An End and a Means to an End in Titus Andronicus and The Winter’s Tale

March 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

Two similarly flawed notions of love are presented in Shakespeare’s plays Titus Andronicus (TA) and The Winter’s Tale (TWT). Both are rooted in differing degrees of misogyny, yet diverge significantly in their overarching objective. The model of love portrayed in TA is an end in itself; the play does not necessarily condemn the treatment and plight of Lavinia—rather, it accepts her predicament matter-of-factly and displays her drawn-out demise with a detachment reminiscent of Titus’ temperament. On the contrary, while the marriage of Leontes and Hermione is tainted by jealousy and paranoia, it is visibly reprehended on all fronts. The chauvinistic king is ultimately penitent—his nature disapproved of by all surrounding characters and implicitly by the author himself—and a paragon of love in the form of Florizel and Perdita is held up as a counterpoint, providing an ideal standard for the purpose of contrasting with and underscoring the older relationship’s shortcomings. In that sense, TA provides a problem (or a series of problems), and TWT provides a similar set—but with an endorsed solution. One could say this distinction is the main component of their respective identities: a nihilistic tragedy and a romantic tragicomedy.The leading women of both plays are ironically well-spoken and eloquent in expression. Lavinia is educated, well-versed, and the paradigmatic example of a refined noblewoman. Hermione proves worthy and able to make a valid argument against her influential husband. They are credible symbols of status. They are high women to tear down, break down, and hold down—female equivalents of the tragic hero. The plays thus proceed to do so with dark and paranoiac zeal.TA initiates this process by opening with conquers of both land and lady as spoils; from the start, it is a testosterone-driven action plot emphasizing vengeance and father-son relationships, with women playing out relative to the men in their lives. The plotline concerns itself less with enumerating any ideal definition of love; rather, it places the story on the table without making any strong statement in any particular direction. Women are objectified sans authorial judgment, and desire for both Tamora and Lavinia does not distinguish between the individual herself and what she represents as a status symbol. This blurred line in the concept—or acquisition—of “love” is seen in the conversation between Chiron, Aaron, and Demetrius (II.1.79-86):CHIRON Aaron, a thousand deathsWould I propose to achieve her whom I love. AARON To achieve her! How? DEMETRIUS Why makes thou it so strange? She is a woman, therefore may be wooed; She is a woman, therefore may be won; She is Lavinia, therefore must be loved.Demetrius’ rhetoric and conclusion is presented matter-of-factly and as self-explanatory; he does not skip a beat in bridging the connection between femininity and the corollary processes of wooing, winning, and loving. His tone is pedantic and the rhythm creates the odd sensation that he is reciting something as logical and basic as a catechism or set of grammatical rules in secondary school; a syllogism. Aaron’s response to Chiron is so dripping with mock pretense and naïveté that he seems to be deriding the readers’ thoughts. This patriarchal system is extended through Lavinia’s predicament, which chillingly illuminates the role and plight of women as perceived in TA. Her impassioned plea for death in lieu of rape and disfigurement elucidates several beliefs and value systems of her time (II.3.173-178): LAVINIA ‘Tis present death I beg, and one thing moreThat womanhood denies my tongue to tellO, keep me from their worse than killing lust,And tumble me into some loathsome pit,Where never man’s eye may behold my body.Do this, and be a charitable murderer.In this one passage, the princess’s words reveal her bleak awareness of the limited extent of her role as a female in life. By her standards, actual death is more welcome than the living death sentence of mutilation and rape, which makes a strong statement on a woman’s worth in the play. “…Their lust (or more precisely, the rape that will come of it),” she argues, is “worse than killing.” The oxymoronic “charitable murderer” parallels the seemingly paradoxical choice of death over life, however diminished the quality of the latter may be. There is strong suggestion that without her beauty and chastity, Lavinia loses all value to society—a concept of which she is only too painfully aware. The life unmarried is not worth living. Indeed, Titus keeps her alive only for his own purposes—for the attack on her is an equivalent attack on his own honor, thus to him, she serves as a living memento mori; a human means to his vengeful end. With eventual marriage out of consideration, there is no further function in her existence as a maimed daughter, as a woman’s utility does not extend beyond the roles of mother and wife. Lavinia symbolizes the extreme example of the woman who must be seen and not heard—she is literally deprived of her linguistic powers of communication and physically robbed of body language (or at least a significant component of it, hands being one of the most expressive instruments after countenance). Accordingly, Lavinia