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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Literary Information

Titus Andronicus is the first tragedy attributed to Shakespeare. The play, it is believed, is based on a quasi-historical prose fiction of Italian origin. This survives in an 18 - century chapbook entitled, "The History of Titus Andronicus, renowned Roman General."

It is believed that the play is influenced by Seneca and Ouid. Seneca wrote tragic Latin dramas and used the revenge motive freely. There are misquotations in Latin from Senecasí "Hippolytus" and it has been suggested that Titusí petition to Pluto (IV iii) maybe influenced by Senecasí "Thyestes."

Although the Senecan model is important, Ouid exerts a more direct influence. Numerous references in the play point to Ouidís "METAMORPHOSES," (a collection of stories) and the story referred to is that of Philomel. Her brother-in-law Tereus in an isolated hut in the woods raped her. He cut out her tongue to unable her to reveal his identity. She sews the story in a sampler and shows it to her sister Progne, Teresus wife. To revenge herself on him Philomel with Prognaís help kills Itys, Teresus son from Progne and makes a cannibalistic feast for him. When he discovers this he flies into a rage and runs after them with a sword. They are all metamorphosed into birds Philomel into a nightingale, Progne into a swallow and Teresus into a hoopoe.


Eugene Waith suggests that the curiously decorative style in which the mutilated Lavinia is described is essentially Ouidian. The cannibalistic feast that Titus prepares could have been borrowed by Shakespeare from Ouid or from Senecaís "THYESTES" where the same devise is used by Atreus to revenge himself on his brother Thyestes.

Historical Information

The play is set in ancient Rome. Rome is depicted as a free commonwealth where the people are free to choose their own Emperor. This is seen when Titus Andronicus and then his son Lucius are chosen to be Emperor by popular choice. Rome is shown to be at war with the barbaric Goths, enemies of the more civilized Romans. This war has been going on for several years and the play starts with Titus finally winning a decisive victory over the Goths after several years of warfare.

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