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Hunting and Wild Animals

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

We know what you're thinking: what's up with all the hunting and wild animal references in Titus Andronicus?

Hunting and Lavinia's Rape

Well, it all starts when Titus invites Saturninus and his entourage on a hunting trip: "To-morrow, an it please your majesty /To hunt the panther and the hart [deer] with me" (1.1.32). (You know how there are so many exotic panthers prowling around in the woods near Rome, right? Yeah, not so much. Chalk it up to Shakespeare's looseness when it comes to the setting.)

The next day, while everyone is out stalking wild animals, Demetrius and Chiron use the field trip as an opportunity to rape Lavinia in the middle of the forest. When Demetrius gleefully announces "we hunt not, we, with horse nor hound, / But hope to pluck a dainty doe to ground" (2.1.1), he uses hunting as a metaphor for sexual violence, casting Lavinia in the role of prey. In fact, Lavinia is referred to as a "doe" several times throughout the play, and after the rape, Marcus compares her to a mortally wounded animal when he says he found her wandering around the forest "seeking to hide herself, as doth the deer / That hath receiv'd some unrecurring [incurable] wound"(3.1.4).

Hunting and the Cycle of Revenge

Yet rape isn't the only kind of predatory violence associated with hunting. After Martius and Quintus are falsely imprisoned and accused of murdering Lavinia's husband, and Lucius is banned from Rome, Titus declares that "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers" and the members of the Andronicus family are "its prey" (3.1.4). OK, we get it: Titus sees himself as a victim and is suggesting that Rome has become uncivilized by the actions of Saturninus and the "barbarous" Goths. (We guess Titus forgot about the time he made a human sacrifice out of Tamora's eldest son back in Act 1, Scene 1.)

This idea echoes throughout the entire play, especially when Tamora is referred to as a predatory animal. First, when Lavinia begs for mercy in the woods, she calls Tamora a "tiger" (2.3.7). Later, Lucius declares that Tamora has behaved like a beast, so she's not entitled to a proper burial:

As for that heinous tiger, Tamora,
No funeral rite, nor man in mourning weeds,
No mournful bell shall ring her burial;
But throw her forth to beasts and birds of prey:
Her life was beast-like, and devoid of pity;

On the one hand, Tamora did behave like a predator when she set out to destroy Titus's family. But wait a minute here, folks. Didn't we establish early on in the play that it's savage for humans to refuse other human beings their burial rites? Remember when Titus didn't want to give Mutius a proper burial? Marcus told him not be "barbarous," or uncivilized (1.1.11). If Lucius's big "Tamora is a tiger" speech teaches us anything, it's this: everyone involved in the vicious cycle of revenge is reduced to an animalistic state.

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