Close Reading of Shakespeare Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3005 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Ovid in Shakespeare's Titus

Titus was Shakespeare's first play and it is evident that the fledgling author was affected by the Tereus, Procne, and Philomela story in Ovid's metamorphosis (Book Six) since he replicates the theme almost exactly.

In Book Six in Metamorphosis, Ovid tells the tale of the married Tereus lusting after Philomela, his wife's sister, raping her in a hideout on the pretext of transporting her to meet her sister, tearing out her tongue, and then keeping her secluded in that hideout on a Thrycian isle. Constrained to communicate her woe to her sister with creative means, Philomela weaves her tale into cloth ("deep purple on a white background" (830)) and sends it via her slave to her sister. Overcome with fraternal love, Procne, her sister, kills and cooks her son and hands him in broth to Tereus to eat. When Tereus asks to see Itys, the boy, Procne "unable to hide her savage joy; and eager now to be the bearer of misfortune" (950), cries "the one that you are seeking is within" When Tereus finally comprehends, he chases Procne and Philomela attempting to kill them, but the gods transform all into hapless birds.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Close Reading of Shakespeare's Assignment

The key theme of Shakespeare's Titus Androconus is similar in content. Titus, triumphant general, has sacrificed the son of one of his captives, Tamora a Goth, as gift for the gods, which makes Tamora determined to avenge her family. The story starts off with conflict over the hand of Lavinia. Lavinia wishes to stay with Bassianus; her father forces her to marry his selected king, Saturninus; Demetrius and Chiron the two sons of Tamora wish to rape Lavinia; and Aaron the Moor, consort of Tamora, abets them by arranging that Bassianus should be killed and the sons, consequently, (Tamora fully consenting) have liberty to complete their fiendish designs, following which they mutilate Lavinia by cutting off her hands and removing her tongue. Here, the story diverges from that of Ovid's by recounting a spiral of revenge and deception where Aaron frames the sons of Titus for the murder of Bassianus; where Martius and Quintus are consequently executed by the Emperor; where Marcus, Titus brother discovers and liberates Lavinia; where under false pretensions Aaron has Titus cut off his hand in exchange for what he believes is the liberty of his sons; and when Titus discovers their death he raises an army prepared to fight Rome.

Here the narrative, again with divergences of savagery and murder in its midst, rejoins the Tereus saga with Lavinia's creative attempt to reveal the names of her murders. Titus exacts his revenge by killing Chiron and Demetrius, and then, with the aid of Lavinia (as, too, did Philomelus help her sister) cooks them in a pie for their mother, Tamora. Titus then kills his daughter, reveals the entire plot to the Emperor, is killed himself by the Emperor, and the story again diverges from Ovid's Tereus saga by the fact that the key protagonists, rather than being saved by being transformed into an alternate sort of creature, endure all sorts of deaths at the hands of a varying panoply of people. Lucius, the remaining son of Titus, is the only one who survives.

Essentially, the only similarities between these two stories are the core of the tale: the rape of the maiden; the cutting out of her tongue (and in Lavinia's case her arms too); the creative endeavor and success of the girl in revealing her story; the consequent revenge of sister in Philomela's case and father in Titus' case of avenging the loss of maidenly honor; and, in both cases, the revenge assuming a similar form: their sons of either violator (or abettor of violation as regards Tamora) were cooked and then fed to the wrongdoer.

Even though the motif is similar, the compositional style in the recounting of the story is, undoubtedly, different in essential forms such as in structural and stylistic content.

Firstly, Ovid's structural style assumes the form of an omnipresent narrative. As transcendental and apparent objective narrator, he informs how Tereus first saw Philomelus and "caught fire as instantly as ripe grain or dry leaves" (650). Using a rhetoric tack, he then penetrates Tereus' mind and vivifies Tereus' conundrum:

What track to take here? Bribe her attendants? / Make this way to her though her faithful nurse? Seduce the girl with rare and precious gifts, / even at the cost of his whole kingdom? / or seize her and defend his theft with warfare? / (660-670).

