The two filicides

The two cycles of revenge dramatized in the play are triggered off by the sacrifice of Alabarbus, the eldest son of the Queen of Goths. in former (primitive) societies to prevent violence from breaking out. The assumption Girard starts from is similar to that formulated earlier on by Hobbes, namely that human beings are "naturally" violent and that unless special efforts are made people will involve in a total war of everybody against everybody. Sacrifice is meant to provide an outlet for violent desires and urges, to channel them away from targets, whose destruction would have disastrous effects upon the community, and to direct them towards objects that could be considered as expendable.(Girard, 20-21) According to Girard sacrifice was perceived as the "good violence", which can stop the "bad" one ( manifested as interminable cycles of revenge) from spreading. Sacrifice was the violence that healed, united and reconciled in opposition to the bad violence that corrupted, disintegrated and undifferentiated. (Girard, The 1991, 214)

If we adopt Girard's explanation, we cannot help wondering what is wrong with the act of sacrifice in Titus Andronicus . Why does it set off the decimating cycles of revenge and violence, which dismember the city of Rome? When discussing the sacrificial act that Brutus contemplates in Julius Caesar, Girard himself admits that sacrificial violence may be a precious but at the same time an extremely unstable and volatile substance. The difference between the two kinds of violence is "perishable and …whenever it is lost, sacrifice reverts to the bad violence of the crisis from which it came in the first place; it makes the crisis worse than if no sacrifice had been attempted".(Girard 1991, 214-215) This seems to be the case in Titus Andronicus as well as Julius Caesar.

Starting from Girard's definition of violence, we may first inquire in the violence that the sacrifice of Alabarbus was designed to appease in the beginning of the play. Lucius only mentions the demand of the shadows. Ghosts, however, play hardly any role in Shakespeare's first tragedy of revenge. Jonathan Bate points out that unlike Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy or Shakespeare's ater Hamlet, revenge is totally secularized in this play: it is not demanded or carried out by external, transcendental powers but it is altogether a human affair.(Bate, 86) Its source can be traced back to anxiety and fears of violence occasioned by the rivalry between Saturninus and Bassianus in a Rome that has been headless since the death of the former emperor, by the popular vote given in favour of Titus Andronicus, by the marching of the Goth prisoners in triumph through Rome. The act of sacrificing Alabarbus comes in response to this general state of mind though it does not overtly address any of these particular sources of tensions.

One of the conditions for the success of an act of sacrifice was, according to Girard, the choice of the victim. The latter was to belong to a marginal social and political category, such as that of foreigners, prisoners of war, handicapped people or even children. The victim was not supposed to have established strong bonds with the community, so that its death would not call for retaliatory actions. Alabarbus is a prisoner of war, albeit "the proudest" of them, being the successor to the throne. Therefore from the very beginning he is not a likely victim for the substitutional work of sacrifice, which is meant to channel violence away from its real target and direct it upon an object whose death cannot call for revenge or retaliatory actions. The wrong choice of sacrificial victim is evidenced by the device in the play that shifts characters belonging to a marginal category to the center and lets them participate in its power. Tamora, from a prisoner of war kneeling in the street for her son's life, becomes empress and is therefore in the position to revenge her son. Titus, on the other hand, turns powerless, marginalized and ignored.

The act of sacrifice is not performed in a truly religious spirit: Alabarbus's limbs are "hewed" and "lopped" indicating unacceptable viciousness and anger. Killing the son of the Goth queen seems to spring from objectionable feelings, such as an unappeased him even after he has capitulated. Tamora is well aware of these feelings when she describes the act as "slaughter in the streets" (1.1.115).

But is the act of sacrifice itself valorized positively as a necessary and curative procedure?

Henry Peecham's illustration of the play focuses upon Tamora kneeling and pleading for her son.[6] The figure of the queen stands out for both her seize (the kneeling queen is as big as Titus standing and holding a pole) and for the eloquence of her gesture, inspiring sympathy and pity. The drawing is thought to have served as an emblem for the play and testifies to the negative attitude Shakespeare's contemporaries had towards sacrifice. Tamora is given a choral role when she pleads for mercy, which is defined as "sweet nobility's badge". She is championing the values of Christian humanism, where mercy (the Christian caritas) along with justice is a chief component of true nobility and good governance.

Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?

Draw near them then in being merciful.

Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.

