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Assignment 2

Assignment 2

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Published by Chris Laliberte
Academic essays I have written for various university courses.
Academic essays I have written for various university courses.

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Published by: Chris Laliberte on Sep 30, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Chris Laliberte998650507Prof. H. SymeENG220YNov. 29
, 2010'Tis but a Fly
an analysis of the parallels between deception and playacting in
Titus AndronicusMany of Shakespeare's plays are fraught with trickery and lies used by the characters to further their own means. These, however, are not merely present as a means of advancing the plot, but as someform of moral and/or social critique. I would argue that the deception between characters isShakespeare's commentary on the theatre itself, and the roles the actors, the playwright, and even theaudience must play to ensure a successful performance.Due to the fact that the stages of Shakespeare's time were essentially bare, it was the playwright's job to construct the desired reality for his audience. (Lecture Sep. 20
) One of the most popular ways of doing this was to have one or more characters describe their surroundings in greatdetail. Tamora does this when she describes the woods as a pleasant place to be, as she mentions the“cheerful sun”, the “sweet melodious birds”, etc. (2.3.12-29) However, she then turns around and refersto her surroundings as “a barren detested vale”. (2.3.93) By having Tamora present opposingdescriptions of the exact same area nearly back to back, Shakespeare is playing with the fact that the playwright must overcome the limitations of the stage by using language to deceive the audience intoseeing what he would like them to see.This is further upheld by Shakespeare with two scenes in which he exercises this very form of deception. The first of these is the scene in which Martius and Quintus discover Bassanius' corpse.Martius says he has found the corpse of their sister's betrothed at the bottom of a “detested, dark, blood-drinking pit.” Quintus then asks “if it be dark, how dost thou know 'tis he?” (2.3.234-235) Byhaving the character ask this question (one which reflects the sort of question the audience might ask),
2Shakespeare gives pretext to Martius' explanation of how it is he has recognized Bassanius despite thedarkness. By anticipating the audience's question in this way, and subsequently explaining it away, the playwright fools the audience into suspending their disbelief as is necessary for the plausibility of the performance, especially during the era of this play's publication.The second is Marcus' description of Lavinia after her violation at the hands of Tamora's sons.He describes her appearance in exquisite detail, speaking of her “lopp'd and hew'd” hands and the“crimson river of warm blood” where her tongue was cut away. (2.4.16-32) To replicate severed limbsis a difficult feat to accomplish in a modern stage performance, let alone one in Shakespeare's time. Asa means of overcoming this shortcoming of the theatre, he writes this long, flowery description for Marcus in an effort to trick the audience into imagining Lavinia's butchered state. Because these twoscenes follow so closely on the heels of Tamora's opposing descriptions of the setting, they are arguablyfurther commentary on the playwright's need to deceive his audience.The difference between what is known by the characters and what is known by the audience isthe subject of 3.1. After Titus is assured by Lavinia's tears that his sons “would not do so foul a deed”as the murder of Bassianus (3.1.118-119), he, Marcus, and Lucius are deceived by Aaron as to the fateof their kin, promised that if one of them cuts off their hand to be offered to Saturninus, then Titus' sonswill be returned. Aaron's use of asides, however, reveals to the audience that Martius and Quintus havealready been executed. (3.1.202) This makes the scene readable as a commentary on dramatic irony.Just as Titus knows his sons are innocent, but is powerless to help them, the audience is unable to doanything to prevent Titus from having his hand severed despite their knowledge that his sons arealready dead.Shakespeare uses 4.2 to poke fun at the audience. Marcus kills a fly, which due to Titus' distressat this “deed of death, done on the innocent” (4.2.56), he justifies by saying that he killed it because itwas “like to the empress' moor.” (4.2.67) At nothing more than his brother's word, Titus, half mad,
3 believes the fly to be Aaron, and attacks the corpse himself. This leads Marcus to say of his brother “Alas, poor man! Grief has so wrought him he takes false shadows for true substances.” (4.2.79-80)Because of this line, the entire scene can be interpreted as a mockery of the audience. The highlyemotional Titus represents an emotionally involved audience, who must be themselves somewhat madto take the “false shadows” of the actors and the plot for people and events real enough to inspiredistress in the spectator.The relationship between the actors and the audience is vital to the success or failure of a play.The actors must convince their audience that they are the characters they mean to portray, which hasalways been a difficult task, especially in Shakespeare's time. 5.2 represents this task as Tamora and her sons pretend to be Revenge, Rapine and Murder. They have made little or no effort to disguisethemselves, as Titus recognizes them immediately, as “[he knows her] well for [their] proud empress,mighty Tamora.” (5.2.25-26) However, all she has to say is that “[she] is not Tamora […] she isRevenge” (5.2.28, 30) and Titus believes her. If the empress and her sons are seen as actors, and Titusas the audience, then this scene is a clear depiction of the relationship between the two. Tamora expectsTitus to believe that she is the spirit of Revenge in much the same way that an actor expects hisaudience to believe based almost entirely on his word that he is the character he claims to be.Continuing with the idea of Titus as Shakespeare's representation of the audience, we see therole the spectator is expected to play in this relationship. Titus' line “Good Lord, how like the empress'sons they are, and you the empress! But we worldly men have miserable, mad-mistaking eyes” (5.2.65-66) is the sarcastic voice of the audience, those “worldly men”, pretending to believe what the actorsare telling them is true. He later says in an aside that “[he knows] them all, though they suppose [him]mad,” (5.2.142) revealing that he knew the whole time who they really were, and was simply playingalong. In exactly the same way, the audience is of course aware that the actors onstage are not reallywho they say they are, but for the sake of the performance they must suspend their disbelief and allow

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