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Shadow and Substance: Structural Unity in Titus Andronicus John P. Cutts If in our discussion of Titus Andronicus we may put aside the vexed authorship question— and to do so is certainly fraught with great difficulties since even the champions of Shakespeare’s authorship in the main are reluctant to dismiss in particular the shades of Peele—• then there is, it seems to me, a dramatic pattern established which tends to belie the theories of co-authorship. As this pattern emerges, it will become evident that it is based on the renaissance topos which frequently finds representation in iconography: the mistaking of the shadow for the substance. This topos was frequently drawn upon by Shakespeare throughout his career. 1 I should like therefore to cite two examples from iconography as a point of reference for my discus­ sion in this paper. The first, from Fables D’Esope (Paris, 1689), shows a wolf mistaking symbol for substance as he attacks a sculptor’s rep­ resentation of a human head.2 The second, from Geoffrey Whitney’s A Choice of Emblemes (Leyden, 1587), illustrates a “greedie dogge” losing his bone when he is deceived by its “ shaddow” in the “brooke” (p. 39). Significantly, Whitney’s use of the topos is specifically directed against ambition, which ultimately pulls a man down rather than lifts him up. The result of mistaking the shadow for substance is quite liable to be tragedy, as indeed is the case in Titus Andronicus. When we return to Shakespeare’s earliest Roman tragedy with the shadow-substance topos in mind, we must confront a startling fact: Titus in taking “false shadows for true substances” (III.ii.80)3 is by no means aware that his seeing has all along been at fault and still is. His lack of understanding remains even in the grief-wrought scene consequent on the mockery of his left-handed sacrifice sent back with the heads of his two sons, Martius and Quintus, who are later symbolized by the Clown’s two pigeons in a basket. That his eyes “begin to dazzle” (III.iii.85) he fobs off more as the excuse of age than of fault. That his right hand did not know what his left was doing and is thus as useless as the lopped-off hand is ironically rein­ forced by his using only his mouth and his feet to guide the staff whereby he writes his name in sand— “ in the dust [he] write[s]/[His] heart’s deep languor and [his] soul’s sad tears” (III.i.12-13). Like a 161 162 Comparative Drama clumsy animal he has nuzzled and stumbled and made his mark, has fallen into the “subtle hole . . ./Whose mouth is covered with” the “rude-growing briers” (II.iii.198-199) of his own unwitting planting. This is made abundantly clear by the course of his two sons, Martius and Quintus, who are literally brought to the “ loathsome pit” (II.iii. 176) by Aaron— the “execrable wretch” (V.iii. 177), the “ black dog (V.i.122), the perpetrator of “ Acts of black night” (V.i.64)— and plunged therein; but metaphorically they have been cast there by their father’s blindness. Neither son is characterized for himself but is used dramatically as a shadow of the father. Their literal fall into “poor Bassianus’ grave” (II.iii.240) parallels their father’s falling into the metaphorical grave which he has dug for Bassianus, first by not championing his candidacy to the emperorship (possibly because he was trying pub­ licly not to be seen as seeking power through Bassianus’s betrothal to his daughter Lavinia), and secondly by giving his consent to Saturninus ’s request for his daughter Lavinia’s hand in marriage when Geoffrey Whitney, A Choice of Emblèmes (1587), p. 39. John P. Cutts 163 it is made perfectly obvious that Lavinia is Bassianus’s lawfully betrothed. It is easy to see why Satuminus makes this move in an attempt to strengthen his position; it brilliantly circumvents Titus. Titus like Theseus, might try to excuse his ignorance of the betrothal by pleading that “being over-full of self-affairs,/[His] mind did lose” (Midsummer Night...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 161-172
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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