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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Scene III

Summary

Aaron and Tamora meet in a lonely part of the forest where Tamora hints to Aaron about what they can do in this isolated place. Aaron however is in no mood for anything but revenge that morning and he informs her of the plot to kill Bassianus and ravish Lavinia. As he sees the latter two arriving, Aaron instructs Tamora to start a quarrel with them and then he leaves to fetch Tamora’s sons. Bassianus and Lavinia arrive on the scene and taunt Tamora about her affair with Aaron. Demetrius and Chiron reach there and Tamora makes up a false story that Bassianus and Tamora have threatened to tie her up and leave her alone in the forest. She demands to her sons that they should revenge the threat made to her and she prompts Demetrius to stab Bassianus to death, which he does. Lavinia pleads that even she should be killed. Tamora agrees to this but Demetrius does not as he and his brother have planned to ravish her. Tamora agrees but at the same time she also tells them that they must kill Lavinia after they have ravished her. As Lavinia is being dragged away she pleads to Tamora to save her, but Tamora refuses to help her by reminding her how her pleas, not to sacrifice her son, was completely neglected by Titus. Aaron leads Quintus and Martius to the pit where Bassianus’ body lies. Saturninus arrives to find them both in the pit and Tamora and Aaron, using false evidence, convince him that they are Bassianus’ murderers. They are taken to the prison to await their punishment.


Notes

Aaron is setting the trap for Titus’ sons and he is affected by this task: he is serious and full of dark passions of revenge. Tamora sees the woods as a place fit for love, reflecting her light mood and desire for him. But Aaron views the setting differently. He contradicts and reinterprets the emblems. For him they do not represent love, but lust and revenge. He goes on to develop the Philomel theme. The allusion here is to a tale from Ouid’d ‘Metamorphosis.’ In this story Philomel is raped in a secluded hut in a forest by her brother-in-law Tereus. He then cuts off her tongue so that she is unable to reveal his identity. But she succeeds in doing this by stitching the story on a sampler. This reveals the fate in store for Lavinia.

Here, effective use is made of surprise. The "gentle" Lavinia enters with her husband and taunts Tamora for her lust. The vulgarity of the tone is at once cheap, stupid and dangerous. It is unexpected but convincing; it would be sentimental to look for a nice little heroine in this play. Lavinia, here, has the beastliness of conscious virtue, and her vindictiveness anticipates the later action. She is to be dumb and helpless, and so a careless reader may forget her presence in later Acts, but she is like Ouid’s Philomel who is to be active in the vile revenge.

The balance of response in this scene is very nicely controlled: Tamora the taunted reacts by destroying Bassianus; Lavinia the taunter is reduced to desperate pleading, not for her life, but for death. Tamora’s nature is fully revealed, "No grace? No womanhood? Ah, beastly creature." She is referred to as a "tiger" and her actions reveal that the epithet is well fitted to her nature. She has all the cruelty, unforgivingness and the passion of a wild beast. She refuses to even hear Lavinia’s pleadings for mercy because the fire of revenge burns deep and bright in her nature.

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