Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus
by William Shakespeare
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The Pit

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Demetrius and Chiron dump Bassianus's corpse into a pit in the middle of the woods just before they brutally rape Lavinia. This is the pit that Quintus and Martius fall into when Aaron lures them to the remote setting.

The Pit as a Womb and a Vagina

The pit is described as a "bloodstained hole" (2.3.3), a "swallowing womb" (2.3.6), a "detested, dark, blood-drinking pit" (2.3.5) full of "ragged entrails" (2.3.5), and so on. We can't help but notice the way these graphic descriptions conjure up horrific vaginal images that remind us of the kind of brutality that Lavinia's body has just endured. This seems pretty appalling.

For some literary critics, Shakespeare's portrayal of the pit is offensive and distasteful. On the other side of the fence is scholar Marjorie Garber, who tells us that "the salient point here is not that Shakespeare was capable of so graphic and nightmarish an image of female sexuality [...] but rather that the play [...] opens up to become a living metaphor, a dream landscape all too aptly representing the key events that have just taken place: the marriage of Saturninus and the lustful Tamora, the murder of Bassianus, and the rape of Lavinia" (Shakespeare after All,78-79). Garber argues, in other words, that the pit is being used to make the darkness of sexual brutality and desire literal.

So, what do you think?

The Pit as a Mouth and a Tomb

We might also point out the way these vivid descriptions of the pit make the earth sound like a cannibal mother ("swallowing womb") who devours her own children. This concept resurfaces later when Titus bakes Chiron and Demetrius into a pie that he later serves to Tamora. Notice how Titus compares Tamora to the earth when he threatens the boys. He says he's going to "make two pasties of your shameful heads / And bid that strumpet, your unhallowed dam, / Like to the earth swallow her own increase" (5.2.18).

Yikes! What's going on here? Don't worry, critic Alexander Leggatt helpfully explains: "The pit, like the tomb of the Andronici, is a dark hole that swallows life; now Tamora will be made to imitate it. [...] In revenge Titus compels Chiron and Demetrius to enter Tamora's body, making her the final image of the hole in the earth that swallows men" (TitusAndronicus: A Modern Perspective").

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