« IndietroContinua »
and Dutch Andronicus plays.
as a ballad, doubtless occasioned by its success, ‘A
1 Account of English Dramatick Poets, 1691, p. 464.
2 Induction to Bartholomew Fair.
3 These are: (1) Eine sehr klägliche Tragoedia von Tito Andronico und der hoffertigen Kayserin, darinnen denckwür
dige actiones gefunden; (2) Jan Vos, Aran en Titus, of wraak en weer-wraak (or Vengeance and counter-vengeance') (performed 1641); (3) German versions of Vos. One of these, performed at Linz in 1699, is known to us by the detailed programme.
of Shakespeare is the German comedy played about 1600 by the English actors abroad under the title: 'A very lamentable tragedy of Titus Andronicus and the haughty empress.' This piece abounds in superficial divergences from the English text. Most of the names are different. Lavinia is called Andronica, Lucius Vespasianus, Marcus Victoriates, Aaron Morian, Tamora's sons Helicates and Saphonus, and Tamora herself Aetiopissa; while the Goths are replaced by Moors. These names suggest that the German play was derived from a rival version of the story, designed to attract the public by a specious air of novelty, while keeping the name of the hero.1 Henslowe's entry of a 'tittus and Vespacia,' mentioned above, is certainly noticeable in connexion with the 'Vespasianus,' who in the German play replaces Lucius ; but the structure of hypothesis thus erected is of perilous frailty, and quite incapable of supporting any conclusion. As Creizenach points out,2 Henslowe's play may quite as well have dealt with the two emperors so named. But in any case the German version contains no trace of organic divergence from the English. Its eight 'acts' follow in rude epitome the same course, omitting, together with everything distinctively learned, much that was needed to make the plot coherent and intelligible.3
1 How slight a bearing the names have upon the literary history of the piece may be inferred from the fact that the name of Titus' daughter, Lavinia in the English play, is Andronica in the German, Rozelyne in Vos, and Lavinia again in the programme of 1699 of a play otherwise wholly founded on Vos.
2 W. Creizenach: Schauspiele der englischen Comoedianten,
3 Thus the sacrifice of Tamora's son disappears from the first Act, and with it the ground and justification of the queen's insatiable thirst for vengeance. Titus' epistolary summons to the gods is in a style of humour too learned for the purpose of the English comedians, and disappears from the play; but an accidental allusion to it later on
(Act VII.) shows that it occurred in the original.
At the most a few unimportant details of an earlier version of the story (perhaps a novel) neglected in our play, possibly survive.1 The play seems in all essentials to be merely a mutilated and simplified version of the English text.
It remains to discuss the claims of this play to be included among the works of Shakespeare. The strength of the external evidence is beyond dispute. Meres in 1598 mentioned Titus Andronicus among the plays on which Shakespeare's fame was founded; every other play in his list being of unquestioned authenticity. The inclusion of the play in the First Folio at least guarantees that Shakespeare had some share in it. Not much weight can be allowed to a late tradition recorded by Ravenscroft, who tells us (Preface to Titus Andronicus, 1687) that he had heard from 'some anciently conversant with the Stage, that it was not originally his (Shakespeare's) but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal parts and characters.' This tradition may of course be authentic; but it may have originated merely in the inevitable attempt to explain how a play in many ways so unlike Shakespeare came to bear his name. A similar hypothesis has commended itself to most English critics who have allowed Shakespeare any participation in the play at all. But the attempts which have been made to specify Shakespearean additions are very unconvincing. To single out a
melodious line or a telling image here and there as Shakespeare's, presupposes a theory of literary production which would render every man's title hazardous to the work of his most brilliant moments. The little
1 The most palpable addition to the matter is Morian (Aaron)'s account of his previous relations
with the queen of 'Mehrenland,' and the conquest of the land by the Romans.
groups of three or six lines which have thus been singled out1 do not stand off from the context by any discrepancy of manner; the same style and movement merely acquire a somewhat heightened vivacity and colouring. It is at least a delicate criticism which will assign, for instance, the opening phrases of Titus' lament over his ravished Lavinia to Shakespeare :
he that wounded her
Hath hurt me more than had he kill'd me dead :
For now I stand as one upon a rock
Environ'd with a wilderness of sea,
Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave,
Will in his brinish bowels swallow him
(iii. 1. 91 f.)
and yet permit the author of the rude original which Shakespeare touched up' to have written, a few lines farther on,
Look, Marcus! ah, son Lucius, look on her!
(iii. 1. 110 f.)
Difficult, however, as any 'touching up' theory is to make plausible in detail, the view that the whole is Shakespeare's work is not to be lightly adopted. Neither in the choice of subject nor in the structure of the plot is there much that recalls Shakespeare. In his later dealings as a dramatist with the Roman world he either re-created history, as in the three great Roman tragedies, or frankly ignored it, as in Cymbeline; he never attempted to reproduce or emulate the bizarre invention of Titus, where quasi-historic figures from the age of the Goths play their part in
1 The following have been specified: i. 1. 9, 70-6, 117-119, 141, 142; ii. I. 82, 83; 2. 1-6;
3. 10-15 iii. 1. 82-86, 91-7; iv. 4. 81-6; v. 2. 21-27; 3. 160-8.
stories borrowed from classic mythology or legend and steeped in the artificial literary atmosphere of Ovid and Seneca. Ignorant as we are of the source of the story, we can hardly be wrong in assuming that the tragic fortunes of Lavinia are modelled on those of the Ovidian Philomela, and the grim vengeance of Titus on the legend of Atreus. The haunted, sunless wood where Atreus slays his nephews (Sen. Thyestes, 650 f.) has passed over into the 'barren detested vale' where Bassianus is slain and Lavinia ravished.2 In the death of Lavinia at her father's hands the memory of Virginia seems to be blended, if not confused, with that of Lucrece; and the confusion may diminish the difficulty we otherwise feel in associating the profuse classical learning of the play with Shakespeare's small Latin and less Greek. In the bloodthirsty Tamora, lastly, who so terribly avenges her slaughtered son, we may perhaps find a reminiscence of the Scythian queen Tomyris, who wreaked her son's death not less grimly upon Cyrus. A promiscuous aggregation of materials like this strikes us as un-Shakespearean. Yet it is not unlike, in the tragic sphere, what the author of Love's Labour's Lost attempted in the sphere of comic satire. The same alert mind which there assembled oddities and extravagances from every phase of contemporary life, may have gratified the same instinct for profusion and multiplicity by weaving from its school-reminiscences this horrible fantasia of classical legends. Moreover, with all the extravagance of certain incidents, Titus Andronicus bears marks of the sanity and self-control which distinguish even the most
1 The often-repeated statement (first made by Steevens) that Painter in the Palace of Pleasure (1567) mentions Titus Andronicus and Tamora' seems
to rest on an error. There is no evidence that the story existed in any form before the play.
2 Cunliffe, Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy, p. 70.