RQ: Titus Act 1 & Cohen


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Eleven Principles of the Elements”

With what sorts of rhetorical gestures does Cohen begin his Introduction? Are they similar or different to the gestures we have seen so far this semester? How does he incorporate the visual to enable his audience to better understand his claims?

What do are all the “vortex” images (cyclones, chemical trails, garbage swirling in the sea, hurricanes, polar vortex, Charybdis, etc) supposed to transmit? What do they help readers to conceptualize?

What sorts of words/worlds do the spirals generate?

How are all the swirls an “ecopoetics.” Not the subject of poetics or studies, but authors who themselves inscribe a language we read?

Summarize Cohen’s reading of Empedocles: In Empedocles we find a useful hypothesis to explain the world in motion. Cohen explains that according to Empedocles, “all matter consists of four elements in shifting combinations: earth, air, fire, and water. Held together by chains of love [philia], pulled together through endemic strife [neikos], these primal “roots” [rizomata] are enduring and unstill” (2). Through the ceaseless intermingling of these elements, i.e. the “shifting combinations,” compose the world, nature, and all the things in it. Cohen invites this thought experiment: set the unseen, or unseeable “elemental strife” of Empedocles’ hypothesis to the series of swirling, turning images. Like choreography set to music: “Through the push-pull of philia and niekos the cosmos begins to whirl, assuming in this movement its distinctive vorticular form” (3).

What sorts of thinking about matter does the “helicoid” make possible? Why is it such a fit illustration of classical theory of materiality and/or the sort of material thinking in which characters in Shakespeare’s plays often engage? 

Think about ways in which Titus exemplifies a path not taken. What if the modern world, a world mostly given over to the notion that nature is the raw materials of culture (resourcsim), decided to adapt some lost strands of thinking that in Shakespeare’s tragedy? Develop the prompt above through one of the following: what could Cohen’s notion of “ethics of care” bring a reading of Marcus’ response to Lavinia Titus 2.4.11-60? OR how Cohen’s conceptual model of the assemblage help you explain Titus’ vindicatory speech at 5.2.166-208?

For full credit respond to the above in at least 800 words; with a clearly articulated claim developed through at least one closely read in-text citation from Titus and one from Cohen’s “Eleven Principles of the Elements.”

What’s the goal of elemental ecocriticism: “Our collaborations stage inventive re-encounters with historical frames that powerfully foreground worldly activity and material agency, the limits of anthropocentricity, and the intimacy of narrative making to ethics. We seek an elemental ecocriticism that discovers in imaginative and critical texts a lush archive for thinking ecology anew. We believe that attending to matter and writing against the reduction of the world to commodity (resource, energy) is a powerful aid to activism” (3).

“How did we forget that matter is a precarious system and dynamic entity, not a reservoir of tractable commodities?” (4) How do humans figure in the “relentless objectification” of nonhuman things?

What does he mean when he says, “there is no out-to where things are sourced, but always a wherein, with whom, wherefore” (4)?

In the logic of “relentless objectification” or “resourcism,” what agency is left to earth, air, fire, and water? Why is cataclysmic agency or no agency at all a dangerous environmental model?

What if the elements are more than a threat? What does he mean by environmental agentism? How does treating nature as an “unlooked for partner” harken back to Donna Haraway and “Companion Species”?

Act 1

O what are Saturninus and Bassianus attempting to persuade the audience when the play first opens? How does Marcus solve the problem?

According to Marcus, what are Titus’ qualifications (1.1.23-45)? To whom does he appeal? What sorts of rhetorical appeals does he make? What are some specific characteristics of his speech, here and throughout, that make him effective?

Why does Marcus stress the fact that Titus is an outsider, “A nobler man, a braver warrior/Lives not this day within the city walls” (1.1.24)?

Remember when King Lear began, and I asked, “Are the kingdoms in Lear already divided prior to his decision”? Similarly, is Rome already savage? Why is the play so invested on showing how barbarism comes from the inside?

Compare the three elaborate entrances in Titus Andronicus‘s first act. What changes from (SD1.1.1); (SD1.1.69); 1.1.402)?

Why does Titus sacrifice Tamora’s son Alarbus? What is he afraid will happen if he doesn’t sacrifce Alarbus? What does Tamora say will happen if he does? Which of the two is correct? Is the sacrifice the choice the precipitates the tragic action of the play?

How does the tomb figure as a living thing that is also capable of granting life in Titus’ address (1.1.89-95)?

What other sorts of nonhuman things seem to come to life in the first act, ex: “fame” (1.1.158); “Rome” (esp., 1.1.168); and classical gods?

How does Tamora respond to Titus’ murder/sacrifice of her sons?

Why does Titus reject the offer, made by his brother Marcus on behalf of the “people of Rome”(1.1.179) to be “candidatus” (1.1.186)? Why does he allow his daughter to be

Is what follows, i.e. a sort-of civil strife, the consequence of Titus’ decision? OR, would the fight between the two factions, Saturninus (& Goths) on the one hand and Bassianus (& Andronici) on the other, have happened regardless?

Does Lavina ever have a chance for a life that isn’t just terrible suffering? What does Lavina communicate to the audience that words cannot? Compare her to the storm in Lear.

Why does Saturninus marry Tamora? Does he make a solid decision there? What sort of leader is Saturninus?

Why does Titus kill Mutius (1.1.340)?  What sort of appeals does his family make that forces Titus to eventually relent and allow Mutius to be buried in the family tomb (1.1.340-390)?

How can you tell the difference between Rome and a tomb?

The first mention of “Rape” comes near the end of act one, when Saturninus, “Traitor, if Rome have law or we power,/Thou and thy faction shall repent this rape” (1.1.403-5)? What does the term mean in this context and how does it foreshadow what’s to come?

How does Tamora establish the revenge plot? What transformed her into a Roman?


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