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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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Scene IV

Summary

Demetrius and Chiron set Lavinia free. She has been ravished and they have cut off her tongue and hands. Marcius comes upon his niece and exclaims on her condition and then takes her to Titus.


Notes

Demetrius and Chiron bring a ravished and mutilated Lavinia on stage to the accompaniment of crude jokes at her expense. The effect of this puts their beastliness into sharp focus.

Marcus is left alone on the stage to deliver a speech whose function is choric. It comments on the action of this act and anticipates the action of the next. It largely looks back over the achieved events and it serves to finish off Act II and it also serves as a break in the action. He brings a whole part of the play to an end.

His speech has a deliberate formality and a tone of cool detachment. The formal elaboration of fountain and conduit distances the actuality of the words, and almost literally turns Lavinia to stone. Yet she is there, on the stage, and the verse doesn’t quite allow the reader to forget that she is alive: the "crimson river" is of "warm blood". Such writing is static and not dramatic. Its weakness comes from an unsatisfactory fusion of the cold, detached tone of the "poem" (Marcus’ speech) with a stage situation, uncle addressing deflowered niece. His speech makes an emblem out of the situation, rather than being a mere narrative description of it. In these terms, the function of his speech becomes clear: it embodies Lavinia’s mutilated trunk and moral state at the end of Act II, which has contained the major criminal action against her (and her brothers).

So far the play is very closely integrated: Act I establishes the dramatic situation with thematic stress on Roman nobility versus barbarity; Act II develops this into criminal action, with the thematic stress on the duality of nature, paradise and hell. The unity of Act II comes from its emphasis on nature and its different aspects. Act I and Act II are to be taken together as the first part of the play: Aaron’s speech is used to link them and Marcus’ provides the final summary. The first part shows superb organization and complexity of development.

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