Hail, Rome, victorious in thy mourning weeds!
Lo, as the bark, that hath discharged her fraught,
Returns with precious jading to the bay
From whence at first she weigh’d her anchorage,
Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs,
To re-salute his country with his tears,
Tears of true joy for his return to Rome.
Thou great defender of this Capitol,
Stand gracious to the rites that we intend!
Romans, of five and twenty valiant sons,
Half of the number that King Priam had,
Behold the poor remains, alive and dead!
These that survive let Rome reward with love;
These that I bring unto their latest home,
With burial amongst their ancestors:
While Bassianus and Saturninus hope to be elected as the leader of Rome, the tribune believes that Titus Andronicus is more eligible and in a better place to occupy the throne. In retrospect, Andronicus returns with a vengeful heart following the death of his twenty-one sons. He sets off and collides with the Goths following his proposal to sacrifice their eldest son in line with Roman rituals to appease his dead sons. From this realization, Andronicus’ act initiates the cannibalism and other related atrocities that beget the families in subsequent acts. Tamora’s hatred initiates the theme of revenge towards Andronicus after killing her eldest sons to appease his dead ones (Hamamra 270). When Saturninus becomes the Romanian emperor, he chooses Tamora to be his empress. In this regard, Tamora uses her influential position in society to get back at Andronicus for his acts of vengeance. The theme of revenge in the above-selected text reflects Andronicus’ interactions with other people in his surroundings. While Andronicus is not the face of vengeance, his acts and decision-making process trigger other thematic concerns that influence the nature of outcomes throughout the play.
The author incorporates allegory, imagery, and symbolism in the revenge tragedy to create visual imagery when exploring various atrocities such as rape. Shakespeare incorporates many hunting scenes that expose the reader to a broad context that integrates different elements affecting individuals in their surroundings. For example, Andronicus invites Saturnius and his friends to a hunting expedition, which presents an opportunity for Chiron and Demetrius to rape Lavinia. In this case, hunting symbolizes sexual violence where Lavinia is poised as the prey while Chiron and Demetrius are the predators. At the same time, hunting represents the cycle of revenge, which is the central theme throughout the play (Dunne and Jessica 178). Every character is eager to avenge the atrocities meted on them by other people in their surroundings, making the revenge tragedy one of the most violent plays recorded. At one point, Andronicus believes his family has become the prey in a setting where everyone is targeting them. However, it is interesting to hear Andronicus’ plight considering he was at one time a predator after sacrificing Tamora’s elderly son.
Shakespeare challenges the gender binary in the play by exploring the one-sided representation of women, which undermines their position in their immediate environment. Notably, the two lead female characters are weakly portrayed as subjects who are supposed to comply with the male rule in their surroundings. By being treated as property, the female characters lose their voice and ability to participate in male-dominated discourses because of their inferior contribution to the outcomes of events. However, the play uses Lavinia and Tamora to explore female sexuality and power. Even though Lavinia is treated as a subject through the play, she regains her human value and power when she mentions her attackers. The retrieval of humanity presents the complex analysis of the gender binary in the play while highlighting the imbalanced relationship between male and female characters.
While revenge is considered a form of retaliation, its motive is used to discount its potential as a way of achieving justice. In many instances, revenge is largely involved with the expression of hate, rage, and spite for another person because of their negative influence on their life. However, many scholars differ on the portrayal of revenge as a form of achieving justice. In the play, all characters believe that revenge is the only form of justice that can be used to avenge wrongdoings and other atrocities meted on them. In return, the thought process manifested by all characters creates a domino effect that spirals down to the relations between characters and the approaches they use in solving their underlying issues. Notably, justice provides victims with closure after learning that a system of law and order will punish their predators. However, revenge can be rewarding but creates additional problems that have been manifested by the hostile relations among characters in the play.
Overall, Titus Andronicus is a confusing play because of its conflicting scenes and themes that influence the reader’s perspectives towards their understanding of various outcomes. On the one hand, Shakespeare questions the role of loyalty and traditions by exposing characters to scenarios that undermine their existence. Importantly, Andronicus’s devotion to Rome is unquestionable as he aligns himself with the traditions that dictate various aspects of life and society. However, his continued devotion to the Romanian way of life leads him to his downfall. In the same vein, Tamora is disliked because of her ability to conceal emotions and disguise their true feelings when engaging with other people. In this regard, women were expected to comply with the patriarchal system and express their loyalty by accepting their position in society without expressing any contempt. However, the pursuit of understanding the ways of life according to the traditions creates a huge disconnect that hinders Andronicus from fully upholding the Romanian belief and value system. Given his desire for revenge, Andronicus parts of the traditions and develops a distaste for loyalty. His vengeful character distances him from the beliefs and values he upheld in defense of the Romanian way of life. By killing Lavinia, Titus Andronicus becomes a villain who contrasts his victim position, as seen at the beginning of the play.
In retrospect, Shakespeare’s play raises numerous questions regarding the broad spectrum of life. The different events and the unpredictable cycle of life exposes individuals to an environment where they can question various concepts and adopt a new perspective that resonates with their true beliefs. For instance, the play challenges the gender binary when exploring whether revenge is a form of justice. By ignoring the consequences, revenge is widely viewed as the best way of achieving justice. However, the cost of pursuing justice through revenge rises gradually. It leads to an immense loss that exposes individuals to a context where they begin to question the significance of human existence.
Dunne, Derek, and Jessica Apolloni. “Shakespeare, Revenge Tragedy and Early Modern Law: Vindictive Justice.” Early Theatre 21.1 (2018): 177-180.
Hamamra, Bilal Tawfiq. “Violence and violation: A Palestinian reading of rape and revenge in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.” Psychodynamic Practice 26.3 (2020): 260-277.