Thave chosen to close read Act V, Scene iii as I believe it is the most significant scene in the play. The language forms, thematical inclusions and possibilities for staging all add to its importance. Titus Andronicus is often called “Shakespeare’s bloodiest spectacle” and this is one of the most gruesome conclusions written. The scene in question is the moment when everyone is together at Titus’s Roman palace. While everyone is eating he kills his daughter after she’s been ‘tainted with the rape, he then tells Tamora her two sons have been baked into the pie they are eating.
Titus then kills her, Saturnius slays Titus and Lucius murders Saturnius, making him the Emperor of Rome. The significance of this scene originates from the dreadful past events. Titus is an example of this as he’s crazy due to the actions, shown by him putting Chiron and Demetrius into the pie, which he planned so mother Tamora would eat from. “Why, there they are both, baked in that pie; whereof their mother daintily hath fed. (5. 3. 60)” This act causes retaliation through Saturnius who kills Titus but not before saying “Die, frantic wretch, for this accursed deed! (5. . 64)” This is a noteworthy statement as you can read into Titus’s current state through Saturnius’s words. He calls him a “frantic wretch” before killing him. The Oxford Dictionary has ‘frantic’ defined as lunatic’ and ‘insane’ while ‘wretch’ is defined as someone in ‘exile’. This is said as Titus is never himself once Lavinia is raped.
In this scene he is the antithesis to the traditional, Senecan hero he is before this passage. After Titus is killed, Lucius avenges him saying “can the son’s eye behold his father bleed? There’s meed for meed, death for a deadly deed! 5. 3. 66)” In this quotation I think Lucius explores the theme of families and loyalty, as his bond with Titus wasn’t strong after the way his father treated Lavinia when she ran away with Bassianus. He still, however, defends his honour and states that it isn’t in Roman family tradition for a son to see his father killed. “Can the son’s eye behold his father bleed? ” He shows his form of justice by killing Saturnius, “meed for meed” is the exchange of labour for wages as an example, effectively an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality.
Due to everyone adopting that strategy from the start it leaves Lucius alone, with everyone else dead for one a blade. This is similar throughout Greek tragedies, such as Euripides’ Medea, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Seneca’s Thyestes. This scene has some of Titus Andronicus’s most dominant themes such as revenge and honour. The first inclusion of revenge begins with Titus killing Alarbus, this leads to a domino effect of egregious acts such as the rape of Lavinia and the murder of Chiron and Demetrius. Revenge is a critical theme as it ultimately leads Titus to his death.
He is shown throughout the play to focus on revenge, such as in act III when he proclaims “If they did kill thy husband, then be joyful because the law hath ta’en revenge on them. (3. 1. 121)” By him putting revenge and the law together it gives the audience an idea of how much he values the regulation and how sacrosanct he finds punishment. It is something that affects all the characters, but in Titus specifically. He is the one most heavily afflicted as him being a Senecan hero, he pursues revenge until the end, and dies in the process.
Honour is another important theme throughout the play but is particularly critical to act V, it is mentioned 46 times throughout the play and seems to be more significant than anything to the characters. The key moment in act V scene iii where honour is seen is when Lavinia is killed by her father Titus. He believes she is tainted and has no honour or reputation left after her rape. In his own words she was “enforced, stain’d, and deflower’d. (5. 3. 43)” after the attack. He says just before he kills her “Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee. (5. 3. 52)” showing that honour, reputation and image as more important than anything, even his own daughter. At first Titus is viewed as the impeccable citizen for his adherence to institution, but by the end of the play he is viewed as having a wicked, cold adherence to the same customs, the same customs that lead to his enemies taking action against him.
An astute addition of honour can be seen when Lucius takes vengeance on his father’s killer. As said by Anthony Brian Taylor in his essay Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus “A deeply flawed Roman, Lucius is his father’s son, and as such, a fascinating extension of the play’s central theme. The staging of the scene is widely considered as one of the quickest and most riveting of Shakespeare’s works. According to critic Lyn Gardner “this is not just a splatter fest. Its savagery is always disturbing. ” The Globes production of Titus Andronicus contains fake blood, limbs, horrifying yells and the breaks the 4th wall of the theatre by having said items thrown into the audience, adding to the enthralling nature of scene V.
The significant features one should focus on when staging scene V are the facial features of the characters, such as the shock and disgust from Tamora when she is told by Titus “there they are both, baked in that pie” to Lucius when he yells “death for a deadly deed”. During the paralinguistic feature of Lucius and Marcus walking up to the balcony leaving the violence and death, I would portray it in a way where the two morally good people leave a broken and dysfunctional way of life.
Throughout the play the audience sees a transformation of Lucius from naive youth to mindful leader, so it would add to that narrative and would cap off scene V in a suggestive way. There is an inclusion of ghoulish humour from Shakespeare at the beginning of act V scene iii through the feature of Titus entering the stage “dressed as a cook”. This is an immense contrast to the dark moments of rape, mutilation, murder but is also amusingly clever due to the audience knowing what he did with the remains of Chiron and Demetrius. Shakespeare includes other moments of humour when at the end of the scene Marcus talks about Rome being “broken imbs. ” (5. 3. 73).
It is ironic that he is stood among dead bodies and appendages. This dramatic irony adds to the entertaining factor of the play and the scene. Shakespeare also utilises puns in act V scene ii when Titus says “Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust and with your blood and it I’ll make a paste, and of the paste a coffin I will rear and make two pasties of your shameful heads. ” (5. 2. 202). The humour comes in the way that he plays on the word ‘coffin’, as it means both a place of burial in modern day but also during Shakespeare’s time it was a type of pie crust according to ‘What’s Cooking America’.
Titus Andronicus is written in a variety of styles and act V scene ili encapsulates this, as Shakespeare uses a blend of verse and prose, and in typical Shakespeare plays the upper-echelons of society tend to use iambic pentameter of blank verse whereas the lower-class of people speak in plain prose. An example of this is when Tamora asks “Why hast thou slain thine only daughter thus? ” (5. 3. 61). Titus replies “not l; t’was Chiron and Demetrius, they ravish’d her, and cut away her tongue; and they, t’was they, that did her all this wrong” (5. 3. 62).
Overall I believe this scene to be the pinnacle of the play in terms of significance and relevance, as it has the obvious bloodshed and violence but is also the moment where the thematical side of the play comes to light. It encapsulates all the revenge through the vengeful murders, it highlights the importance of honour in the play, and what reputation means in a Roman society. It is also the scene where the theatre has the most space for innovation and opportunity to immerse the audience through the violence but also the evocative moment in which Lucius takes the reigns over the Roman Empire.