Titus Andronicus

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The White Robe Symbol Analysis

The White Robe Symbol Icon
In Act One, Scene One, Marcus presents Titus with a white robe and asks him to don it as emperor. In ancient Rome, it was the custom for those seeking political office to wear a white garment, signifying moral purity. (As “candidatus” means white in Latin, this practice gives us the English word “candidate”.) While the robe does not appear elsewhere in the play, it is worth thinking about this ideal connection between moral uprightness and political power. Over the course of the play, power seems much more connected with ruthless bloodshed. One may wonder if, at the end of the play, any character’s virtue is so unstained that he can be a valid “candidate” to lead Rome. The unstained, white robe may also be seen as symbolizing more generally the relative innocence of the characters at the beginning of the play (especially the chaste Lavinia), which will gradually become more and more sullied by the bloody acts of revenge that fill the tragedy.

The White Robe Quotes in Titus Andronicus

The Titus Andronicus quotes below all refer to the symbol of The White Robe. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revenge Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Titus Andronicus published in 2005.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Be candidatus, then, and put [the white robe] on /
And help to set a head on headless Rome.

Related Characters: Marcus Andronicus (speaker), Titus Andronicus
Related Symbols: The White Robe, The Body
Page Number: 1.1.185-186
Explanation and Analysis:

Alarbus has been sacrificed, and Tamora and Chiron (one of her sons) have cried out that the Romans are barbarous (note that the play will continue to ask the question of who is civilized and who is barbaric). But Demetrius, Tamora's other son, quietly tells his mother and brother to calm down and seek revenge on the Andronicus family. Titus then speaks for his dead sons and reunites with his daughter Lavinia, before Marcus enters with the White Robe, which symbolizes the citizens' choice to make Titus emperor.

This robe also symbolizes purity, morality, and political power. The whiteness of the robe contrasts with the blood that has been and will continue to be spilled during the course of the play. The choice to kill Alarbus might be framed as just by association with the White Robe, but ultimately Titus refuses the robe and the power that it carries. However, he still must select the next emperor of Rome, which is currently "headless." This characterization of Rome relates to the body politic, in which the state is analogous with the body of its ruler. Without a leader, the body is literally headless. Such a gruesome image also foreshadows the countless cases of dismemberment that occur during the play. 

Titus chooses Saturninus for emperor, since he is older than his brother Bassianus, but this choice and the drama over whom Lavinia will marry set in motion the eventual crowning of Tamora as empress of Rome and much of the chaos that will (literally) tear the Andronicus family apart.

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The White Robe Symbol Timeline in Titus Andronicus

The timeline below shows where the symbol The White Robe appears in Titus Andronicus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Violence and Justice Theme Icon
Rome, Romans, and Barbarians Theme Icon
Marcus enters with a white robe and presents it to Titus as a token of the citizens’ election of him as... (full context)