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The symbolism of the Body of Rome in Titus Andronicus

One dominant idea that is recurrent throughout Titus Andronicus is the symbolism of the ‘body of Rome’, which acts as a metaphorical parallel to the events of the text. This motif follows the altering statuses of the characters and energy structures inside the play and emphasises the downfall of the Roman Empire. The play follows the leader of the Roman army, Titus Andronicus, and his struggle for power following corruption within the empire’s ruling force. In spite of the text extrinsically focussing on Rome it also presents tips about the English monarchy of the Elizabethan era. The incompletion of the physique in the 1st act can be labelled as the defining element in the events of the play and the result in of the eventual crumble of the empire, furthered by the continual severing of body components and bloodshed. The body of Rome metaphor present in Titus Andronicus demonstrates the tearing apart of Rome’s physique politic by power imbalances and civil unrest.

The exposition of the play is paralleled by the motifs utilised in Titus Andronicus, which also clarify the rise and downfall of the central characters and hence the Empire. The ‘body of Rome’, much more importantly the head of this body symbol emphasises the gravity of the events that take place via its constantly altering depiction and link back to the motif. At the beginning of Shakespeare’s first revenge tragedy Titus is asked to undertake the position of Emperor of Rome and in a sense “help to set a head on headless Rome.” This pivotal point in the play demonstrates a guarantee of restoration of order and a prosperous future, nevertheless, this is rapidly deteriorated by Titus’ refusal and handover of power to Saturninus, the preceding emperor’s eldest son. As Titus was the people’s preferred leader the energy he has vested in Saturninus is felt to be illegitimate and unlawful, rapidly proven by the unfolding events in the remainder of the text. The head is the most vital branch of the physique motif, reiterated by the immediate demise of the rest of the body politic. The relation of a chief authority figure hyperlinks back to the context of the time of publication and Queen Elizabeth’s monarchist rule over England. The value of a ‘head’ on Rome, which is revealed as the empire continues to crumble as the plot progresses, reinforces the necessity of the energy structures of the 16th century. The 1st act of the play sets the stage for the unfolding occurrences, produced clear to the audience via the use of the parallel physique symbol.

The power imbalance and beheading of Rome resulting from act a single in the text continues to result in repercussions that are continually reflected in the body motif. The frequent dismembering of physique parts is a figurative maintenance of the disintegration of the Roman physique politic and promise of a fall from grace of a majority of the central characters. Titus Andronicus includes nearly eighty mentions of hands and frequent relations to the tongue, highlighting the significance of these body components in relation to the physique metaphor as a whole. After Titus first sees his daughter Lavinia following her rape and mutilation by the unlawful leaders of Rome, Chiron and Demetrius, sans a tongue and hands, he states that this is fortunate, as his hands’ service to Rome had revealed itself to be futile and fruitless: “Tis properly, Lavinia, that thou hast no hands/ For hands to do Rome service is but vain.” In this scene hands are employed as a symbol of physical effort, which when given to the empire provides absolutely nothing in return. This break down of the physique motif is sustained via the decapitation of two of Titus’ sons, an event which he is manipulated into believing to be preventable via the cutting off of his own hand. This again reflects the ineffectiveness of dedication to the state, and on a symbolic level the intertwined nature of the physique politic. The numerous relations to body components, largely hands, remind the audience of the crumbling state of the Roman Empire in Titus Andronicus.

The resolution of Titus Andronicus takes place amongst the aftermath of the climatic scene and offers the audience assurance of restoration of the former glory of the Roman Empire. Once again, this info is presented via the use of the physique motif, which, following falling apart by way of its figurative ‘murder’, is assured to have the ability to be returned to its former energy and strength. The climax of the text takes place as a banquet held by Titus for the emperor and empress of Rome. This scene sees Tamora, the empress who has exacted her revenge on Titus throughout the course of the play, unintentionally consume her personal sons: “Why there they are, both bakèd in this pie, / Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, / Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.” Following this final act of vengeance Titus kills his daughter Lavinia, who he sees as already dead after losing her chastity, tongue and hands, stabs Tamora, and then proceeds to be murdered by Saturninus, which is followed rapidly by this act getting avenged by Titus’ only remaining son, Lucius. This slaughter results in a decrease in the number of remaining central characters, including the key holders of power, with the exception of Lucius, Aaron and Marcus, the latter of which promises to appropriate the actions of the former leaders that resulted in the demise of the empire, linking this to the body motif utilized frequently in the play: “O let me teach you how to knit once more / This scattered corn into one particular mutual sheaf, / These broken limbs once more into one physique.” This speech ties together the repercussions of the conflicts in the play by suggesting that the broken-apart physique politic can be reassembled into what it was before. The final scene of the play links the resolution to the body politic, implying that each this and on a literal level, the crumbled empire, can be returned to their former state.

The use of a recurring motif in a text can further the audience’s comprehension of the gravity of important events in the relation to the plot as a whole. Titus Andronicus, amongst other symbols, uses the thought of the body politic to reinforce the consequences of character choices, focussing on various functions as the play goes on in order to demonstrate the disintegration of the physique politic due to civil unrest. The head is utilized to represent the ruler of the Roman Empire and the pivotal nature of Titus’ rejection of the title. Following this occurrence the rest of the body follows in suit, slowly breaking down parallel to the dissolving state of the Roman Empire. With the resolution of the play comes a guarantee of a remedy for Rome and a re-joining of its symbolic body parts. These elements combine together to kind a single fluid comparison of the key events and give a greater level of plot presentation to the audience, following it steadily from the exposition, focussing on the head of the body metaphor, by means of the central conflict utilizing repetition of the hand motif and finally to the resolution which demonstrates assurance of full resolve following the crumble of the Roman Empire and its corresponding body politic.


Wikipedia. (2012). Themes in Titus Andronicus. Retrieved April five, 2014, from Wikipedia:

GradeSaver. (2013). Titus Andronicus Themes. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from GradeSaver:

Shmoop. (2013). Titus Andronicus – Physique Parts. Retrieved April five, 2014, from Shmoop:
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