How we cite our quotes:
Drag hence her husband to some secret hole,
And make his dead trunk pillow to our lust. (2.3.2)
Chiron suggests that he and his brother rape Lavinia on top of her husband's dead body. For some literary critics, this is the kind of grisly, over-the-top detail that makes it hard to take Titus Andronicus seriously. For others, this kind of gratuitous violence suggests that Shakespeare was attempting to make fun of the kinds of "revenge tragedies" that were popular in his day (like Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy). What do you think?
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Have lopp'd and hew'd and made thy body bare
Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments,
Whose circling shadows kings have sought to sleep in,
And might not gain so great a happiness
As have thy love? Why dost not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirr'd with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.
But, sure, some Tereus hath deflowered thee,
And, lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue.
Ah, now thou turn'st away thy face for shame!
And, notwithstanding all this loss of blood,
As from a conduit with three issuing spouts,
Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan's face
Blushing to be encountered with a cloud.
Shall I speak for thee? shall I say 'tis so?
O, that I knew thy heart; and knew the beast,
That I might rail at him, to ease my mind!
Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopp'd,
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.
Fair Philomela, she but lost her tongue,
And in a tedious sampler sew'd her mind:
But, lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee;
A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met,
And he hath cut those pretty fingers off,
That could have better sew'd than Philomel.
O, had the monster seen those lily hands
Tremble, like aspen-leaves, upon a lute,
And make the silken strings delight to kiss them,
He would not then have touch'd them for his life!
Or, had he heard the heavenly harmony
Which that sweet tongue hath made,
He would have dropp'd his knife, and fell asleep
As Cerberus at the Thracian poet's feet.
Come, let us go, and make thy father blind;
For such a sight will blind a father's eye:
One hour's storm will drown the fragrant meads;
What will whole months of tears thy father's eyes?
Do not draw back, for we will mourn with thee
O, could our mourning ease thy misery! (2.4.1)
This is one of the most controversial passages in the play. As Lavinia stands raped, mutilated, and bleeding, Marcus delivers a very strange and very lengthy speech that seems to turn Lavinia's brutalized body into something erotic. What the heck is this speech doing here? Why doesn't Marcus do something more productive like, say, run for help?
O happy man! they have befriended thee.
Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers?
Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey
But me and mine: how happy art thou, then,
From these devourers to be banished!
But who comes with our brother Marcus here? (3.1.4)
Earlier we saw how Aaron spoke of rape in terms of hunters stalking prey. Here Titus picks up on the same metaphor when he declares that Rome is a "wilderness of tigers." The point is pretty clear: Rome has become an uncivilized place where violence and predatory behavior are the norm.