Tag Archives: Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare’s Globe

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Welcome to the site! Allow me to introduce its purpose, themes, and format.

I created this site for an undergraduate Shakespeare class at Emory University. The class, ENG 210W: Shakespeare’s Globe, explored a handful of Shakespearean plays and performances, with an emphasis on how they inform contemporary issues, particularly environmental concerns. This site, then, serves as a record of my own inquiries into how these enduring and esoteric plays survive to illuminate current issues like climate change.

For the purposes of this site, Shakespeare becomes a kind of ecology—a living, breathing subject that responds to shifts in culture and academia. These plays, while historically significant, offer much more than their historical interpretations might suggest. They reflect on the very psychology and sensibility that comprise the human condition. In particular, Shakespeare frequently comments on humanity’s relationship with nature. In what ways do these considerations of nature and human influence shine light on today’s environmental concerns? That question, along with some other considerations, become the subject and purpose of this website.

Unfortunately, Shakespeare does not offer a definitive interpretation of nature. For Gonzalo and his sailors in The Tempest, nature offers a potential for innocence and abundance. For Prospero and King Lear, however, nature becomes subjugated for their own advantage and ambition. In Titus Andronicus, nature provides an asylum for Chiron and Demetrius’s dark desires to play out, causing other characters to contemplate whether our planet’s natural order promotes life and prosperity, or chaos and violence. Ultimately, Shakespeare’s conflicting portrayals of nature parallel humanity’s own complicated relationship with the environment, which is precisely why Shakespeare studies can inform contemporary environmental issues.

Along the way, other assignments spurred me to consider other topics, like language, violence, and power. I explored these topics through a variety of mediums. The class emphasized “multimodal research techniques” to overcome a common handicap in conventional Shakespeare studies—the impulse toward historicist interpretations. While historical contexts certainly prove vital in understanding the plays, the concepts and themes benefit from their consideration not only in relation to contemporary issues, but also through contemporary means.

It is my hope that this site demonstrates Shakespeare’s capacity to contribute meaningfully to current conversations about climate change and other environmental issues. Furthermore, I hope that this site illustrates the benefit in addressing Shakespeare through unconventional, alternative methods by transcending, but not ignoring, traditional interpretations and presentations.


As I mentioned, this site tackles Shakespeare through a variety of analytical styles. Although the site exists more or less as a blog in terms of format, most entries reflect greater consideration than a casual blog post. The entries include a paper, an infographic, a presentation, a digital edition that includes a glossed text, and a handful of blog posts.

This variety of techniques challenged me to step out of the conventional rhetorical frame that most English classes operate within. I saw how analysis could occur and develop without thesis statements or even words, at all. The most compelling explorations of Shakespeare leverage not only their content, but also their presentation.

The first short paper, covering The Tempest, provided an opportunity to gain footing not only with writing about Shakespeare, but also with working through the diversity of interpretive modes within Shakespeare studies. In the paper, I examined an essay by Ingo Berensmeyer that advocates for “media ecology,” or the potential for a work like The Tempest to function across many mediums and generations due to its emphasis on fundamental, unchanging human drives and concerns. The essay, a familiar format, offered a chance to grapple with new ideas surrounding Shakespeare studies within a comfortable medium.

The next assignment tugged at my fledgling artistic sensibilities. Using Piktochart, I created an infographic that examined Shakespeare’s use of insults and, more broadly, the uniquely volatile character of vernacular language. The assignment developed my eye for design. I was challenged to consider what my viewers would think, where they would look first, in what sequence they would read through the graphic. Unlike in writing a paper, I thought acutely about how my work would be interpreted rather than merely developing an argument.

This newfound awareness of the reader carried over to my “Digital Edition,” an assignment that argued for the parallel between the ingratitude that King Lear’s daughters show toward their father in his final years, and the ingratitude that humans show toward our “mother” earth. I examine the strange phenomenon of caring for one’s original caretaker, or parent, as they grow older, and how this relates to the current need to care for the Earth. Again, I sidestepped the conventional frame of analysis and looked at both critical responses to King Lear and contemporary stagings of the play. It concludes with a close reading and glossed text of a passage from the First Quarto of the play.

