Thursday, 25 October 2007

Titus, Law, Violence

One of the things Revenge deals with is the individual’s relation to the law, the possibilities available inside and outside the law- the possible opposition between earthly, state law and some notion of divine/ natural law.

Titus begins with horrific act of tortue, mutilation, burning and execution of Alarbus – all of course within, sanctioned by, the law.

Thus, the first kind of violence we encounter in the play is that of the state. The state stages a spectacle whereby the body of the condemned is tortured and executed. What perhaps happens in this play is that the kind of theatrical ‘Sadism’ we encounter here ceases to be the exclusive property of the state. Characters arrogate to themselves the violence which in the first instance is the prerogative of the state. They (Tamora & sons) repeat it parodically, emptied of symbolic resonance. And the play itself participates in this process. Or, the surplus of sadism which sticks to the law (simultaneously concealed and strenghtened by it) here walks naked.
In Titus, violence typically fails to achieve symbolic meaning. But the play shows this failure. See, for example, in Greek tragedy – e.g. Oedipus tearing out his eyes or in Lear, Gloucester - “I stumbled when I saw”. In both cases, the loss of sight has meaning-ful resonance. In Titus, the very semblance of symbolic meaning is mocked. See, for instance, 3.1 Aaron asks for the hand of Titus. This is to be a symbolic act of reparation, a kind of gift to the sovereign (cf. earlier, the ‘gift’ of Alarbus to the dead). This symbolic meaning is precisely a semblance. It turns out of course to be a ‘joke’. It involves, to begin with a kind of crude pun on the idea of giving someone your hand ('Give me your hands of we be friends')

The closest we come to symbolic violence is act 1.1. 96:

LUCIUS: “Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs, and on a pile
Ad manes frartum [‘to the shades of our brothers] sacrifice his flesh
Before this earthly prison of their bones,
That so the shadows be not appeased,
Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.


“Religiously they ask a sacrifice.
To this your son is marked, and die he must,
T’appease the groaning shadows that are gone

LUCIUS: we have performed our Roman rites.. [

Alarbus exists here only symbolically, as a token. Here violence is an explicitly symbolic act – i.e. a sacrifice, even though it is as horrific as acts perpetrated later on in the play. It has this symbolic envelope. Its still part of a world where are these ritual and symbolic meanings.

Now in the subsequent violence you get the same kind of bloody horrors, violence visited on the body, but it is as if it has slipped any kind of symbolic envelope, meaning or correlative, so leaving behind the sheer naked violation of the action.
But again, the play is aware of this very subtraction. As if we are moving from a world of symbolic meanings and metaphysical guarantees, to grand guignol senselessness, with Titus representing the older Roman nobility, bound by ties and by symbolic rites.


Adamma said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I usually do not leave a comment, but the ideas really rocks, also I have a few questions like to ask, what's your contact details?


Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more precise than elsewhere, thanks.

- Norman