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Quotes

Quote #1

A nobler man, a braver warrior,
Lives not this day within the city walls:
He by the senate is accit'd home
From weary wars against the barbarous Goths; (1.1.1)

When Marcus announces that "noble" Titus has just returned from war against the Goths, he uses the word "barbarous" to describe the people Rome has been fighting against. Here Marcus perpetuates a common stereotype about the Goths and, in doing so, he suggests that the "noble" Romans are the antithesis of these supposedly barbaric people.

Yet just a few moments later, Shakespeare shows us that the Roman people are just as capable of violence and cruelty as the Goths: Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son despite the Queen's pleading, then he kills his own son without batting an eye.

Quote #2

Believe me, queen, your swarth Cimmerian
Doth make your honour of his body's hue,
Spotted, detested, and abominable.
Why are you sequester'd from all your train,
Dismounted from your snow-white goodly steed.
And wander'd hither to an obscure plot,
Accompanied but with a barbarous Moor,
If foul desire had not conducted you? (2.3.2)

When Bassianus and Lavinia find Tamora alone in the woods with a "barbarous Moor," they declare that her "honour" has been blackened by her sexual relationship with Aaron. (In Shakespeare, the term "Moor" or "blackamoor" usually refers to a black man or woman.)

Unfortunately we see this kind of thinking throughout 16th century literature, which tends to portray black men as being capable of contaminating white women. (Consider, for example, Othello, a play in which several characters worry that Desdemona has been soiled by her marriage to Othello.)

Quote #3

I pray you, let us hence,
And let her joy her raven-colour'd love;
This valley fits the purpose passing well. (2.3.2)

Lavinia's racially charged attack on Tamora is pretty nasty and aggressive. Is the play suggesting that Lavinia isn't as gracious as everyone makes her out to be? (It certainly seems that way to us.) Or is Lavinia's condemnation of Tamora and Aaron the kind of attitude a 16th century English audience would expect from a virtuous woman? How does Lavinia's racist discourse impact the way you interpret her character?

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