My last assignment, a presentation of violence and power in Titus Andronicus, leveraged the power of images to convey the significance of violence. Although I kept it PG-13, the images nevertheless helped illustrate concepts like the commodification of human flesh, and the relationship between Saturninus and the Saturn of Roman mythology. This unconventional medium provided further evidence for the idea that Shakespearean analysis benefits from contemporary modes of presentation.


Going forward, I aim to apply the skills I’ve learned in this course when thinking through other contemporary problems. Climate change is not merely an isolated, recent issue; it is the manifestation of a hubris that began long ago, and that Shakespeare comments on frequently. I intend to explore how other classic texts and celebrated authors dealt with the human-nature dynamic, and how that can further inform today’s conversations.

Furthermore, this class has developed my research and presentation skills, which I will confidently carry over to law school one year from now. The diversity of both content and presentation that this course encouraged will help me to think through concepts and understand how older documents, like Supreme Court cases, can inform today’s issues. Law school frequently demands robust personal consideration of past attitudes and legal decisions. I am confident that this course has taught me to not only respect historical interpretations, but also formulate my own ideas within my position in contemporary society.

I have a newfound appreciation for mediums like visual renderings and slideshow presentations to convey ideas that are typically confined to an essay. Certain concepts, like violence, benefit from audiovisual enhancement. In the future, I will actively consider how new forms of media can supplant or complement conventional methods. This site mainly examines Shakespeare’s relation to contemporary environmental concerns—which is, after all, just one example of how the past can inform the present.

Image source.


Blog Post 6- Titus Andronicus

William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus utilizes stark and gruesome descriptions of horror and mayhem, while at the same time employing flowery language and beautiful portrayals of non-human entities, in order to juxtapose normal human agency with something beyond the ordinary. Cohen’s “Eleven Principles of the Elements” argues that readers can look to non-human assemblage to work through difficult texts and subjects; this is exactly what Titus Andronicus does. The text incorporates non-human agency in multiple different instances, including Act II, Scenes II-IV (most notably), Act IV, Scene I, and Act V, Scene III.

In Act II, Titus and the rest of the Romans go hunting with the newly incorporated Goths, including Tamora and her two sons. In this act, a conglomerate of non-human pieces come together to create an assemblage which takes on agency and changes the course of the play. For example, scene II begins this assemblage with the loud ruckus horns and hounds barking, ready to begin the hunt. “And wake the emperor and his lovely bride/And rouse the prince and ring a hunter’s peal/That all the court may echo with the noise” (I.II.—). Here, the noise takes on an agency of its own and does more than just wake everybody in the camp up; it ignites the intense emotions that have been simmering under the surface (seen in previous scenes, including Act I, Scene I, where Chiron and Demetrius argue due to lust). Titus’ line “That all the court may echo with the noise” can be read two ways; although he may mean to just say that the noise is so loud that the whole entire camp can hear it, he inadvertently also states that he hopes the court “echos” the noise the non-human assemblage has created. What seem to be innocuous sounds actually take on their own meaning and power, starting the downwards spiral of murder and mayhem.

This assemblage continues in Scene III, where Tamora asks Aaron to sit with her under the trees and ignore the hunt in order to spend time with each other. She states “The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun/The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind/And make a chequer’d shadow on the ground/Under their sweet shade, Aaron, let us sit” (II.III.—). Here, the forest has taken on a cheerful, positive aura, trying to stop or overthrow the negativity coming from the camp. It is so nice and joyful that even Tamora, who has been bathed in pain and suffering, asks to discontinue her anger in order to enjoy the upbeat assemblage the forest creates. Indeed, according to Cohen, the forest here might even use its assemblage and action to create “ethics of care”; it recognizes the swelling evil coming from the camp’s assembly, and tries to compensate to stop the mayhem from occurring. This positivity might have worked, if Lavinia and Bassanius had not met with Tamora and Aaron. Once the arguing begins, there is no turning back. The forest then rapidly transforms to a place of hope and brightness into darkness; the hole that Chiron and Demetrius make swallows up both the living and the dead. In Scene IV, the assemblage of the forest incorporates Lavinia’s used body into the forest; she becomes inhuman when “stern ungentle hands/Have lopp’d and hew’d and made thy body bare/Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments” (II.IV). Because the elements are already inside of Lavinia (“storied matter”, Cohen), and she has now been changed into a symbolic tree, her pain is incorporated into the forest in order to alleviate her suffering alone, and because the elements are already inside of her (“storied matter”, Cohen).