The narrator goes on to describe how Philomelus herself made this task easier for Tereus by her gestures, and employing different techniques of, at times, creeping into one of the character's mind and, at other times, assessing the character's judgments and actions from an omniscient presence, the narrator gives us a compelling description of the key events of the story. So compelling is this description, in fact, that Anderson (1997) opined that Metamorphoses has "direct, obvious and powerful affinities with contemporary reality." (Ibid, xxx), and had this to say about the plot:

[Its imagers] offer a mythical key to most to the more extreme forms of human behavior and suffering, especially ones we think of a particularly modern: holocaust, plague, sexual harassment, rape, incest, seduction, pollution, sex-change, suicide, hetero -- and homosexual love, torture, war, child-battering, depression and intoxication form the bulk of themes. (Anderson, 1997, 18).

Unlike Shakespeare (and Shakespeare had a chorus employ an omniscient slant in some of his later writings but not in Titus), Ovid does not refrain from castigating his subject. He describes Tererius' deeds as an 'outrage', calls him a 'tyrant' and, in another place, describes him as 'barbarian'. It is clear to us where the author's sympathy lies. Tereus is condemned. Procne, however, despite the savagery and unnaturalness of her deed (killing her affectionate son and then serving him as stew for his father) is portrayed in a more empathetic manner. Here the narrator goes into her mind and deliberates on her emotions and on the cruelty and complexity of her situation:

Her anger broke / and her unwilling eyes were suddenly full of hot tears that she could not control; / but as she felt her sense of purpose falter / out of an excess of maternal love, / she turned to look upon her sister's face, / and then turned back and forth between them wildly (900-910).

Ovid goes on to describe her internal roiling and then her resolution:

"And why does this one babble pleasantries, / while that one's silent? What has got her tongue? / How can it be that this one calls me mother, / while that one cannot call me sister? Look! / Your husband is the answer to this riddle, / unworthy daughter of royal Pandion! / the only crime against a man like this / is to behave with natural affection!" (910-920).

Shakespeare's structural style is different. Rather than narrative form, he has the characters lead along the story with successive dialogue, and he refrains from stepping outside the plot and commenting. (Although there are occasions when possibly he might do so in an indirect manner such as alluding to the Goths as goats.). The structural forms of Ovid's saga and Shakespeare's saga, though similar in motif, are totally different one to the other.

Tonal differences are also apparent. Though gory enough, Ovid is more subdued in its presentation of cruelty and overt gory than Shakespeare is in his description of the similar scenes. Ovid is more detached, while in Shakespeare the extravagance of brutality seems unabated. More so, Ovid has huamn goodness intermingled with bestiality. He paints the mutual affection between father and daughter when Prometheus bides her father farewell ("he kisses her goodbye / the ripe tears falling even as he speaks, / and makes the two of them join hands together / in pledge of faith, and begs them to remember / him to his absent daughter and her son." (730)). Later on, there is that powerful verse of Procne's conflict over killing her son. The deed is barbarous; the prose in which this deed is worked through is powerful in its beauty. Ovid possesses the gift of transforming evil -- even the greatest evil -- into beauty. Shakespeare's Titus on the other hand, has none of that. Unremitting in its pageant of rivalry and pillage, Shakespeare's tone is unremittingly grim to the end. As McDonald opines, he is "straightforward, blunt, and forceful" (McDonald, xli).

Ovid also injects his tale with cultural coloring. Every third year, he tells us, the Thracian women celebrate the rites of Bacchus and he describes how "Mount Rhodope is resonant with the disturbing sound of clashing cymbals" and how the queen "wraps her head in vines and drapes a deerskin / over her left shoulder" carrying a staff that the Bacchantes call the 'thysus'. Ovid even goes on to mark the exact ululations that the queen and her escort utter "Ulula!" And "Euhoy!" It… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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