On Bodies Politic, Mutilated, and Murdered in Titus Andronicus

1455 Words Aug 16th, 2012 6 Pages
On bodies politic, mutilated, and murdered in Titus Andronicus
Critics of the rise of violence on television today decry the images of murder, rape, abject violence, and even torture to which we are exposed. They reason that as we are subjected to more and more violent images we will necessarily become desensitized to them and even accepting of their place in our society. What then would these modern day critics think of the piles of corpses, body parts, and violent assaults on the human form that littered 16th century English stages performing William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus? Everything old is new again. The trope of violence to convey a message is not a recent invention. It is as old as the problems of society it means to
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Lavinia’s disfigurement and carnal desecration is not the first act of violence in Titus, but it certainly carries with it messages of embarrassment, revenge, corruption, concealment and unchecked lust. While Chiron and Demetrius propose the hunt for a deer as an excuse for them to track the prey of their desire, the married Lavinia, it does not seem that her brutal treatment is immediately foretold. Not until Lavinia and her husband, Bassianus, the emperor Saturninus’ younger brother, come upon the emperor’s wife Tamora naked in a glen with her lover, the Moorish slave Aaron (II.2.55), does Tamora command her sons to show their maternal fidelity by murdering one of the witnesses to her nuptial betrayal and so incapacitating the second that she should never bear witness. Two elements of this violence are particularly striking. First, Tamora and her sons are thoughtful to not repeat the mistake of Tereus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in leaving Philomel’s hands uninjured and able to weave the tale of her rape and betrayal. They seem to realize that Lavinia is educated enough to read and write of what she discovered if left merely without a tongue to speak of it. So to protect their mother’s secret and partially revenge their brother’s death at the hands of Lavinia’s father, they resolve to mutilate her hands to stumps and cut out her tongue. Second, it’s interesting that Tamora doesn’t require that her sons rape Lavinia, but that…

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