Titus Andronicus provides uniquely direct dramatizations of allusive authorship and reception, particularly through its sustained engagement with Ovid’s tale of Philomela’s rape and revenge. Heroes and villains alike make use of this source: Aaron, Chiron, and Demetrius use it as explicit inspiration for their rape and mutilation of Lavinia; Marcus Andronicus invokes it as part of an eloquent rhetorical escape from the insufferable immediacy of finding his savaged niece; Lavinia directly quotes the material text of Ovid in order to communicate the full extent of her suffering; and Titus models his culinary revenge on that visited upon the rapist Tereus. One key distinction that can be made between certain of these instances of allusion is how they affect the action of the drama: the rapists clearly use Ovid as a pattern for their actions, and Lavinia’s explicit reference to the tale provides the impetus to revenge. Marcus’s allusive lament, though, notably fails to do anything. The reason for this absence of action is, this essay argues, the lack of perceivable authorial intentionality behind the allusion. This reading suggests that William Shakespeare emphasizes his own creative power, but in a way that implicates it in the destructively imitative cycle of revenge.


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pp. 698-717
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