The Tragedy in its dramatic form comes from the poetic and religious traditions of Ancient Greece; it is an art-form that shows human suffering in order to conjure an intense feeling of pity in the audience. In his book ‘Poetics’, Aristotle analyses the tragedy genre and suggests a model for what he believes makes the best form of tragedy. According to Aristotle’s model, Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’ shows a good representation of a tragic hero, as Oedipus is a King of great wisdom-he defeats a sphinx by solving her riddle- whose hubris (excessive pride) leads him to unknowingly kill his father. After a series of misguided and bad decisions which are influenced by the predictions of an oracle, Oedipus recognises that he is responsible for his own downfall and scratches out his eyes. He is exiled and although he originally resents this, leaves with courage.
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Titus Andronicus is a Roman war hero who turns to revenge after his daughter is raped and mutilated; two sons are wrongly executed, another is exiled, and after selflessly giving up his hand to save his sons he is made a mockery of by the Emperor: ‘Thy grief their sports, thy resolution mocked’-Messenger, 3·Ð†, line 237. He coldly plots revenge and for its purpose appears to waver on madness, killing five people before he is slain. His downfall is initiated by three bad choices at the beginning of the play; he allows his sons to sacrifice Tamora’s first born, he refuses the empery and elects Saturninus, over Bassianus to be emperor. Hubris is his hamartia and reason for his bad choices as it fuels his patriotism and traditionalist values as well as his lust for revenge: ‘… make them (Titus’s eyes) blind with tributary tears. Then which way shall I find Revenge’s cave?’- 3·Ð†, lines 268/89.
Throughout the course of the play we see how Titus as a character develops and changes. In Act Ð† we are given an insight into his stature, social rank and exceptional abilities as a roman soldier through Shakespeare’s use of stage directions and language. Aristotle’s model suggests that the protagonist should be of high social rank, thus according to the stage directions Titus arrives ‘in a chariot’ calling to mind visions of majesty and stateliness. The Captain introduces him in a respectful and highly complementary way, asking people to ‘make way’ for Titus, and praising him as ‘Rome’s best champion’. We see from this extract that Titus’s exceptional abilities lie in his fighting skills, as the Captain says he is ‘successful in the battles that he fights’-1·Ð†, line 66. The fact that Titus has been received from battle so ceremoniously is indication in itself of his position in society; he arrives like a king and is announced with dignity, respect and grandeur: ‘…The good Andronicus, Patron of virtue, Rome’s best champion,’-Captain, 1·Ð†, lines 64/5.
‘Long live Lord Titus, my beloved brother, Gracious triumpher in the eyes of Rome!’- 1·Ð†, line 169/70. Here Marcus speaks very highly of Titus. Although he is his brother, he addresses him as ‘Lord’ and makes it clear that he is viewed highly by all of Rome. In addition, during Act 1, Scene Ð†, Marcus asks Titus to become emperor of Rome, and says how it is not only his desire, but ‘the people of Rome’ themselves. Marcus also says how Titus is seen as the people’s ‘friend in justice’, highlighting Titus’s achievements in war and the people’s gratitude. The very fact that Titus’s fame stretches as far as the civilians of Rome is extremely telling of his influence and position in the social hierarchy.
Aristotle’s model outlines that all tragic heroes should possess a tragic flaw, or hamartia which ultimately causes their demise, the most common is hubris and Titus’s first speech shows that he shares this common trait as he is very complimentary towards himself: ‘Thou great defender of this Capitol’. The fact he is speaking of himself in the third person shows arrogance: ‘Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs’. During Act 1 Scene Ð†, lines 123/6 Shakespeare shows how Titus’s traditionalist values are driven by his hubris when he explains to Tamora why her first born son must die. He says that for his sons brothers killed-‘brethren slain’-out of piety to the dead-‘Religiously’- ‘they ask for a sacrifice’. Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘religiously’ here suggests custom and ritual, which is reinforced when Titus continues, saying that Tamora’s son must die to make sure his sons are properly laid to rest; ‘T’appease their groaning shadows that are gone’. In lines 127/9 Lucius explains how Alarbus will be killed. The tone Shakespeare employs when Titus and Lucius are talking of the ritual is solemn and sombre. The task is not undertaken in anger or for an evil cause; it is brutal but serious, showing that for them this is an act of religion not revenge.
According to Aristotle’s model the tragic heroes downfall should include a potential never fulfilled. This idea is exhibited in Act Ð¨, however in a different way to what one might expect. Titus is not a young man, in fact by his own admission quite old: ‘…his that shakes for age and feebleness.’-1·Ð†, line 188. He refused the position emperor; therefore he has had his chance to reach his potential, however did not take it. Turning down the opportunity to become Emperor was a potential lost by his own choice, not because of his downfall. Therefore one could argue that the idea of lost potential is deflected onto his children and it is in Lavinia that we see a potential truly lost. Lavinia is a well respected woman for her chastity and beauty, in addition there is evidence to suggest her ideas were well-regarded and valued. In Act 3 Scene Ð† Marcus describes Lavinia’s stolen tongue as ‘…that delightful engine of her thoughts,’-line 82- the word ‘engine’ is usually synonymous with technology, mechanics and science, subjects not usually linked to women at this time. Therefore, from this I believe one can deduce that Marcus is complimenting Lavinia on her intelligence. Before he was killed and she raped and mutilated: ‘Who ’twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.’-Demetrius, 2·IV, line 308, Lavinia had recently married the man she loved. Although the rape was not her fault, at that time she would still have been seen as tainted. Therefore, even before Titus kills her at the end, her life is over; thus her potential of living a long meaningful life has been lost.
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The catharsis is provided at the end when most of the antagonists are killed in quick succession. The high-powered instigators of the turmoil are now dead and we are left with Saturninus and Marcus- the voices of reason throughout the play- and a sense they will lead Rome into a brighter future: ‘Thanks, gentle Romans. May I govern so, To heal Rome’s harm’s and wipe away her woe!’-Lucius, 5·Ð¨, lines 146/47. However this is again not strictly in accordance with Aristotle’s model, as the catharsis is not brought about by Titus’s recognition that it is his hamartia that has caused his ill-fate. Therefore to strictly abide by Aristotle’s model for tragedy would mean that Titus Andronicus could not entirely be deemed a tragic hero, as his failure to recognise that his hamartia has caused the tragedies that befall his family means that he cannot accept his fate: ‘They would not mark me; if they did mark, They would not pity me, yet plead I must,’- Titus, 3·Ð†, lines 34/5. Therefore as far as the Aristotelian model is concerned Titus is not a good example of a true tragic hero, as he simply doesn’t fit. However many of Shakespeare’s plays were daring and broke not only literary rules but rules of society. The very fact that they don’t fit neatly into highly specific genres, allows the audience to connect with them as it reflects the unreliability of real life.
People in the real world react to situations according to their personality, their environment, their past experiences and not according to a set model. What I find most interesting in Titus Andronicus is the subtle, underlying theme of the parent-child relationship. Losing a child is one of life’s greatest tragedies as some of our rawest emotions are connected with our maternal or paternal instincts, and Shakespeare uses this along with his flair for language to deliver a relentless assault on the emotions of the audience. I believe that Titus does not recognise his hamartia because his paternal instincts will not let him; his family is hurt to an extent that is far beyond normal circumstances or comprehension, therefore he feels it is his duty to put things right, even if it means his own demise, which in my opinion makes him a hero irrespective of any model.
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