Other examples of non-human assemblage are in Act IV, Scene I, where the book and the garden’s ground help tell Lavinia’s stories with her and take agency to create changes in the play’s future, and in Act V, Scene III, where Lavinia’s, Chiron’s and Demetrius’ dead bodies become an assembly with agency that propels the play to it’s end. No matter the specific example of what the assemblage is, whether it is the forest, the garden, or the dead, Titus is rife with non-human assemblage. The agency these assemblages take on help move the play in specific directions, and allow readers to recognize that although non-human objects seem inanimate or just a commodity, they are indeed living and an active part in the world (Cohen’s Resourcism).

Full Circle. 3 Dec.

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House Keeping

Final Blog Post: If you have any WordPress/technical questions, post them in you final post, so if I can’t answer them in class, I can answer them in the comment section of your site when I read them next week.

“Eleven Principles of the Elements”


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Key Term Definition
Resourcism For Cohen, dominant model that guides how human relationship to animate and inanimate nonhuman world. Human as exceptional creative, living, active force that exploits and manufactures insensible, inert, matter into things: “We seek an elemental Ecocriticism that discovers in imaginative and critical texts a lush archive for thinking ecology anew. We believe attending to matter and writing against the reduction of world to commodity (resource, energy) is a powerful aid to activism” (4).
Assemblage Shakespeare, and his friends and influences, offer modern readers a glimpse of a road not taken. So instead of conceiving of human agency as unidirectional (subjects effect object and are never, int turn, effected because how could they be?), what if, like Empedocles and Margaret Cavendish, we imagine congregational models? So instead of resourcism and all its troubles, culture/nature has shape, is meaningful, and effects change in dense, accidental clusters of of human and nonhuman things across which agency is dispersed. Remember how Lavinia’s mangled body and Marcus’ response to her shows agency as cooperative, and not unilateral.
Elemental Ecocriticism Transhistorical; congregational alternative to resourcism; offers a counter narrative to crisis; and intimate.  Foundational idea, elements are active agents: “Because they are smaller than gods and larger than atoms–not theological or metaphysical, not only the unseen stuff of physics’ elegant equations earth, air, fire and water, alone and their promiscuous combinations, function within a humanly knowable scale while extending an irresistible invitation to inhuman relations” (6). Think Lear and the Storm, or the castaways and the tempest. 
“Storied Matter” Are the elements really outside forces? What are houses and intimate things made of, not to mention our own bodies? “Material Affinity unites the elemental cosmos and the little universe that is the human [body of state/body of man–consult every Shakespeare play ever], and intimacy rather than an invitation to dominance, an ingress for human knowing of world that would otherwise exceed. Strategic anthropomorphism is allied  with the elements, and its goal is to decenter the human from its accustomed universal midpoint” (11). 
Ethics of Care Elemental activity (floods, fires, or moss growing on a mailbox) happens b/c the elements chose out of desire for those things to happen: “Elements are finite: bounded and, in their conjoined state, quite mortal. But finitude does not entail compliance, does not mean that do not yearn extension (the force of love) or the breaking of confines in the hope of ardent fragments (strife)” (9). Seems either too childish/whimsical, or crazy, till we check back in with the ideas that open the essay–assemblage, unidirectional agency, or what Aliamo called Trans-Coporeality. If human and nonhuman things are all of a piece across which agency is dispersed then its not so strange to say that moss desires light or water longs to reach past its boundaries. Elements always-already inside.
So What? Instead of asking, “what steps should we take to avoid or prevent disasters…ask where we, as collectives, are going; what assembleges are being made; what futures are yet to be made in the twenty-first century?” (14).

Presenters: Angeline, Shamala, & Hannah P.

