Revenge and Mercy in Titus Andronicus
Revenge, it was a common theme among the plays, and works of literature published during Shakespeare’s time. It is only natural that it would be a topic that the writer himself would touch on. While not his most well-known play dealing with revenge the Tragedy of Titus Andronicus was likely Shakespeare’s earliest delve into the realm of the “revenge tragedy”. While the central plot of Titus revolves around revenge, and much of the time it leaves the ready rooting for the Titus to get his retribution of the wrongs dealt to him by Aaron, Tamora and her brood; the themes that one is left with at the conclusion of the play’s last act is that perhaps this bloody carnal road to retribution taken by Titus was not the right way. In fact it could even be argued that Titus Andronicus is a cautionary tale, or parody, against vengeance and the violent nature of English culture at the time of its creation, because throughout the play the evils of revenge consume the characters and their dreams of retributions leads them all to their ultimate demise at the play’s conclusion. It is important to understand the common view of revenge that was held by the public during the time that Shakespeare constructed his works. The social climate at the time of Shakespeare was one that fully endorsed the idea of revenge. The political as well as religious structures of the time did not discard the vengeful mindset that was prevalent during the age. Many saw it as the right of the King or God to exact revenge for the wrongs of others; for they were believed to be the ones who had been caused the most offense. (1) With the eye for eye mentality held by society it is not hard to see why plays that depicted revenge were so popular. Shakespeare had a multitude of influences to draw upon for his revenge tragedies; both from social influences and the influences of other works revenge. One work that I see as a crucial influence to Shakespeare development of Titus is Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy The Jew of Malta. Similar to Titus Andronicus the Jew of Malta has revenge and retribution as a main driving influence of the plot. Barabus the “hero” of the play is dealt many wrongs by society both tangible and perceived and throughout the play his lust for vengeance for all that has been committed against him grows out of control. Barabus starts to take any action toward him as a slight and dismisses all notions of loyalty and friendship in his pursuit of vengeance. Barabus betrays the town of Malta to the Turks and then turns around and tries to betray the Turks by killing Calymath but is in turn betrayed by Ferenze and killed. (2) Barabus becomes so twisted and consumed by his desire for revenge that he causes his own death. This idea of revenge consuming a man is a clear influence on Shakespeare and Titus Andronicus but is instead amplified to an even greater extent. Shakespeare sees his contemporary’s idea of revenge as a driving influence of a Character and raises him creating a situation where the almost the entire cast of characters are consumed by revenge and righting the wrongs done to them. From Saturninus’ attempt revenge against his brother for challenging his rule by attempting to steal his bride to Tamora avenging her son’s death by tormenting Titus throughout the work, revenge was integral to much of the actions of many of the characters. Revenge was something that was not looked down upon in Elizabethan England. In fact it was something that was prayed for. To see the wrath of god come down upon the man that wronged you was the ultimate satisfaction. Exaction of revenge upon those who commit crimes against another man was God’s will and came in the most brutal and bloodiest of ways. The idea of mercy as it pertained to Christianity in the late sixteenth century, and early seventeenth century was for the most part set aside in favor of a more vengeful god(1). “The who sheddeth the...
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