A Close Reading of Titus Andronicus

Topics: Roman Empire, Emotion, Ancient Rome Pages: 5 (1742 words) Published: November 16, 2013

Titus – Seeing the Dark Side of the Moon
Titus Andronicus is a study of the conflict between personal responsibilities and duty to the state. Shakespeare establishes the character of Titus early in the play. He is a loyal subject of Rome, a commander of legions, and a career soldier who devoted his life to defending and expanding the Roman Empire. Titus serves the state in such blind loyalty that it gets to the point of neglecting his duty to his family as a father and patriarch. Throughout the play, from the triumph parade in act 1 scene 1 to the execution of his sons in act 3 scene 1, Titus maintains blind devotion and steadfast loyalty to Rome.

Act 3 Scene1 is a pivotal scene in the play; it is the moment when Titus goes through changes in heart and mind. In this scene, Titus suffers through the agony of all his losses from the revenge acts of Tamora to the corruption of Rome. In this scene, Titus changes from subject to freeman, proud general to grieving father, giving his first priority to Rome to giving his first priority to family, and from a mind full of hopeless despair to a mind full of hope for revenge. In the first 5 lines, Titus is pleading with the powerful leaders of Rome to stay the execution of his two sons as a reward for his service to Rome, “Hear me, grave fathers! Noble tribunes, stay! / For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent / In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept; / For all my blood in Rome's great quarrel shed; / For all the frosty nights that I have watch'd” (3.1.1-5). Obviously, in these five lines Titus is pleading for his sons' lives. However, looking beyond the words at the whole situation reveals the full impact of this scene.

Titus had spent his whole adult life in the army. He was the quintessential career military man; he had literally shed his blood for all the values he believed in and the system of order that made those values possible, the Roman Empire. With this in mind, the scene of Titus, the nobleman, the greatest Roman military commander of his time, the most revered man in Rome, pleading in the street, with the Senators for the lives of his sons, has a much deeper and poignant emotional impact. Titus switches from pleading for his sons on the basis of his service to pleading on the basis of his tears, “And for these bitter tears, which now you see / Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks; / Be pitiful to my condemned sons, / Whose souls are not corrupted as 'tis thought. / For two and twenty sons I never wept, / Because they died in honor's lofty bed. / [Andronicus lieth down; the Judges, & c., pass by him, and Exeunt] / For these, these, tribunes, in the dust I write / My heart's deep languor and my soul's sad tears” (3.1.6-13). On the surface, we see Titus pleading and crying for his sons' lives. Beneath the surface, we see Titus making the transformation from Commander to father.

An investigation of this situation requires the reader to ask, why has this man never cried for his sons' before and why is he now crying, even mourning intensely? I believe two emotional conditions caused Titus' deep mourning and tears. First, he has not been able to cry until now. As pointed out in act 1, a commander does not have time to mourn the loss of his sons or soldiers; he must relentlessly pursue the objectives of his campaign; he must repress his emotions. Second, Titus feels betrayed, one of the strongest emotions a man can feel. In a figure of speech, Titus' emotional dam is bursting. The losses of his sons in battle all bottled up coupled with the current loss of his two sons and the rejection of all the values he holds dear, all build up to a pressure that bursts his ‘dam’ of emotion. He no longer commands legions; duty does not require him put on a face and with this freedom, he is now able to cry. His tears flow freely because he is now the father of his sons rather than the commander of legions. Titus has gone through a change in his priorities. Prior to this...
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