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English 314: Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus Reading Questions


As we come to the first of Shakespeares tragedies, we should think about the ways in which gender, power, and society are
(re)constructed and interrogated in Shakespeare's plays. Titus Andronicus presents a number of problems for the first time
reader, but class discussion and some secondary readings should help us to avoid total confusion.
Tragedy represents, for many readers and literary critics, the most complex and most detailed examination of human
suffering and morality. In tragedy, the nature of human being, of justice, and of tragic existence are put up for review and
discussion. While some readers focus on the nature of the tragic hero other readers look to the ways in which early
modern tragedy encodes early modern political and ideological warfare and offers further sites of contest, which they read
as fighting dominant political and gender ideologies. From traditional genre-based criticism to recent psychoanalytic,
marxist, and deconstructive forms of criticism, tragedy has proven to be one of the most popular forms of Shakespearean
drama.
Acts 1 & 2
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

How does Shakespeare construct the figures of Titus, Tamora, and Aaron? Are they noble figures? tragic
figures? some mixture of both? What discourses, images, terms, figures, etc. are deployed in the text to evoke
tragedy, excellence, and so forth?
How does Shakespeare contrast and compare these figures? What kinds of discourses and specific language is
used to create our sense of these figures as "characters" with depth and life?
How does the text interrogate the issue of justice? What discourses (textual allusions, etc.) does the play deploy to
create the audience's understanding of justice and the characters' relationship with it?
What are the symbolic relationships between Titus and Rome? between Titus and Tamora? What role does the
forest play in relation to these symbolic resonances?
How does race and ethnicity play a role in the symbolic and ethical meaning of the play and the character's
actions. Question one applies here as well.
What are the symbolic functions/meanings of violence, rape, murder, and war in this play?
How does Titus Andronicus respond to traditional humanist readings of tragedy, which focus on the individual
character or tragic hero and his flaw and eventual transformation? Conversely, how does the play respond to
materialist and political readings of tragedy, which focus on power, ideology, and inter-textuality in the plays?
How does Titus use blocking, camera work, and symbolism to engage the themes of the play/

Acts 3 & 4
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Consider how the text of the play contrasts Titus pleading for the release of his sons to the same pleading of
Tamora for her sons?
What are the ways in which Titus' adherence to or support of specific discourses (see questions 1-3 above) cause
problems for him?
What role does Aaron play in the mutilation of Titus? What are the specific actions, words, figures, etc. that
construct our understanding of this figure?
What are the symbolic functions/meanings of mutilation and body parts in these acts?
What are the symbolic meanings of the banquet? How does it fit into the tragic structure of the play?
What are the symbolic meanings of Titus' archery?

Acts 5 & 6
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

How are we to understand the disguised sons of Tamora? Do these figures remain effectively disguised
throughout the scene?
How are we to understand justice and the actions of revenge in relation to English politics, law, and justice?
What role do the Goths and their army play in relation to question 2?
What is the role of Aaron in the ending of the play? What kind of reactions him do we have?
How do we react to the death of Titus? Question 7 of Acts 1 and 2 is relevant here.