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MonkeyNotes-Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
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THEMES

Major

The main theme of the play is the revenge Titus Andronicus takes upon his wrong doers. Titus’ rejection of Tamora’s pleas for mercy, lead to the death of her eldest son Alarbus. Thus barbarous Roman rites set the chain of revenge in motion. Titus’ lack of mercy on Tamora hardens her heart against him and she vows to destroy the Andronici family. Aaron helps her in this quest. They kill Bassianus, get Martius and Quintus executed for it, and allow Tamora’s sons to rape and mutilate Lavinia. Aaron also tricks Titus into losing his hand, which is then brought back to him with the two severed heads of his sons and a message of scorn from the Emperor for his sacrifice. These tragedies totally undo Titus and produce a psychic metamorphosis in him and he vows to take revenge. The action of the rest of the play, is carried forward on the impetus and energy of his obsession with revenge.


He transmits this passion to his son Lucius, who banished from Rome, sets out to collect an army to attack Rome. His kinsmen who support his cause and help him shoot arrow in the palace and later assist him in empowering and capturing Demetrius and Chiron aid him in his actions. Lavinia, although rendered passive, manages to provide him with constant fuel for his fire of passion for revenge, by her mere presence. She supports him spiritually in his quest for revenge. He succeeds in his plan of feeding Tamora a cannibalistic feast of her dead sons and he also succeeds in killing her. Meanwhile, his son Lucius, takes Aaron as prisoner and order him to death by starvation.

The grounds for vengeance is well prepared. The nature of the characters is such that it makes cruelty, and then the subsequent revenge, quite a natural development. Titus’ refusal to be merciful to Tamora and his slaughter of his own son prepares the reader for the brutality that comes to dominate him in the latter part of the play. He is instrumental in the hardening of Tamora’s nature. Aaron on the other hand is evil right from the beginning. The sufferings that they inflict on Titus leads to the brutality that he finally inflicts on them.

Minor

The psychic metamorphosis that occurs in Titus as a result of his grief forms the minor theme of the play. The stress is not so much on Titus himself, as it is on the process of metamorphosis itself. A similar metamorphosis can be seen to a minor degree in Lavinia and Tamora, as well.

The cumulative effect of various tragedies transforms Titus, from a noble Roman into a vengeful beast. This transformation is a result of unbearable emotions, when Titus realizes the extent of his loss and the scorn with which it is treated. This is marked by his insane laughter, in response to Marcus’ comment about his lack of tears. Shakespeare is more interested in the transforming power of intense emotions rather than in pointing a moral. Individuality, is shown to be shattered by an impersonal force working within. Character and personality give way to naked, abstract emotions.

The violence of the play serves as an agent and an emblem of metamorphosis of character. Character in the usual sense of the word disintegrates completely, leaving behind personified emotion. Titus’ refusal to be merciful hardens Tamora’s heart against him forever, and makes her into a woman bent on destroying his family. Similarly the indignity that Lavinia suffers makes her an avid seeker of revenge. She finds a means to reveal the identity of her wrong doer’s. She is a silent but avid supporter of Titus’ bestial plan of revenge.

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