Thursday, April 13, 2006

Titus Andronicus - 2 Points About 3 Points


I am much attracted by Randall’s observations on I.i.70-76, the image with "middle-class quality"--Titus comparing himself to a merchant vessel--and his reference to Titus as the merchant of Rome. In that I have often treated Shakespeare’s era as immersed in a paradigm shift, from feudal order (a "received universe") to bourgeois freedom (an "infinite cosmos" if one postpones discussion of "bourgeois"), this was pretty exciting for me. Though I will probably save most of such discussion for Antony and Cleopatra, I’ll try to recall some references to John Dryden’s tragedy All for Love (1678), the late-seventeenth century version of Shakespeare’s Antony.

In All for Love, which submits to the unities of time, place, and plot, Antony is battling Octavius for control of the world (I would tell my students that their own lives depended on the outcome of the Battle of Actium, which Octavius won by land when Cleopatra’s navy panicked at sea). At one point heroic Antony-really a 15th century Romantic hero--challenges Octavius to single combat, winner take all, but Octavius refuses. Antony laments, "He said he had more ways than one to die;/ I had not," and sneers at Octavius as one who would buy and sell kingdoms rather than conquer them. So the merchant image is the one that will inherit the world as the heroic recedes. Anthony himself uses a merchant image as he is about to resign his place in the struggle:

My whole life
Has been a golden dream of love and friendship;
But now I wake, I’m like a merchant roused
From soft repose, to see his vessel sinking,
And all his wealth cast over. (V.i)

There is a sweet nostalgia as he resigns the Romantic/heroic world to the new age:

‘Tis time the world
Should have a lord and know whom to obey.
We two have kept the globe, on whose each side we trod,
Till it was dinted inward. Let him walk
Alone upon it: I’m weary of my part. (V.i)

After Antony, after All for Love, the middle class has risen and there is no place more for the hero.

The rest of Titus Andronicus does not play out such a contest. Rome may be decaying, but the contest against Saturninus, Tamora, Aaron, or even the legacy of Lucius and Marcus Andronicus, does not leave it in the hands of the merchant-governors Our initial Rome is almost the Rome of Plutarch (though Titus is never included among Shakespeare’s "Roman plays": Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus). The civilized social order is in place. Saturninus’ very first words address "Noble patricians." Bassianus follows with a rough draft of Marc Antony’s public speech, "Romans, friends, followers," though without the irony. And then Titus returns from ten years in the field, victorious against Rome’s enemies, proud and honored to have lost twenty-one sons in defense of the Capitol. In this beginning, before Titus’s early acts alienate him from the audience, he is burying another of his warrior sons in the Andronicus tomb:

In peace and honor rest you here, my sons;
Rome’s readiest champions, repose you here in rest,
Secure from worldly chances and mishaps.
Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells,
Here grow no damned drugs, here are no storms,
No noise, but silence and eternal sleep.
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons. (I.i.150-56)

This envoi is as elegiac as Horatio’s "Good night sweet prince,/ And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!", and it affirms the moral order of Rome. But this is at the start, before we are drowned in treason, envy, noise, and fourteen murders. This spiritual peace comes at the beginning, and as I am rereading what Titus says to his heroic sons, we learn that Jesus says to Judas: "'you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.’ Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus" ("The Gospel of Judas," John Noble Wilford and Laurie Goodstein, NY Times, April 6, 2006). The "divine" Roman dies gladly in its defense. Of Titus: "For many good and great deserts to Rome,/ A nobler man, a braver warrior,/ Lives not this day within the city walls... he undertook/ this cause of Rome.... In...uprightness and integrity....Patron of virtue, Rome’s best champion" (I.i.24-6, 31-2, 48, 65). "In peace and honour live Lord Titus long" (I.i.157).