Thrice noble Titus, spare my first-born son (1.1.120-123)

Titus and his world seem to be oblivious of the importance of mercy and his conception of " religious piety" conspicuously ignores it. (The Latin term pietas refers to the ideal that encompasses familial love and respect. The sacrifice is made in the name of this love.) When Titus demands the sacrifice "religiously", Tamora rightfully considers this a perversion of moral and religious values and qualifies it as " cruel, irreligious piety". The oxymoronic terms stress the degradation of the Roman ideal of pietas into impietas.[7] The blood shed in the sacrifice does not have the expected purging effect, to the contrary it is contaminating. Tamora rightfully predicts that the sacrifice will "stain" Titus' tomb, which he defines as a "sweet cell of virtue and nobility", as it is the five-century-old repository of his family's honour. commands the audience's sympathy, she is identified with powerful classical figures such as Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy,[8] whereas Titus is defined as worse than a Scythian barbarian and so is Rome:

Chiron: Was never Scythia half so barbarous".

Demetrius: Oppose not Scythia to ambitious Rome" (1.1.134-135).

As Rome prided itself on not allowing human sacrifice, Alabarbus's death is the first sign that the city is becoming barbaric in its practices. The opposition between Tamora, the queen of the barbaric Goths, and Titus, the general of civilized Rome has collapsed. Now it is Tamora who voices the values of the civilized world.

The Goths are not simply the other to the civilized world; they stand for the Germanic people, whom the Elizabethans roughly regarded as their ancestors. Moreover, the Goths who conquered Rome in the fifth century were believed to have rejuvenated the decayed Roman Empire. The Protestants, not unlike the Goths, were thought to have injected healthy values and a new spiritual life in the corrupted empire of the Roman Catholic Church. The trope of translatio imperii, common in the Renaissance, further enabled Shakespeare's contemporaries to associate the Roman Empire with the empire Elizabeth was eager to set up. The Goths, therefore, were the very reverse of barbaric people.[9]

Once she has access to power, Tamora is strongly demonized and loses our sympathy, which veers towards Titus. Paternal values are privileged over the maternal ones. Titus repeats her gestures, both the physical act of kneeling in the street for the life of his two sons, and the rhetorical one of pleading to deaf ears. While Titus fully engages our feelings, Tamora's earlier claims are forgotten. "sacrilegious piety". It proves the decay from the high values that Titus, called "pious", used to embody. The barbaric act is performed right at the heart of Rome and marks the collapse of the basic oppositions between inside and outside, center and margin, between civilization and the barbarous world.[10]

Heather James has pointed out that Shakespeare's play goes beyond the deconstruction of this opposition and actually interrogates the founding myths of Rome that Virgil created in his epic. (Heather James, 53-54 ) "Barbarous" acts such as human sacrifice appear in Virgil's normative discourse as well. Aeneas, too, committed human sacrifice to appease the spirit of his dead son Paulus just as Titus kills Alabarbus "T'appease their groaning shadows that are gone" (1.1.129). The fact that Titus is called the pious, harks back to the "pious Aeneas" in Vergil's poem. Titus quotes passages from the Aeneid while preparing for the horrendous act of "hewing" and "lopping" Alabarbus's limbs. Violent sacrifice coexists, or rather is at the heart of ancient Roman piety.

Judged by the values of the Aeneid, Titus commits the act of utmost impietas when he kills his own son Mutius. The latter tried to obstruct his social ascension: "What villain boy, barr'st me my way in Rome? He kills him"(1.1.295). This filicide transgresses against a value that is most priced in Vergil, namely the love between father and son (pietas), embodied in the figure of Aeneas (hence called the pious), who leaves burning Troy carrying his father on his back and clasping his son's hand. The rehearsal of the founding discourse in Titus Andronicus amounts to a perversion of the Vergilian virtues. (Heather James, 53 ) Titus's excessive investment in traditional patriarchy and in the absolutist ideology is conducive to the decay from normative Roman values. The step between sacrificing the enemy's son and executing his own is a short one. Mention must be made of the fact that neither the sacrifice of Alabarbus nor the death of Mutius were mentioned in the sources that Shakespeare probably relied on.[11] Their introduction into the plot accounts for the different reading that Shakespeare wanted to give to his major character. Titus is not simply a victim. The first act firmly projects him as a tyrant both in the microcosm of domestic life and in the macrocosm of political life.


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