Ovidian Allusions In Titus Andronicus

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“Fair Philomel, why she but lost her tongue…”: The Metamorphoses, Titus Andronicus and the Poetics of Transmutation “Soft! See how busily she turns the leaves! Help her: what would she find? Lavinia, shall I read? This is the tragic tale of Philomel, and treats of Tereus’ treason, and his rape; And rape, I fear, was root of thine annoy.” – Act IV, Scene I Act IV of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus revolves around the haunting image of Lavinia, recently raped and mutilated, who attempts to reveal the names of her perpetrators to her father and uncle. By guiding a staff in her mouth, she “print[s] [her] sorrows plain” in a “sandy plot”, revealing what Shakespeare’s audiences already know: Lavinia’s ravishment and cruel mutilation follows an …show more content…

It is significant that nearly every major character makes an allusion to one or more Ovidian myths, suggesting their awareness, as well as the audience’s familiarity, with Ovid’s texts. This is made most obvious with Titus’ declaration of revenge, in which he invokes an Ovidian narrative, “For worse than Philomel you used my daughter, and worse than Procne I will be revenged” (Act V, Scene II). The characters are strangely and unnervingly aware that their lives are constructed and defined by Ovidian principles. Moreover, the characters employ the model of the Metamorphoses as a basis of their actions. For instance, Aaron, the primary villain of Titus Andronicus who first plants the machinations of Lavinia’s rape, instructs Tamora and her sons, “Philomel must lose her tongue today,” (Act II, Scene I). His words foreshadow the violation of Lavinia, demonstrating how his plot of revenge is, as Titus later claims, is “patterned by that the poet”, Ovid, “By nature made for murders and for rapes” (Act IV, Scene I). After Lavinia’s defilement and mutilation is complete, her rapists confirm their knowledge of the myth by confirming her transformation and identifying themselves with Tereus, “So, now go tell, and if thy tongue can speak, who ‘twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee” (Act II, …show more content…

Titus, after metamorphosing into Philomel’s avenger, channels his grief and rage into actions that parallel Procne’s violations upon her family. Just as Procne feeds the body of her son to her husband, Titus informs Demetrius and Chiron that he will do the same, vowing his intention to “martyr” them in the same manner as Itys, “This one hand yet is left to cut your throats, whiles that Lavinia ‘tween her stumps doth hold the basin that receives your guilty blood” (Act V, Scene II). Titus’ words invoke the mirror image of Procne and Philomel preparing Itys’ body for consumption, as both include scenes of them “Cutting the throat, and…cut[ting] up the body”. Like Titus, Procne and Philomel keep Itys “Still living, still keeping something of the spirit”, just as Titus requires Demetrius and Chiron to listen to his long, detailed monologue of their impending mutilation, and forces them to imagine the pollution of their mother’s body that will occur once she consumes their bodies. Just as Procne tricks her husband into partaking of a “terrible feast” (Humphries, 151), Titus conducts a grotesque banquet in which Tamora unknowingly devours her sons. The scene concludes with a viciously barbaric slaughter of nearly every character, the frenzy and chaos of the scene replicating the Bacchic fever in Ovid’s

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