English 304: Shakespeare: Major Plays (Prof. Boyer)
Reading Questions for Titus Andronicus
Keyed to The Norton Shakespeare
The best beginning procedure is always to familiarize yourself with the cast of characters and then to read the play (or at least an act or a scene) all the way through so that you know what's happening. The notes can help if you're stuck, but try to get the big picture of a scene before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to think about the questions.

Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Act 4
Act 5
Story of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela, from Ovid's Metamorphoses
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ACT 1

1.1

1.

As we begin, there are two claimants to be named Emperor (1.1.1-17). Who are they, and on what does each base his claim? How do these claims reflect the choice of the Roman people (1.1.18-45)?

2.

Notice the formal processional entry of Titus and his party (1.1.69.1-.8). What is the effect of his grand entry into the strife we have just been seeing?

3.

What do we learn about Titus' family in his first speech, and what does he do now (1.1.70-95)?

4.

What does Lucius request and receive from Titus (1.1.96-103)? How do we respond to this ritual?

5.

Who is Tamora and how does she respond to Titus (1.1.104-120)? How successful is her pleading (1.1.121-129)? How do she and her two remaining sons respond (1.1.130-141)? How do we imagine they are responding to what Lucius and Titus say and do in 1.1.142-156 and to the scene between Titus and Lavinia (1.1.157-168)? How do we read this Titus/Tamora scene (1.1.69.1-156)? Is this merely justified Roman piety, or do we feel less secure about what is going on?

6.

What does Marcus offer Titus and how does Titus respond (1.1.169-201)? Does everyone agree? (See 1.1.202-216.) How does Titus resolve the issue of who should be Emperor (1.1.217-233)? does this seem to be a good decision by Titus?

7.

Tamora and Lavinia become the focus in 1.1.234-294, with Saturninus promising to marry Lavinia. Whom is she betrothed to? What does that person do? What do Titus' sons do? What happens to one of the sons (Mutius)?

8.

What happens between Titus and Saturninus (1.1.295-334) and how does Tamora enter the discussion? Whom does Saturninus actually marry? Is this the way things should happen in noble, classical Rome?

9.

What happens to the body of Mutius (1.1.337.1-387)?

10.

How does Titus expect to be treated by Tamora (1.1.388-395)? Is this a reasonable expectation?

11.

How are the brothers Bassianus and Saturninus getting along (1.1.395.1-420)? What does Titus do and how do Saturninus and Tamora respond (1.1.421-487)? Since this will be a double marriage, what does Titus propose (1.1.488-490)?

12.

Given what you have heard Tamora say, what direction do you expect the play to take?

13.

How would you describe the character of Titus based on what you have seen of him in Act 1. Is he a believable character? Are the others? What about Aaron? Has he said anything? Has anyone even seemed to notice his presence for the 420 lines since his first entry?

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ACT 2

2.1

1.

We have seen Aaron in 1.1 but not heard him. Now he has a soliloquy, the first in the play (2.1.1-25). Read it carefully. What do we learn about him? About Tamora?

2.

What are Chiron and Demetrius arguing about when they enter (2.1.26-45)? How does Aaron help them settle their quarrel (2.1.45-136)? Are Chiron and Demetrius people that you would like to know better? How intelligent are they compared to Aaron? Is he any better or worse than they are?

3.

What do you think of Aaron by the end of the scene? Remember from the cast of characters that he is a "Moor" (like Othello, later), which for Shakespeare almost definitely means a black African, a "blackamoor," in Renaissance English terms, an outsider. (Unlike Othello, he is also a "Machiavellian villain," closely related to Richard III and to Iago in Othello.) As this scene shows, the play will involve us in discussions of both race and gender (clear already from the way Lavinia is talked about in 2.1, and obvious by the end of Act 2). These contemporary issues have created new interest in the play, and you will want to be reading "against the grain," reading from a point of view that is not necessarily Shakespeare's and that is certainly not that of the male power structure in the play. (Tamora is also of interest as one of Shakespeare's first "monster-women," an ancestor of Lady Macbeth.)

2.2

1.

Note the formality of Titus' opening lines (2.2.1-10), similar to the entry ot Theseus' hunting party in A Midsummer Night's Dream at 4.1.100. What small jarring note is present (line 9)?

2.

What is the effect of ending this short scene with Demetrius' aside (2.2.25-26)? What does he mean?

2.3

1.

What is Aaron doing at the beginning of 2.3? Why? To whom do he and Tamora compare themselves in their two speeches (2.3.10-50)? What does Aaron give Tamora, and what does he tell her to do with it (2.3.46-47)? Who is Philomel (line 43, see the note)? Use the link at the beginning of these notes to read the story of Tereus, Procne, and Phkomela as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

2.