is promptly and dispassionately written off in cold blood once her father’s revenge is enacted on her behalf. TA thus shows the audience, without comment, a world of detached men and dehumanized women, the latter of which are only as valuable as their service in reproduction and status. In contrast to Lavinia’s impersonal dismissal, TWT has more method behind its initial misogynistic madness. The marriage of Leontes and Hermione in TWT is directly contrasted with the ideal relationship between Perdita and Florizel to illustrate right and wrong. Where the prior is lacking, the latter compensates with abundance. To begin, Leontes is written to be easily criticized due to the novel’s unsympathetic portrayal of his actions—the audience is meant to quickly side against him. His language is excessively harsh, and besides Paulina as his most vocal opponent, not one male character will stand by his decisions. This lack of support from virtually the entire kingdom turns him into the scapegoat of the play—albeit one placed on a social pedestal. One of Leontes’ most biting and brilliant passages is bluntly misogynistic and obsessively convinced of Hermione’s infidelity. He generalizes all women and proceeds to make pessimistic assumptions of the universal order—“Should all despair, that have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind would hang themselves…(1.2.198-200)” He self-pityingly laments playing the role of a cuckold—“…thy mother plays, and I play too—but so disgraced a part, whose issues will hiss me to my grave…(1.2.186-187)” To Leontes, marriage is essentially a sham, an arrangement based on deception and lies to maintain social order for most of mankind, with men as the assumed victims of feminine guile. Shakespeare bases this royal marriage on male possessiveness and the salient concept of ownership tied to marriage. Male dominance is the mantra by which Leontes conducts the convention of marriage, and he self-righteously assumes responsibility as the universal enforcer of patriarchal discipline. When he feels that Paulina has stepped out of line in advising him, he insults her as “a mankind witch (2.3.65),” and berates Antigonus for not keeping his wife in check—“Will you not push her out? …Thou dotard, thou art woman-tired, unroosted/By thy Dame Partlet here. (2.3.72-74)” Leontes holds strong opinions on a wife’s role and socially acceptable temperament, and blatantly insists that all males around him control the household as he himself does. Subsequently, the rustic amour of young Perdita and Florizel, cultivated in the idyllic countryside, is conspicuously juxtaposed with this power-trip relationship of the older generation. Decked out in flowers, Perdita brings with her the arrival of spring, color, and promise into this once-dreary “winter’s tale,” and even the name Florizel is positively connotative; all figurative language hence employed aims to applaud the younger couple’s moral prevalence. They are portrayed as untainted and pure with a stable foundation of trust in their engagement, placing each others’ priorities before their own. Florizel’s devotion to Perdita never wavers, even when in opposition to his father’s approval—“…or I’ll be thine, my fair/Or not my father’s. For I cannot be/Mine own, nor anything to any, if/I be not thine. To this I am most constant/Though destiny say no…(4.4.42-46)” Their steadfast and honorable fidelity even in turbulent times is so patently lauded; it marks a stark contrast to Leontes’ unwarranted paranoia that artificially creates unnecessary waves in times of peace. This blatant approval of the younger couple is a correspondingly deliberate disapproval of the older couple’s marriage foundation. To further inculcate this preferential distinction, the plot has Leontes psychologically punished and regularly castigated by Paulina for sixteen years before his reformation is complete. Equally significant, Hermione—while compliant and suppressed in the beginning—is eventually the cause of Leontes’ turnaround and even experiences something of a rebirth. Leontes is the one who plays the dynamic character who reverses his platform policies and philosophy, rather than Hermione, who never compromises her staunchly held beliefs. The ending of TWT is climactic and joyful, concluding a winter’s tale of initial death and loss with eventual spring, marriage, and renewal—in both life and love. It is here that the two plays differ most conspicuously—while Shakespeare simply tells a story in TA without spelling out specific principles, he proffers a manifesto through TWT delineating the traits of a “proper” relationship. TA presents no black and white, good and bad dichotomy to the audience—in fact, all the characters are flawed—unlike TWT which contrasts one sexist, unbalanced relationship with its foil of equality and trust, and reiterates the superiority of the latter relationship continually. TA ends with inconclusive brutalities and casualties, and TWT ends triumphantly, though only after trial and tribulation, and having established death as an ever-present force. It is in these last two acts of restorative comedy that TWT shines light on and gives purpose to the three preceding acts of unremitting tragedy, conclusively submitting a particular, precise notion of love as ideal.

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