To help focus the Q&A, at the conclusion of the presentation please take five minutes and respond to the following questions:
  • 1. Briefly summarize the topic and/or arguments made by 2 of the presenters and list a few point of overlap.
  • 2. Draft one discussion question. 
  • 3. Locate at least one passage from Titus that was discussed in the presentation. OR locate a passage that you think will help presenters and the audience better understand claims made. Be prepared to cite the passage in discussion.

 

Humans and Animals

Titus Andronicus suggests that humans, regardless of their preconceived notions of civilization, are no more refined than animals. The play’s numerous references to animals and hunting draw many parallels between the humans and the predators. The characters of the play are constantly showing animalistic tendencies. The predators, Chiron and Demetrius, prey on the chaste Lavinia. Tamora is often referred to as a “tiger” (2.3.7) and Aaron as an “inhuman dog” (5.3.14). The constant violence and perceived barbarism between the Romans and the Goths are what relegates them from civil prominence.

The lack of divide between humans and animals becomes apparent in the following passage.

“Suffer thy brother Marcus to inter

His noble nephew here in virtue’s nest,

That died in honour and Lavinia’s cause.

Thou art a Roman; be not barbarous:

The Greeks upon advice did bury Ajax

That slew himself; and wise Laertes’ son

Did graciously plead for his funerals:

Let not young Mutius, then, that was thy joy

Be barr’d his entrance here.” (1.1.419-427)

 

In this quotation, Marcus intervenes when Titus refuses to bury his son (that he only just slew) with the honor of his house. He emphasizes a particular distinction in his speech: “Thou art a Roman; be not barbarous” (1.1.422). In Marcus’ eyes (and Titus’ for that matter), Rome is antonymous with barbarism. Rome is the ideal, the civilized, and anything other than Rome is less than that, on par with animals and beasts. Marcus then goes on to make a specific reference to mythological Greek figures in the play Ajax by Sophocles. In this play, the hero Ajax is found impaled on his sword from the cowardly act of suicide. The remaining characters debate what to do with Ajax’s body as it is not right to bury it. Then Odysseus, “wise Laertes’ son” and the sworn enemy of Ajax, steps in and convinces the others to bury Ajax’s body. He proves that he is noble because he respects his valiant enemy, even in death. Marcus similarly tries to convince Titus that the noble and honorable way to show respect for Mutius is to bury him with his ancestors.

However, Marcus’ persuasion and allusion to Greek tragedy remains ironic in terms of Titus’ behavior. Marcus casts a positive and noble light on the Romans and expects Titus to act with respect and valor, yet Titus just slew his own son and refused to bury his body, which was considered savage in Roman society. In this example, Titus shows the same barbarism in his actions that he condemns in the Goths.

 

Regardless of status and identity, the characters in Titus Andronicus show on multiple levels their savagery and barbarism. As each side condemns the other, Shakespeare makes a point of showing that human nature is not above animal nature.

Representation. 19 November.

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Recap

Excellent work on the presentations Kira, Kelsey, Thomas, and Isabelle & nice work on the discussion that followed everyone else. I learned a lot, and the following themes, images, questions on Titus that you all provoked stand out:

  • RSC, 2012

    Barbarism. Kira, “absence of culture, antonym for citizen,” as well as an Onomatopoeia of “bar, bar” or the crude, meaningless phonemes of non Greek speakers. Who gets to decide what language is meaningful and what language is meaningless? The play has a lot of fun answering that question. Consider the following as just some examples of sounds that compete on stage for the audience’s attention: Persuasive, formal rhetoric & blessing/cursing; “the common voice” (1.1.20); hunter’s peal” (2.2.15); Discord in the woods: “The woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull” (2.1.127) & “Aaron, let us sit,/And whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds,/Replying shrilly to the well-tuned horns/As if a double hunt were heard at once” (2.318-20); and, as Hannah shared with us, Lavinia gets to say “O” eight times in 2.3. How does all the racket contrast (or establish the possibility) for Lavinia’s silence? Also, what does Shakespeare say with blood that he cannot say with words?

