Titus Andronicus


William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus: Genre 1 key example

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Explanation and Analysis:

Titus Andronicus is a revenge tragedy. Shakespeare wrote the play sometime between 1588 and 1593, which falls precisely during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England—otherwise known as the Elizabethan era. The literary movement of this time is known as the English Renaissance. Renaissance tragedies were a very popular genre of English theater, and the revenge tragedy grew to garner particular public approval. Thomas Kyd's play The Spanish Tragedy brought the genre to the Elizabethan stage in 1587, and it swiftly took off. Shakespeare’s revenge tragedies are especially renowned, and Titus Andronicus is especially significant for the fact that it is his first attempt at the genre.

Some general elements that are common to the revenge tragedy include: a tragic, sympathetic protagonist who digs their own grave (i.e., Titus); the injection of darkly comedic moments (such as when Tamora is fed her own children); gruesome acts of violence described with lush, vivid imagery (as when Marcus beholds Lavinia in the aftermath of her rape); and pretensions of madness (like when Titus pretends to believe Tamora is really the personification of Revenge). There are a few elements of the typical revenge tragedy that are absent from this play, however, including the presence of ghosts, omens, and a play within a play structure (all three of which are, incidentally, present in another of Shakespeare’s later plays: Hamlet). These missing elements are perhaps a reflection of the fact that this is Shakespeare’s first time writing within this genre. Thus, Titus Andronicus allows readers the chance to observe the progression of one of England’s greatest playwrights.