How do Bassianus and Lavinia treat Tamora (2.3.55ff)? What do Lavinia and Bassianus accuse her of (2.3.66-87)? Be sure to see the note identifying Actaeon. Is Lavinia behaving the way you would expect her to?

3.

When Chiron and Demetrius enter, what does Tamora accuse Bassianus and Lavinia of planning (2.3.89-115)? How do the boys respond (2.3.116-117)? Whom does Lavinia compare Tamora to and why (2.3.118-119 and the note)? By now it should be obvious that this play is full of references to classical myths, many coming from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

4.

Read the scene with Lavinia, Tamora, and the boys carefully, noting how Tamora and Lavinia treat each other (2.3.118-183). And note the action at 2.3.184-191.

5.

What happens when Aaron brings Quintus and Martius to the pit (2.3.191.1-245.1)? What do they find in the pit? How do they know?

6.

What happens when Aaron brings Saturninus to the pit (2.3.245.2-258)? Who and what does Tamora bring with her (2.3.258.1-287)? How does Saturninus respond to Titus' appeals for mercy for his sons (2.3.288-303)? How does Tamora respond (2.3.304-306)?

7.

Notice the examples in the scene of "high" poetry on the classical Latin model, especially Tamora's evocation of nature, both idyllically in referring to the love of Dido and Aeneas (2.3.10-29) and more frighteningly in describing the dark, mysterious forest around the pit (2.3.91-115, perhaps reminding some of us of the mere in Beowulf). To the educated members of Shakespeare's audience, the play would evoke the classical writings of Ovid and Seneca both in its Ovidian poetry and in its treatment of violence (to say nothing of its frequent use of Latin quotations and classical references, like Dido and Aeneas in Tamora's speech or Philomel [from Ovid's Metamorphoses] in Aaron's speech at 2.3.42-43). What is the overall effect Shakespeare is trying for? Does he succeed?

2.4

1.

What has happened to Lavinia (2.4.1-10)? How do Chiron and Demetrius respond to her present state?

2.

How does Marcus respond when he sees Lavinia (2.4.11-57)? Is this an appropriate response? Look closely at his speech to get a sense of the kind of poetry Shakespeare uses early in his career for his most emotional responses (and this from a character who has, from the beginning, represented a sense of control in the play). Again, the basic model is classical. This is certainly a more formal response that one would expect to get in real life, but is it effective in the more formal, artistically contrived world of the play?

3.

Notice how Marcus "explains" the classical, Ovidian parallel (2.4.38-43).

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ACT 3

3.1

1.

Notice how Titus handles his grief in the first part of 3.1 (lines 1-57); once more, great feeling is expressed in controlled poetry. What do you make of his surprising response to Lucius in lines 33ff?

2.

How does Titus respond when Marcus brings Lavinia to him (3.1.57.1-62)? Look at 3.1.63-80 in terms of the play's attitude toward women. A recent discussion has noted the finality of Marcus' "This was thy daughter," assuming that because of what has happened she no longer is, and may no longer be human, having lost what is traditionally the only important thing women have, their "honor." Compare Titus's response, "Why Marcus, so she is.

3.

Read the scene with Titus, Lucius, Marcus, and Lavinia carefully (3.1.57.1-149). Are the responses of Titus and Lucius the same or different? (Notice that they both use "martyred" where we might expect "ravished"-lines 81 and 107)? How effective is Shakespeare in presenting this almost unspeakable grief and horror in formal language? For comparison, you might want to consider how this scene might be treated by other writers from other times (e.g., Dickens, Hemingway, Morrison).

4.

What is the effect of moving next to the scene with Aaron and the contest over whose hand will be cut off (3.1.150-204)? How do we respond to Aaron's aside, confiding in us about his villainy (3.1.201-204)?

5.

Why is the effect of having a serious scene of lament (3.1.205-232) followed by the arrival of two heads and a hand (3.1.232.1-239.1)? What effect does Shakespeare seem to be trying for. Is he successful? And why does he use a sympathetic messenger in lines 233-239 (the kind of minor character we will meet again) instead of having Aaron return laughing?

6.

What happens at 3.1.263? What has happened to Titus? How does Titus explain his response (3.1.265-274)? Notice that in line 274 Titus moves from passive suffering (as in 3.1.251) to some form of action. How do you think this change in Titus will affect the rest of the play?

7.

Why does Titus make them all swear (3.1.275-278)? What does he them have them do (3.1.278-286). Take time to picture what happens to the two heads and the hand. What is Lucius going to do now (3.1.287-299)?

3.2

1.

How well is the family coping with its tragedy (3.2.1-51)? What happens when Marcus kills a fly (3.2.51.1-79)? What will Titus do for Lavinia, and how will young Lucius help (3.2.80-84)?

2.

3.2 does not appear in the early quarto edition of the play (1594), only in the later Folio text (1623), so it may be a later addition to the play, perhaps for a revical in around 1600, when several old plays like Titus Andronicus were revived wih new scenes added. Is the scene essential to the play? If not, what is its function?

