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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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PLOT STRUCTURE

The five acts of the play can be differentiated into two main phases of action with Act III as a pivot between them. The first two acts, which form the first movement of the play, introduce all the main characters and establish the relationships between them. It forms the exposition of the play, where all the main actions determining the future consequences occur. It focuses on all the wrongs that are done onto Titus and his family. Act III forms the climax of the play showcasing Titus’ metamorphosis into obsession and insanity and his vow of vengeance. Act IV and V form the last phase of the play, where the vow of revenge is translated into action. It leads to the death of all the principle characters and the restoration of political stability in Rome in the form of Lucius, the new emperor.


The first act establishes the grounds of tragedy, in a succession of revelations: Titus’ obsession with family leads to his blind support of the boorish Saturninus, Tamora’s rise to power, Aaron’s successful plot to harm the Andronici family. Act I establishes the dramatic situation with a thematic stress on Roman nobility versus barbarity. Act II develops this into criminal action, with its thematic stress on the duality of nature. The unity of each Act is ensured in a manner of dominant mood: Act I is heroic and Act II is pastoral. The two acts have to be taken together as the first part of the play. Aaron’s speech is used to link them and Marcus’ speech provides a summary.

The structural center of the action is firmly placed in the third act, with the transformation of the loyal and unselfish servant of a country, into the obsessed and determined but half-crazed avenger. The dominant tone of this act is elegiac. This act achieves a kind of stasis at the center of the play, a pivot in the structure between the two main sequences of action.

The last two acts form the second sequence of action. Act IV is concerned with plans for revenge and Act V with their execution. The play here should be seen as continuous, so that Lucius and his Goths enter immediately after Saturninus and Tamora have left.

In the first part of the play Titus is shown as a noble man whereas Aaron is shown as a beast. However after Act III, Titus deteriorates into a mad beast while Aaron displays a kind of nobility. But orthodox order has to be restored and this is done in Act V with the creation of Lucius as the emperor of Rome.

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