On Bodies Politic, Mutilated, and Murdered in Titus Andronicus

Topics: William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Violence Pages: 4 (1449 words) Published: June 7, 2012
On bodies politic, mutilated, and murdered in Titus Andronicus Critics of the rise of violence on television today decry the images of murder, rape, abject violence, and even torture to which we are exposed. They reason that as we are subjected to more and more violent images we will necessarily become desensitized to them and even accepting of their place in our society. What then would these modern day critics think of the piles of corpses, body parts, and violent assaults on the human form that littered 16th century English stages performing William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus? Everything old is new again. The trope of violence to convey a message is not a recent invention. It is as old as the problems of society it means to criticize. And whether our frame is early Rome, renaissance England, or post 9/11 America the same problems of political unity, factions, revenge, and abject cruelty persist. In Titus, Shakespeare means for the graphic violence not to offend his crowds but to remind them that challenges to peaceful and prosperous societies will always persist if left unattended. The bodies and body parts of Titus seem omnipresent, as if someone is always about to lose a hand, a head, a tongue, or her life. Perhaps that’s because they are. The title character’s daughter, Lavinia, loses her tongue and both hands (along with her chaste purity) (II.3.sd) to cover up the rape visited upon her by Chiron and Demetrius. Titus gives his left hand in an attempt to spare the lives of his sons Quintus and Martius (III.1.192), only to receive their heads after their innocent conviction to death for the deeds of other brothers (III.1.237). Those six body parts join the allusion of the decapitation of Chiron and Demetrius (V.2.189) and the bodies of Tamora, Titus, and Saturninus that cover the stage in Act V to create a bloody and visceral image of the literal body. And all of that illustrates the dysfunction within the larger body politic of Rome that Shakespeare...
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