Sunday, April 2, 2006

Titus Andronicus - Musings

My turn to be pinched for time.

Genre: I haven't had time to formally reexplore Seneca, other than to think I remember that a mistranslation of Livy (?) encouraged the neoclassic writers of the late Renaissance to think that Seneca was closet drama, not to be staged but to be read, perhaps by a single orator. Nor have I rethought revenge tragedy. My first response told you that I have found the violence unrelenting, from the opening scene I saw at Stratford in 1955, which at the time I accepted with glee, but now it dominates my reading. Relentless. This play conforms to any concept of unity of plot or of tone, enough to satisfy any neoclassic critic (Corneille, Racine, Scapin) who might insist that any subplot would dilute or distract from the pure cathartic purpose of tragedy. So not only no Dromio, no Costard, no Feste, not even Macbeth's porter or Hamlet's Osric. And certainly no Fool to Lear.

Single plot: Saturninus is named emperor, fatally, and self-will invades everything. Saturninus lusts after Tamora and dumps Lavinia. Titus demands to be synonymous with Rome's good so he kills his son who blocks a door. Tamora lusts for power, though motivated by the unRoman execution of her eldest son. Demetrius and Chiron argue over love for Lavinia, until Aaron leads them to acknowledge that love is just another word for lust, so they cut [sic] to the chase and rape and mutilate her. (Anyone else find the "She is a woman" (II.i.81-89) passage peculiar?) Aaron at least is pure evil, but he fornicates with Tamora in a cave and relishes (can I use that word knowing we will have a meat pie at the terminating feast?) his power to torment the Andronici and bring down Rome. These are not subplots. They all hurtle toward death(s), so that Randall initially asked if this is revenge tragedy, whose revenge is it? I need Feste or Lear's Fool or Puck or Falstaff to leaven this lump -- think of Falstaff looking at the slain Hotspur and giving us a little disquisition of the hollowness of honor.

Also, my focus on "Senecan" horror has distracted me from Ovid. And I don't mean the Philomela/Tereus plot, but Ovid's imagery. After Love's Labor's Lost, here I hope to have a chance to explore passages to see if these, more than the ur-tragedy, will contribute more to my future reading. Specifically, I hope to look at the forest of the hunt (II.ii), then seen as the forest of crime when Aaron and Tamora plot in it (II.iii), then think forward to the forest of Oberon and the forest of Arden. If Fairyland is notAthens, so too this forest (scene of rape, murder, framed arrests) is notRome.

Our host invited us to look for foreshadows. Most important, I think, is Lear. Titus, like Lear, is responsible for unleashing anarchy on the state: Titus, certain he is Rome, by naming Saturninus emperor with no more rationale than "eldest son," while Lear egotistically, disinherits Cordelia, thus ceding all power to Goneril/Tamora. But unlike Lear, Titus never moves to understanding, the tragic catharsis that redeems the audience. Instead Titus kills Lavinia. Help me with that. I said to Randall, it may be compassion, releasing Lavinia from shame, pain, and grief. But I don't know if I believe that myself.

I wish I had more brain today,

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