  • Objectification. Isabelle argued, persuasively, that even though it seems as if Lavinia is converted from a person to a thing in the woods, she was objectified well in advance of her assault (Ex: “Gracious Lavinia, Rome’s rich ornament” (1.1.53).) Thomas pointed us to appeal to “womanhood” (2.3.180) that Lavinia makes to persuade Tamora to spare her. How does this scene compare to other scenes between women have we seen so far this semester? How does the scene compare to other courtroom/trial sequences we have seen in other plays and in other scenes in Titus? Are the women the raw materials of the civilization the play stages (RE: Jeffery Cohen’s “resources” that Thomas pointed us to) 
  • Heroines. Even though Titus’ name is on the book cover, can we (should we) read Tamora and Lavinia as the central figures? Is Tamora a revenger (refer to Kelsey’s helpful checklist)? Is Lavinia a tragic hero? What sorts of mistakes do they make and are they ever able to take responsibility for those mistakes? What sorts of rulers are they? 
  • Horror. Why do audiences, from Rome to the present, like to watch bloody, violence spectacles? Is is the play interested in the difference between watching a real violence (Ex:Roman coliseum where lions rip up people, mastiffs tearing up a bear, or public executions) and a play that represents these events? After the presentations, we might want to turn to Marcus’s reaction to Lavinia to think these about real v. representation.

 

Presenters: Chan, Bailey, June, Tony

To help focus the Q&A, at the conclusion of the presentation please take five minutes and respond to the following questions:
  • 1. Briefly summarize the topic and/or arguments made by 2 of the presenters.
  • 2. What two slides, from any of the presentations, did you find most effective and why?
  • 3. List a few points that the presentations have in common. What’s surprising about the overlap?
  • 4. Draft one discussion question.

Hands

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Take five minutes to respond to the following:

What strategies does Titus Andronicus provide audiences for processing trauma or overcoming grief?

Hands: One Place to Look

The word hand(s) occurs 58 times in Titus Andronicus & 36 times in act 3.What purpose does the repetition of hand(s) serve in this scene or throughout the play? Why does Titus cut off his hand? Are the hands more than just props in this scene?

 

RQ: Titus, Act 2-3 (Trigger Warning)

CroppedBrutus-u-Lucretia

Please note that Titus Andronicus Act 2 stages sexual violence. How does Shakespeare’s adaptation of Ovid and the response the it illicit in audiences compare to complaints made by students in Literature & Humanities courses Columbia. One student wrote, “the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text.” I aim to read the text within an ecocritical or ecofeminist tradition that argues objectification and violence sexual assault is always a part of what Jeffrey Cohen calls “resourcism.” Also, why does Shakespeare ask audiences to witness such spectacular violence?

How do these movie and stage production posters figure the violence at the heart of this play?

Act 2

In Wells’ note to Aaron’s entrance at 2.1, he explains, “In F he is directed to enter alone after an inappropriate ‘fourish,’ transferred from the preceding stage directions in Q1, where it accompanies the Emperor’s departure” (n.2.1.1 p.106). What if the direction is not a mistake? Or, how should we read Aaron as a king?

What sorts of metaphors does Aaron use to describe Tamora and his rise to power? Do the metaphors remind you of others we have seen so far this semester? What are Aaron’s plans?

What motivates the conjunction of martial and sexual violence in 2.1 and throughout the play? Do Chiron and Demitrius threaten Lavinia’s chastity because they are Goths, outsiders? Or, is there something inside Rome that motivates their violence?

Though the rape of Lavinia inherits the stories of Lucretia from Virgil and Philomela from Ovid, why does Shakespeare’s version of the story happen outside? Why is the forest, “Fitted by kind for rape and villainy” (2.1.117) according to Aaron?

So far this semester we have seen several instances of characters traveling from courts into “nature.” How does the the “into the woods” sequence in Titus compare to The Tempest or King Lear?

Compare Tamora’s two descriptions of the forest (2.3.10-30) to her other description of the forest (2.3.101-110). What accounts for the change?

What’s Aaron’s plan?

What sorts of appeals does Lavinia make to Tamora? Why does Tamora refuse to relent?

What metaphorical work does the pit in act 2 perform?

Why do Chiron and Demetrius mutilate Lavinia?

How does Marcus respond to Lavina’s deformity (2.4.1-55). Does Marcus ease her suffering? Does he ease the audiences’ suffering?

Why does Shakespeare ask audiences to witness such spectacular violence? Why bring it out in the open?