Matthew Tendroch on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, Act 5

Published by admin_main on Mon 11 Oct, 2010

20. In Act 5, Scene 3, Titus ends Lavinia's suffering and feeds Tamora and Saturninus "Chiron and Demetrius pie." First, how does Titus justify his killing of Lavinia? And with regard to the dinner scene, why, after all that has happened thus far and based on the Ovidian source from which Shakespeare has drawn, is this cannibalistic catastrophe the most appropriate one?

I believe Titus kills his daughter, Lavinia, to end her sorrow. Irreversible damage has been done to her. Not only is she physically ruined, having been raped and having suffered the amputation of her hands and tongue, but emotionally with the loss of her husband and any chance off happiness. Lavinia is an emotional prisoner within her body and cannot even express her thoughts or feelings in her altered state. Titus does what any loving father would do and ends his daughter's suffering once and for all. "Die, die, Lavinia, and they shame with thee, and with thy shame thy father's sorrow die." (5.3.45-46). To Titus, his daughter is already dead at the hands of Chiron and Demetrius who are Tamora's, remaining sons. "Not I, 'twas Chiron and Demetrius. They ravished her, and cut away her tongue, and they, 'twas they, that did her all this wrong." (5.3.55-57).

At this point, Lavinia has no reason to live except to make sure her assailants are punished. She uses her self as a psychological weapon against the Emperor and her Empress to strike fear into their hearts by giving her life, a life that she would take herself if she had the means. She sacrifices what little life she has left to give the Emperor and Empress a preview of the wrath Titus will visit upon them.

Saturninus and Tamora come to Titus's home for supper in an attempt to make amends and bring peace to segregated kingdom of Rome. Little do Saturninus and Tamora know, is that they are feasting on a protein they never had before. "Why, there they are, both baked in this pie, whereof their mother daintily hath fed, eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. Tis true, 'tis true, witness my knife's sharp point." (5.3.58-62) Titus then stabs Tamora, Saturninus stabs Titus, and Lucius stabs Saturninus bringing an end to the series of conflicts.

I believe feeding the Emperor and Empress a meal made of the Empress' sons, Chiron and Demetrius, was an appropriate act of revenge. Tamora bore her two evil sons from her body. It's only appropriate that Titus returns them back to where they came from. Moreover, when Saturninus and Tamora unknowingly participate in cannibalism, their participation reduces them to the animals that they are. Although Titus did sacrifice Tamora's oldest son, Alarbus in Act 1 Scene 1, this was the way of Rome, a society based on strong religious beliefs, ancient mythical stories, and strong family values.