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Posted on May 8th, 2012, by

The juxtaposition of “civilized” Rome with ”˜barbaric’ Goths

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare is a remarkable play that is focused on the relationships between people occupying the highest position in the ancient Roman society. In fact, the author skillfully depicts the struggle for the throne and plots of the court of the Roman emperor. However, probably the most striking is the depiction of the norms and standards of life of ancient Romans. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the attitude of the author to Rome is quite skeptical and it is possible to speak about certain juxtaposition of ancient Rome and Goths, which leads to quite paradoxical conclusion that, as the matter of fact, Rome is not so civilized as it is supposed to be, while barbaric Goths have their own values and understanding of such concepts as honor and morality.

In this respect, it should be said that basically the depiction of the ancient Roman society, namely its ruling elite, by William Shakespeare is quite skillful but, unlike many other works, the author views the life of this elite from inside, i.e. he attempts to depict the intrigues, problems, contradictions, plots that constituted an essential part of the life of the Roman Empire and his court. At the beginning of the play the traditional view on Rome as a civilized empire seems to be quite strong. In fact, the death of the Roman emperor, the Roman Senate elects a new emperor and the sons of the dead emperor, Saturninus and Bassianus agree to accept the decision of the Senate, even though it contradicts to their father’s will. In such a way, they demonstrate that they are really noble men, they respect traditions and the power of the Senate that was traditionally considered to be one of the major virtues in the ancient Roman society.

However, the newly selected emperor, Titus Andronicus, who actually was nominated the emperor for his long military service and devotedness to Rome and he really deserved this title, refuses to become the emperor of Rome in favor of the elder son of the dead emperor, i.e. in favor of Saturninus. In fact, it is probably from this point where the civilized face of Rome starts to change dramatically, when intrigues and internal conflicts grow more and more significant. In this respect, it should be said that Goths brought to Rome by Titus after the defeat and murder of the Gothic king take an active part in the plots and intrigues that overwhelmed the court of the Roman empire. Titus brough to Rome the wife of the murdered king, Tamora and her three sons, but the way Romans treated them are far from civilized. For instance, Romans sacrifice Alarbus, one of Tamora’s sons, to their gods. This means they simply slaughter him as an animal used for sacrifice.

In such a situation, Goths, namely Tamora and her two sons, Chiron and Demetrius, seem to be innocent victims of “civilized” Romans, instead of the traditional view on Goths as a wild, barbarian tribe. Moreover, the numerous harms civilized Rome brought to their tribe and to their family justify, to a significant extent, their further actions, their scheming against Romans and cruelties they commit in relation to them. However, even the terrible crime committed by Demetrius and Chiron, the rape of Titus’s daughter Lavinia, could be also partially justified by the fact that they loved her and could not control their feelings and instincts, being, by the way, inspired by Aaron, another “civilized” Roman who actually is the main schemer and adventurist in the play. As a result, they rape Lavinia, cut her hands and tongue of but leave her alive. Naturally, this act is absolutely inhuman and it is possible to understand Titus who curses them and exclaims: “O, villains! Chiron and Demetrius” (Shakespeare, 1998).

Moreover, the plots within the court of the Roman emperor are also severely punished and disobedience and intrigues against Saturninus, the Roman emperor, involving sons of Titus led to their execution. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that such a decision is also far from civilized and is quite barbaric since Titus cut off his hand in an attempt to save his sons’ lives but, instead received the hand and their heads back, that looks really shocking.

After that, the survived son of Titus has nothing but just say looking at the hand and heads:
Ah, that this sight should make so deep a wound and yet a detested life not shrink thereat! That ever death should let life bear his name, where life hath no more interest but to breathe (Shakespeare, 1998).

In such a situation, the acts of Goths are more civilized since they are motivated by revenge for the murder of their father and husband as well as for the defeat and invasion of their people, while revenge of Romans is really barbaric when Titus murders the “villains” and fed the emperor and their mother with their flesh.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the juxtaposition of the Roman “civilization” to Gothic “barbarism” reveals that these notions are irrelevant to real actions and lifestyle of both Romans and Goths.

The social function of children

The relationship of parents and children was traditionally the subject of a particular concern of many writers working at different epochs. In this respect, Shakespeare is not an exception and the relationship of parents and children occupies one of the central places in his Titus Andronicus. At the same time, the author depicts the extent to which parents want to shape, to condition their children in such a way that they met their ideal of a virtues and good person but, anyway, children remain of the paramount importance for all parents described by Shakespeare, including such a schemer as Aaron.

First of all, it should be said that children fulfill the role of subjects that parents want to shape in accordance with their own views and beliefs. They do not accept any independence of their children as long as it contradicts to their own vision of an ideal person. In this respect, it is possible to mention the terrible act of Titus when he killed his son, Mutius who opposed to his authority and assisted Lavinia to escape from her husband, Saturninus. In such a way, Titus demonstrates that he will not pardon the violation of principles and norms which he honors above all. This is why he kills his son because Mutius dishonored him. On the other hand, the question of honor plays a very important role in the revenge of Titus for the abuse of his daughter. To punish the abusers, Demetrius and Chiron, he invents a terrible plan of revenge because he is really shocked, abused, dishonored by their crime that is perfectly seen from his words concerning the act committed by Demetrius and Chiron:

Come, come Lavinia; look thy foes are bound”¦ O, villains, Chiron and Demetrius ! Here stands the spring whom you have stain’d with mud; This goodly summer with your winter mix’d. (Shakespeare, 1998).

At the same time, the life of children is the supreme value for parents in the play and practically all of them are ready to sacrifice themselves for their children’s sake. For instance, Titus cuts off his hand in an attempt to save the life of his sons, or else, Aaron reveals all his crimes to save his son, similarly Tamora plots against Romans in revenge for her murdered son.

Thus, Shakespeare reveals the extent to which children are important to their children, but, at the same time, he shows that parents may be tyrant in relation to their children if they do not meet their own views of an ideal person.

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