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ACT 4

4.1

1.

Why is Lavinia chasing young Lucius? Notice how Shakespeare actually introduces his own source for Lavinia's rape (the story of Philomela in Ovid's Metamorphoses, available via the link at the beginning of these reading questions), both citing his source and showing how he has done Ovid one better. Is this "discovery scene" effective, or is it just grotesque? (Revenge plays always have such a "verification" scene; in Hamlet it's the play scene. Madness, real or feigned, is also a part of every revenge tragedy.)

2.

How does Lavinia reveal what has happened to her (4.1.45-79)? How does this change the situation in the play?

3.

How does Titus respond to this news (4.1.80-111)? What is his plan, so far (4.1.112-121)? How does Marcus' response help to underline what has happened in this scene (4.1.122-128)?

4.2

1.

What messages does Titus send to court (4.2.1-21)? How do the boys interpret the message (4.2.22-23)? What does Aaron think of their understanding (4.2.24-45)?

2.

What is Tamora doing now (4.2.46-50)? What do we learn when the Nurse enters with the child (4.2.51-70)? How does Aaron respond to Tamora's command (4.2.71-133)? What happens to the Nurse (4.2.134-145)? What is the tone of this part of the scene? How does Aaron justify himself, and what does he plan to do (4.2.146-179)?

3.

Does your opinion of Aaron change once he becomes a father? Notice Shakespeare's ability to understand what his characters feel; Tamora's sons reflect the normal racist response, but Aaron's love for his son gives the play a broader perspective, whatever we think of Aaron otherwise. And notice how the various aspects of Aaron exist together-his love for his son at the same time as he so enjoys killing the Nurse.

4.3

1.

What are Titus and the others doing in 4.3.0.1-76? Is this a rational response to what has happened? Is it an understandable response? Note how Shakespeare uses Titus' madness and the idea of sending messages to the gods to introduce the idea of justice in its purest form in the play-another key aspect of most revenge plays. How effective is Shakespeare in introducing the theme while maintaining Titus' madness?

2.

The Clown (meaning a rustic character) in 4.3.76.1-111 is the first comic character we have seen in the play. Who does Titus think the Clown is (4.3.77-79)? How does the Clown respond (4.3.80-81)? Do Titus and the Clown ever really communicate with each other (4.3.82-92.7)? What does Titus ask the Clown to do (4.3.93-112)?

3.

Is Shakespeare's use of the Clown effective? (In a later version, he becomes the wonderful clown who brings Cleopatra the asp in Antony and Cleopatra.)

4.4

1.

How do Saturninus and Tamora respond to the Clown? What happens to him (4.4.0.1-59)? Does he know what hit him?

2.

What military news does Saturninus receive (4.4.60-79)? What plan does Tamora have to handle the threat (4.4.80-112)?

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ACT 5

5.1

1.

What has happened to Aaron? Do the descriptions of Aaron and his child by the Goth and by Lucius (5.1.20-48) match our responses to him? Is he as 'simple' a character as Lucius supposes?

2.

What will Aaron do to save his son (5.1.49-72)? How does the Machiavellian Aaron treat religion (5.1.73-85)? What does he tell Lucius (5.1.86-120)? How does Aaron's boasting (5.1.121-144) affect our image of him? What happens to Aaron (5.1.145-151.1)?

3.

What news has come from Rome (5.1.152-165)? Does Tamora's plan appear to be working?

5.2

1.

How does Tamora in 5.2.1-8 plan to "enchant the old Andronicus" (4.4.88)? Does her plan seem to be working (5.2.8.1-133)? How does she handle the complication in 5.2.134-141)? Does she make the right decision? (See 5.2.142-144.)

2.

What happens to the boys when Tamora leaves (5.2.149-178)? What are Titus' specific plans for them (5.2.179-202)? How does Shakespeare continue to show his source in Ovid? (See 5.2.193-194.)

5.3

1.

What happens at the banquet? Read and picture 5.3.25.1-65.2 carefully. It passes by pretty quickly on the printed page, but this is obviously a spectacular scene on the stage.

2.

Why does Titus kill Lavinia? Look at (and think about) 5.3.34-51.

3.

How do the survivors react, and who will become Emperor (5.3.66-145)?

4.

What is the last Andronicus family ritual that we see (5.3.146-174)?

5.

What will happen to Aaron and how does he respond (5.3.174.1-189)? How will the bodies be disposed of (5.3.190-199)? What will happen to Aaron's child?

6.

Obviously there is lots of violence in the play. Consider the function of the violence and what it does to the play. Is it fitting for the world of the play? Or does it merely show Shakespeare trying to outdo Ovid and Seneca, to say nothing of his contemporary playwrights like Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe? What does it do to the humanity of the leading characters (primarily Titus and Lavinia)?

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