William Shakespeare – Titus Andronicus (circa 1590)

INTRODUCTION:  William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is known for being a violent hot mess and has influenced horror films, rock bands, comic books, and other contemporary pop culture (including an episode of South Park).  Shakespeare himself was influenced in writing this fictional history of a power struggle in ancient Rome by myths retold by the poet Ovid (a contemporary of Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the Rome Empire approximately 2,000 years ago).

In some ways, the play seems to echo the dangers of reading debated within Plato’s Republic, where Socrates argues, “A child is not able to judge which have hidden meanings and which do not, and because he is very young the stains he gets from the teachings of the poets cannot be washed out, but are firmly fixed.  For this reason, care of every sort must be taken about the first stories children listen to, in order that they may hear only what has a virtuous influence” (25).  In Titus Andronicus, reading both inspires violence and provides a means for revealing the perpetrators – leaving us with questions about the origins of brutality.  Check out Julie Taymor’s excellent film adaptation of the play ( Titus ) for another take on what makes us violent.

This annotated document is edited down to cover only the parts of the play that directly relate to the story of Procne & Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Also, in case it isn’t already clear, this reading is graphically violent.

ANNOTATED DOCUMENT:  ShakespeareWilliam_TitusAndronicus

Annotations by:  Rachel Linn

The annotated text is adapted from: 

Works cited & consulted in the annotations: 

  • Golding, Arthur, translator. Ovid’s Metamorphosis. By Ovid, Paul Dry Books, 2000.
  • Plato. “Selections from The Republic.Literary Criticism from Plato to Dryden,  translated by Lane Cooper, edited by Allan H. Gilbert, American Book Company, 1940, pp.26 – 55.
  • “Stuprum.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.