Introduction & Overview of Titus Andronicus

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Titus Andronicus Summary & Study Guide Description

Titus Andronicus Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Further Reading on Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare.

Titus Andronicus is frequently linked to a kind of drama known as "revenge tragedy." In this genre, once a person vows to avenge a wrong done to him or someone in his family, there is no turning back. The cycle of revenge, filled with violent and bloody incidents, is not complete until everyone who committed the wrong or was associated with it in any way has been punished. Forgiveness is an alien concept in revenge tragedy.

Cycles of revenge continue throughout the world in the late twentieth century. One faction or ethnic group within a nation oppresses or harms another. The oppressed group strikes back or waits until it reaches a position of power, then avenges the wrongs done to its members years ago. In some countries, people are presently fighting to avenge crimes that were committed against their ancestors decades or even centuries ago.

Group solidarity, an admirable trait in itself, is one ingredient in maintaining these cycles. Family solidarity is also, in itself, a virtue. The Andronici stand shoulder to shoulder against the world. They adhere to the Roman tradition that an attack on one member of the family is an attack on everyone related to them. They have intense disputes among themselves, but once an Andronici is threatened or harmed by someone outside the family, they close ranks. Their enemies behave similarly. Tamora allows, even encourages, her sons to rape Lavinia. This is partly because Titus has, in her view, wrongly allowed the killing of Alarbus, and she knows that his daughter's rape will devastate him. It is also because she sees Lavinia not as an individual woman, but as an Andronici.

Modern societies all over the world encourage family loyalty. When one member succeeds, it's expected that his or her family will benefit as well. Siblings fight among themselves, yet if a younger brother or sister is threatened by a neighborhood bully, an older sibling is traditionally expected to intervene and protect them. This concept of family loyalty also exists in groups of non-related people, such as gangs, in which members in a sense "adopt" one another as family.

The Andronici share with their enemy Saturninus and with other Romans of this period the view that rape is a disgrace to the family. Through no fault of her own, Lavinia is personally disgraced and brings shame on her family. Traces of this attitude linger in modern societies. Rape victims frequently hesitate to report—to the police or even their own families—what has happened to them. The families of rape victims often do not feel free to talk openly about the crime, as they perhaps would if a relative had been robbed or their house had been broken into. Some progress has been made over the past few decades in removing the social stigma of rape. Titus Andronicus demonstrates another, even more widespread social phenomenon that continues to this day: racism. The characterization of Aaron takes advantage of cultural prejudices against people whose physical aspect is markedly different from that of the dominant population. Racism exist ed in sixteenth-century England, and it has endured throughout the twentieth, in cultures all over the world. Moreover, the play raises disturbing questions about the traditional association of the color black with evil.

Aaron is described by literary critics as the most dynamic, fully developed character in the play. He's seen as the model—and a very strong one—for villains in Shakespeare's later plays, especially Richard III, Iago in Othello, and Edmund in King Lear. But those villains are all white men in white worlds. In Titus Andronicus, Aaron is thoroughly alienated from the society around him. Though Tamora, too, is "different"—a foreigner from another, despised-culture—she's given an opportunity to become part of Rome when she marries Saturninus and becomes empress. By contrast, "her raven-colored love" (II.iii.83) is forever an outcast. The play does not explicitly connect Aaron's deliberate exclusion from Roman society with his malevolent attitude. But modern readers, aware of the effects of racism and prejudice, may see a linkage there.

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Shakespeare for Students
Titus Andronicus from Shakespeare for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.