midsummer Night's Dream featured "Pyramus and Thisbe", also from the Metamorphoses. In the story about Philomela, Pandion the king of Athens was under attack but reinforced by Tereus of Thrace. In gratitude, Pandion gave his daughter Procne to Tereus. However, Tereus later abducted the younger daughter of Pandion named Philomela, raped her, cut out her tongue, and imprisoned her in a remote forest. In revenge, Procne killed her son by Tereus and served him to her husband at a banquet in honor of Bacchus. Procne, Philomela, and Tereus were then transformed into various types of birds. Philomela became a nightingale (in the earliest versions of the story), symbolizing her being wronged (but also avenged) and also as a poetess, characteristics that would have pleased Elizabeth well.

3) The myth of Philomela was transformed in the play Titus Andronicus into a powerful talisman of self-defense for Queen Elizabeth and England. Elizabeth's older sister Mary had married Philip II of Spain. Later Philip became violently lustful after Elizabeth's domain, if not Elizabeth herself. We have already seen in the analysis of Midsummer Night's Dream that England was being typecast as a new Athens. In Titus Andronicus, Henry VIII and his two queenly daughters correspond to Pandion king of Athens and his daughters Procne and Philomela. Philip II is clearly the terrifying Tereus, who is compared to the hoopoe, a bird with a range roughly corresponding to the Habsburg territories (including North Africa), but which lives in a smelly hole and scratches in the ground for insects.

4) What Elizabeth feared the most was an ugly re-conquest of England on the order of the "Reconquista" of Spain. Even the theater was being pressed into service as a deterrent. Titus Andronicus paints a gruesome picture of mutual-assured-destruction if Spain and Rome persist in their attacks on Elizabeth's England. As noted previously, it could have been simply called "The Roman Tragedy". In fact, the original name of the play was even stronger. A 1584 edition was titled, "The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus".

5) The title of the play, Titus Andronicus, is itself a transformation on a contemporary (slightly earlier) play in England titled Titus and Vespatian. The text of Titus and Vespatian is lost and may have been suppressed. The distinguishing feature of the play seems to have been Vespatian cutting off the hand of Titus for killing a boy (who may have been his young lover). In Titus Andronicus, Titus is forced to cut off his own hand in retribution for the killing of a Goth prince. Vespatian was of course the Roman general that conquered England/Britain and later became Emperor. His son Titus won fame for his defeat of Jerusalem and the Jews and succeeded his father as Emperor.

6) In Titus Andronicus, Elizabeth daughter of Henry VIII is paralleled by Lavinia (Philomela of Ovid) the daughter of Titus Andronicus. This serves to dispel any notion that a new Vespatian and Titus would come from Rome and conquer England again. It also deals with any expectation that such a pair would destroy London as Titus had Jerusalem. The play implicitly makes Henry VIII a type of Titus, who had already conquered England (along with his father Henry VII) on behalf of Rome. The character Tamora marries the new Roman Emperor Saturnius, making her a type of Theodora and rival to the Tudor House of Elizabeth. Elizabeth of course had significant queenly equals/rivals in the "Goth" West, particularly Catherine de Medici and her eventual successor as Queen of France, Maria de Medici.

7) Titus Andronicus depicts Rome as corrupt, superstitious, more cruel than German barbarians or Moors, misogynist, and incapable of producing an all-conquering Great King. England, on the other (functioning) hand, is being reformed by Elizabeth. If the seed of the true Titus is cut off, then a new army of "Good Goths" will be raised up by a true son of Titus, who is named Lucius in the play. Lucius brings his Goth army into Rome itself as Alaric the Goth had done in 410 AD and his son (also named Lucius) is designated to become Emperor after him. Lucius was the name of Britain's first native king after the eviction/withdrawal of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Dark Ages.

8) In the play Lavinia kisses Lucius son of Titus. Elizabeth had likely already by that time promised the succession to James of Scotland, designating his as a "son" and Tudor heir of Henry VIII if not husband, and as the price for his alliance against Philip and Rome. The Goth army of Elizabeth and James would be comprised of German Lutheran zealots as well as English Protestants.

9) The Shakespeare play King John also debuted in the early 1580's. It depicted John favorably and as unjustly persecuted by the Church. It also served as a warning that there was a precedent for an unlikely prince (such as James), once elected king of England, to be transformed into a "Scourge of God" for Roman Europe! Reverance for the Mongol Great Khan Tamburlaine/Tamberlane in England and at this time also hints at a network of Elizabethan alliances that could potentially trump those of Rome. The Andronicus element attached to the name Titus relates to one of the last Byzantine kings named Andronicus Comnenus, and Comnenus relates back to the name John (Comnenus). See commentary and footnote in the Arden Shakespeare edition of Titus Andronicus, p93.

