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We actually feel that we are there, one of the spectators, experiencing the story along with Procne and Philomela. Titus lacks these specificities and cultural details.
Similarities, however, may be found in other elements. The imagery in both narratives is rich. Both Ovid and Shakespeare have a penchant for enlivening the passages with verbal imagery, particularly in the forms of simile and metaphor. Tamora's praise of the forest alludes to the speaker's adulterous sensuality. The scene (as it is in Metamorphosis) is alive with allusion to predators of the animal kingdom -- most often wasps, flies, snakes and adders -- no doubt correlation to the human predators who fill the tale, and descriptive images of landscape are often sexualized; there is the "unhallowed and bloodstained hole" and "the swallowing womb" for instance. Similarly in Ovid too, there is the design that Philomelus weaves: " threads of deep purple on a white background" -- does that allude to the ruination of her spotless virginity? And Tereus's being compared to "Jove's great bird of prey" that grips the hare in "his talons, and the prey and captor both now there is no escape." Later on, the severed tongue is described as falling to the "black" earth "trembling and murmuring / and twitching as it flings itself about, / just as a serpent's severed tail will do" (800). Presumably, this alludes to the desires of the tongue to retell its misfortunes. And then there is Tereus' transformation into a 'stiffly crested bird'; the threatening and once powerful warrior, Tereus, is now impotent to act.
Ovid also carries portents of events to come. Tereus and Procne are wedded with omens occurring, and their son is, likewise, born under these conditions. One of them is the "evil owl [that is] perched and brooded on the roof of their bedchamber." (620). King Pandion, too, has a 'grim foreboding troubling his mind' when he bids farewell to his daughter. Portents too frequent Titus as when, for instance, Lavinia uses an actual copy of Ovid's Philomel story to articulate the details of the rape.
Ovid's form is more direct whereas Shakespeare multiplies the structural parallels and other forms of replication in 'Titus'. Retribution, for instance, is one such theme that replicates itself in varying forms: Tamora avenges herself for the death of her offspring, by having Titus' own offspring despoiled; Titus, in turn, replicates her crime by murdering her two remaining sons. Both individuals are drawn by fate to kill their own offspring; Tamora by unconsciously eating the minced flesh of her sons in a pie, Titus by consciously killing his own daughter.
Other parallels appear in the case of the two brothers Saturnius and Bassianus who appear in the first act disputing over the throne and possession of Lavinia, whilst Chiron and Demetrius appear in the second act quarrelling over sexual possession of Lavinia. Again two brothers Quintus and Martius are decapacitated in Act Three, whilst two brothers, Marcus and Titus, console each other throughout.
Finally, Shakespeare's style differs in that the pentameter is regular; most lines are free of the metrical variations such as eleven-syllable lines that would come to characterize the later Shakespeare, and there is confluence between the semantic and poetic units, in other words the end of the line coheres with the end of the clause (McDonald, xi). An illustration here is the phrase; "Noble patricians, patrons of my right, / defend the justice of my cause without arms" (I.1.1-2). The subtleties, later visible in Hamlet or Lear, where rhythmic variety, hesitation, and creation of momentum or shifts in tempo characterization (Dowden, 1967) are non-existent here. Perhaps, another commonality existent in the style of their verse is that both are "straightforward, blunt, and forceful" (McDonald, xli).
Most famously, Shakespeare differs from Ovid with his quintessential witticisms as, for instance, in the following passage:
Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron: That which thou cannot undo.
Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother. (IV. 2.73-76).
Shakespeare's love for imbuing text with ambiguous and multiple levels of meaning (Dowden, 1967) is also evident in a later portion. Recounting his crimes, Aaron declaims:
Aaron: They cut thy sister's tongue, and ravished her,
And cut her hands and trimmed her as thou sawst.
Lucius: O. detestable villain! Calls't thou that trimming?
Aaron: why, she was washed and cut and trimmed, and 'twas
Trim sport for them which had the doing of it. (V.1.92-96)
Observe here the play of meaning with the word 'trim', and the similarity of 'sawest' with that word.
'Goths' is often intermingled with 'goats' and allusion, no doubt to their barbarity, and in another playful passage, Shakespeare has Titus play on the image of hands:
What violent hands can she lay on her life?
Ah, wherefore dost thou urge the name of hands
O, handle not the theme, to talk of hands,
Lest we remember still that we have none. (III.2.25-30)
The hand is a symbol of agency (McDonald, xlv) with Titus' fame resting on his military skill, his 'warlike hand' being an emblem of that achievement, and the hand, too, often appearing as perpetrating acts against one another (as, for instance, one killing another by aid of his hand) or operating a significant act (as Lavinia giving her hand in a marriage). Again allegorical and bringing us back to the motif of fate with human action intermingled with destiny is the scene in Act Three where Lavinia is shorn of her stumps, and Titus of his own bleeding limbs. Running throughout, consequently, is Shakespeare's insinuations of human performance and apparent control that are shorn off by the gods.
When compared to Ovid's magnificent performance of utterly entering the other's psyche and enabling us to see the other from inside out, Shakespeare in this - his first work -is less profound and more one-dimensional than he is in his later masterpieces. Comparing Titus to his later works does reveal that Titus is less polished, less profound, and more superficial than much of his later work certainly than the Merchant of Venice or a Comedy of Errors or even Henry VIII for instance. King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, even though approaching Titus in the scope and spectrum of their evil, are still more complex and polished and mature in their style. It is as though Titus were one-dimensional without the necessary intricate glimpse into the psychological complexity of human acts; yet humans are a mixture of both good and evil and undeniable evil deeds are also tinctured, occasionally, with flashes of redemption. Othello and Macbeth indicate something of this human vulnerability, as does the fate of the mad king in Hamlet. These plays are three-dimensional, the mark of an articulate and powerful masterpiece. The closest one comes to this complexity of the human is in Titus' stabbing of Lavinia where reluctant to do so and after having accorded her numerous favors and prolonged patience, he perpetrates this act as necessity of following a social norm. Shakespeare inadequately addresses this conflict, but the conflict is there true and real nonetheless.
Shakespeare has omitted certain elements from the tale. These include the love of one sister for another, the heartrending departure of daughter from father, the heartrending decision and then resolve that goes into sacrificing one's child. Shakespeare, in fact, left out all sentimental and emotional aspects -- he, in fact, omitted affection of any kind. This was likely Shakespeare's intention to do so in order to promote Titus as unremitting violence. Nonetheless, the affection and human dimension in Ovid makes the difference between making one narrative (that of Ovid's) an unforgettable, tear-jerking and moving story, whilst making the other (that of Titus) one that critics styled one of Shakespeare's worst writs (Dowden, 19). In fact, when Titus first appeared, Edward Ravenscroft who adapted it for the Restoration stage in 1687, declared it " a heap of rubbish than a structure" (McDonald, xxviiii), whilst Tennessee Williams described it as "one of the most ridiculous writs" (ibid, xxx), and T.S. Elliot opined it as being "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written (ibid, xxx). To many contemporary readers, Titus is still hopelessly crude and vulgar in its sensationalism and horrific violence (Reese, 77), whilst Ovid's mater-narrative never ceases to move.
Dowden, Edward. Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art. New York, Barnes & Noble, 1967.
Bate, Jonathan. Titus Andronicus. Cengage Learning Publishing, 1995.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York Publishing Company: New York, 1998
Cutts, John P. The Shattered Glass: A Dramatic Pattern in Shakespeare's Early Plays. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968.
Hughes, Derek Culture and Sacrifice: Ritual Death in Literature and Opera. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Charles Martin. NY: Norton & Co., 2004
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books,…[continue]
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