This, certainly, is the sort of exposition of heroic virtue introducing Othello or Anthony, even Macbeth as praised by Duncan. And the impression is the Rome of Plutarch, civilized public order, a higher moral fabric. Soon, in contrast, is Saturninus, self-driven, who would seize the empery rather than submit to the Roman tribunes’ civic selection: "Draw your swords, and sheathe them not/ Till Saturninus be Rome’s emperor./ Andronicus, would thou were shipp’d to hell,/ Rather than rob me of the people’s hearts!" (V.i.204-7) , and, when Titus himself withdraws from consideration on grounds that his age would soon lead to another disruption in the succession and confirms the office on the late emperor’s eldest son, Saturninus immediately shows his private or personal self-centeredness. He claims Lavinia as his bride, then, within minutes throws her over owing to his lust for Tamora, Queen of the Goths, then uses his sometime rival, Bassianus’ prior betrothal to Lavinia as excuse to criminalize his brother. Thereafter, Saturninus, abetted by the Machiavellian Tamora, is immersed in lust and arbitrary exercise of power-the epitome of self-centeredness. Alan Cumming, in Julie Taymor’s Titus, played Saturninus with creepy, oily decadence.

Meanwhile, Aaron appears, the outsider, the blackamor, committed to and delighting in pure evil. Titus begins as the Rome that is civilized, public, ethical; Saturninus is anti-Rome, self-centered and immoral, but still in the realm of civilization; Aaron is amoral, beyond the limits of society. An atheist, he can play on the piety or belief in values of the Romans. Except for the surprising love for his infant son, he is totally free of social constraint. Thus, instead of a clear dramatic tension between the public civilized and the personally ambitious, the play offers a third force, outside the audience’s moral values.

However, this potential orderly geometry of the play, Plutarch’s Rome and Saturninus’s degrading exercise of power, as polar opposites, and Aaron a free radical, is shattered from the start. Maurice Charney suggests that Shakespeare immediately alienates the audience from Titus. His acquiescence to the barbaric sacrifice of Alarbus, lopped and hewed of limbs and flesh ("O cruel, irreligious piety!" laments his mother, Tamora); his refusal of the Roman empery, the best commitment for public good, and support for the dangerously foolish Saturninus; then the slaying his own son, Mutius, with arrogant dispatch: "What, villain boy,/ Barr’st me my way in Rome? (I.i.290-91), exhibit classic hubris, but to me, without the depth or audience understanding we might grant Lear with his tragic misreading of Cordelia. These acts are all so hasty, so under motivated, that we have from almost the start, despite the suggestion of a fallen Roman state, little room for Titus to recover gravitas through his suffering and his revenge.

Indeed, if the "lopping and hewing" of Lavinia’s body parts is an unspeakable horror, Shakespeare retrospectively characterizes Titus’s lack of morality in that the sacrifice of Alarbus has been twice described in identical language in Act I. Revenge is not justice, though I have confessed I find serving up Tamora’s sons in Gothic pasties is almost worth it.

Anyway, my three point geometry leaves me with no satisfaction for the outcome. Octavius "wins" All for Love, but the conflict has ennobled Antony and his heroism. In Titus, there is no one left alive, literally and morally. Yeah, Marcus and Lucius say "Peoples, can we all get along, here. Can we all get along" or somesuch, but the civilized order of Augustus’ Rome is finished, and the rough beast Rome of Tarquin is at hand.


Derek Traversi led me to think of another three-point set of images: the forest of Titus’s "jocund hunt," the forest of Tamora and Aaron’s sexual proposed gratification, and the forest far from the social habitations of man, "full of tongues, eyes, ears," where Aaron thrusts Demetrius and Chiron on the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, the murder of Bassianus, and the framing of Quintus and Martius for murder. And, oh, Lord, watch the cluster of images for "this abhorred pit" in the forest where Bassianus’ body is dumped and Lavinia is raped: "what subtle hole is this,/ Whose mouth is covered with rude-growing briers" (II.iii.198-98); "From this unhallow’d and blood stained hole" (II.iii.210); "in this detested, dark, blood-drinking pit" (II.iii.224); "Out of this fell devouring receptacle,/ As hateful as Cocytus’ misty mouth" (II.iii236); and "into this gaping hollow of the earth" (II.iii.249), which prompts the temperate Marjorie Garber to remark "Freud was not the first to invent Freudianism," (Shakespeare After All, 78.)


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