Lucius as Savior Figure in Titus Andronicus:

10) Constantinople had already fallen in 1453. It was no longer certain what was the dominant throne, whether that be Arab or Christian, or if still Christian, whether it be Roman or a branch of the Byzantine family. Elizabeth was certainly ruling England in the style of a Byzantine Queen and cautioning the surviving Christian rulers in the West that dissention would only lead to further gains by the Islamic side of the royal family. One Troy (Constantinople) had already been over-run. Rome could well be next. (Its arms had already been lopped off by Lutheran rebellion and Islamic expansion.) The play Titus Andronicus makes this perfectly clear by its choice of character names. The name Bassianus (in addition to making allusion to the junior dynasty of the Bassano/Medici and to fallen Byzantium/Byzantius itself) refers back to the Severus dynasty of Emperor Caracalla (from his maternal grandfather Julius Bassianus), whose internal feuding led to the "3rd Century Crisis" in Rome and its defeat by Persia. The name Valentine of the play alludes to Emperor Valentinian who used his superior Persian throne to launch a "reconquista" of Rome. The character Emillius, who has the status of a Roman Tribune, resonates with populist power and may also associate with the Bassano/Medici faction of Emilia Bassano. Despite being a dynastic troublemaker, the character Bassianus is portrayed very favorably and effectively dies as a martyr. Lavinia refuses to the end to transfer her love from Bassianus to Saturnius.

11) The character name Sempronius recalls Sempronius Gracchus, who was famous for fighting tyranny in Rome and championing the Republic. The names Publius and Caius also tend to reinforce the potential for a people's revolt and kingly overthrow. The play Titus Andronicus therefore threatens both a loss of kingship in Rome and submission to an even more austere form of government (with its oppressive burden and brutish wisdom) from a new Solomon (Selimus/Suleiman) of the Islamic East. (A contemporary play was called the Tragical Reign of Selimus, sometime Emperor of the Turks, and included a hand-chopping scene. (Perhaps this play could have been subtitled, The Turkish Tragedy.)

12) Lavinia/Elizabeth is transformed from an unmarried queen to mother of a new dynastic line through adoption of Lucius/James. (Recall that the original Lavinia became mother of Ascanius/Darius the Great). Barbarian Goths are transformed from the vanquished to vanquishers under the leadership of the neo-Lucian dynasty. The Moorish character of the play however stands in contrast as completely unchanged and unredeemed. From start to finish he is pure evil. He is a melding of the stock Moorish and Jewish villains from contemporary plays. He is a Moor with a Jewish name, Aaron. The royalty and virtual equality of Aaron with Gothic and Roman rulers is obscured by his "character assassination". The only thing that phases Aaron in the least is the threat that his son by Tamora will not have a chance to become Emperor. The play does not deny that this is an actual possibility. It is another subtle warning that if so-called Christian rulers do not achieve detente, then the next Great King might just come from the Arab East. Nevertheless, in the play, Aaron is at last executed along with his precious child and its mother Tamora. Tamora, although ostensibly Goth, has a name that parses as The Mary, symbol of Orthodox/Roman Catholicism. The message is this: if Protestant Lavinia must fall, then so shall the Catholic Madonna and the Muslims Christ-Child with her!.

13) Surprisingly, the vicious cycle of revenge in Titus Andronicus is not triggered first by the rape of Lavinia, but by the sacrifice of Alarbus the Goth. Alarbus resembles Alaric the Goth king that sacked Rome in 410 AD. It is however a more significant and direct allusion to the Alarbes (Al-Arabs) that had converted to Christianity only to be sacrificed during the Reconquista. In essence, the "killing of Alarbes" had already occurred. A Moorish King/Aaron certainly had cause to avenge Moriscos (exiled Christian Arabs of Spain) and ally himself with a Queen/Tamora of Morisco and perhaps also Morano (Christian Jew) sympathies. Yet, revenge was being plotted, not on Rome or the Habsburgs, but strangely and suspiciously on Elizabeth and England. Elizabeth apparently had fomented ethnic/religious strife or was otherwise meddling in Portuguese-Spanish affairs (or could be reasonably accused of such). Regardless, the "rape of Lavinia" was either on the way or even underway. This is what Elizabeth intended to stop before seeing its complete fulfillment. Impugning Philip and the Papacy for their handling of the Spanish Reconquista was a kind of strategy or propaganda. However, in the "metamorphosed" England of Elizabeth there was still no safe haven for Jews or Muslims. This was made abundantly clear with the sacrifice of the Portuguese "Jewish physician" Ruy Lopez in London before the end of Elizabeth's reign.

Alarbes and Al-Arabs:

Oxford School Commentary:

On-Line Text of Titus Andronicus:

Responses To This Message

ADMIN! What is Catholic or Jewish Revenge Literature?