Titus Andronicus


William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

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Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Headless Rome:

At the start of the play, Titus is chosen by the citizens of Rome to succeed the recently deceased emperor as the ruler of Rome. Marcus informs him of his election to the office in the passage below, foreshadowing the bloody drama that is about to unfold over the course of the play:

Be candidatus, then, and put [the white robe] on 

And help to set a head on headless Rome. 

Marcus’s statement to Titus that his position as Emperor would “set a head on headless Rome” foreshadows the extreme violence that will occur soon after this scene and for the duration of the play. The image of an embodied Rome without a head is an ominous warning of the many acts of dismemberment that occur throughout the drama, as well as a prescient commentary on the decline of the empire. Furthermore, it is Titus’s very own choice to not take over the empire out of loyalty to the previous emperor’s bloodline that eventually leads to his own dismemberment and that of almost everyone he cares for. Thus, there is an added sense of irony in this line as well, since by refusing to take office Titus refuses to put a head on Rome and, in the process, loses his own.

Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Hammering in my Head:

In Act 2, Scene 3, Aaron the Moor is so consumed by his thoughts of vengeance that he rejects Tamora’s invitation to make love. He explains his feelings in the passage below, which foreshadows the gruesome revenge plots he has in store for the various members of the Andronicus family:

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, 

Blood and revenge are hammering in my head. 

In this quote, Aaron most directly foreshadows the violent death and dismemberment that will soon befall Bassianus and Lavinia respectively (at his instigation). Indirectly, the “hammering” of blood and revenge in his head heralds the downfall of the entire Andronicus family, for the death of Bassianus and the rape of Lavinia leads to the imprisonment and execution of Titus’s two sons, and his eventual pursuit of counter-revenge. Aaron’s desire for vengeance has consumed him—it is in his “heart,” his “hand,” and his “head”—and he cannot see a path forward that does not end in bloodshed. With this quote, Aaron’s position as the central villain of the play is established, as he demonstrates a lack of qualms regarding the spilling of any kind or amount of blood. However, it is his instinct towards self-preservation that eventually leads to his own doom.

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Explanation and Analysis—Dido and the Prince:

When Tamora and Aaron meet for a romantic rendezvous and revenge-planning session at the start of Act 2, Scene 3, Tamora makes an allusion by referring to herself as Dido and Aaron as the “wand’ring prince.” This moment foreshadows the couple’s unhappy end:

Tamora: And after conflict such as was supposed

The wand’ring prince and Dido once enjoyed

When with a happy storm they were surprised,

And curtained with a counsel-keeping cave,

We may, each wreathèd in the other’s arms, 

Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber,

Whiles hounds and horns and sweet melodious birds

Be unto us as is a nurse’s song

Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep. 

In the quote above, Tamora suggests with romantic intent that she and Aaron take shelter during their hunt like Dido and her lover are known to have done. However, in Virgil's account in The Aeneid, while the legendary pair did indeed take shelter in a cave, thus sparking their romance, the love of this fictional couple did not have a happy ending: eventually, the prince (Aeneas) abandons Dido, leading her to die by suicide. Thus, by alluding to Dido and Aeneas as her romantic model in this moment, Tamora ironically foreshadows her own doomed life and romance.

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Explanation and Analysis—The Swallowing Womb:

During the hunt in Act 2, Scene 3, Quintus and Martius are led through the woods by Aaron the Moor to a pit, under the false pretense that it holds a trapped panther. However, when Martius trips in the darkness and falls into the pit, he discovers not a panther, but the dead body of his sister’s husband, Bassianus. As Quintus attempts to help him up out of the pit, he uses a metaphor that foreshadows the play’s gruesome end:

Reach me thy hand, that I may help thee out; 

Or, wanting strength to do thee so much good, 

I may be pluck'd into the swallowing womb

Of this deep pit, poor Bassianus' grave.

I have no strength to pluck thee to the brink. 

In the passage above, Quintus metaphorically compares the pit to a “swallowing womb,” conjuring a vivid image that speaks to the overwhelming inevitability and bloodiness of the vengeful path each of the characters have chosen. The pit is also referred to as a mouth, adding to its cavernous, consuming quality that foreshadows the fact that the characters in the play are trapped in their cycles of violence at this point, unable to see a way forward that does not involve bloodshed.

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