An essential element to any Shakespearean tragedy is the idea of human suffering. In both Tittus Andronicus and King Lear no one can deny that the characters in these plays do indeed suffer and at great lengths, but the question begs to be asked what is the source of this suffering? Keeping in mind that during the times in which William Shakespeare wrote death, adultery and fragrant sexuality where at an optimal level and as such single parent families frequently resulted.
Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and King Lear are indeed tales that show the follies of such single parent families and more precisely those families that lack a mothering figure. It is this lack of the female in the parental role, which serves as a source of suffering for both the parents and their children. With out female partner in the play, Titus Andronicus is with a doubt a completely masculine figure who instead of being dedicated to a wife is instead is dedicated to his country, Rome. These two factors greatly play against each other in Titus Andronicus and serve to be extremely problematic for Titus and his children.
Valerie Traub states in her essay Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare , that “the sixteenth century was patriarchal. The Father was likened to the ruler of the realm, with extreme powers and complete control. ” (Traub, 129) Within the first scene, the Titus that the reader is presented with desire’s complete control over his family and it is the lack of a female presence that gives him such control. Left with out a mothering influence in the play Titus is able raise each of his sons to be warriors, manly men who like their father serve Rome in a militaristic way.
Titus leads them into war with Rome’s enemies, the Goths, and as result loses “five and twenty valiant sons. ” (Shakespeare,I. i,78) in this battle. This is the first example of how Titus’ love of o Rome and his position as a parent blur together horribly. It is this over dedication to Rome and his lacking of the lacking of the feminine, which also causes Titus to turn a cold heart to Tamora’s pleas.
“Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed, a mother’s tears in passion for her son; and if thy sons were ever dearer to thee O, think my son to be as dear to me! Shakespeare, I. i, 106-108) However, Titus’ devotion to Roman customs and inability to identify with a mother’s pleas, that her “son is mark’d and die he must, t’appease their groaning shadows that are gone” (Shakespeare, I. i, 125-126. ) His lack of femininity and desire that Roman tradition be followed allows him no sympathy for this upset mother and as result will suffer later in the play.
Titus’ failings as a parent and extreme devotion to Rome become most apparent when, “In a bad quarrel,” he, “[slays] a virtuous son” (Shakespeare, I. 341) for opposing his decision to allow Lavina, Titus’ daughter, to become the wife of Rome’s new emperor, Saturninus. Even in this decision he does not consult with his daughter to see if it is her desire to become “Rome’s royal mistress. ” (Shakespeare, I. i, 241) It is clear that Titus is unable to separate his role as a father from his position as a General in Rome’s army. Traub argues “that those character’s left outside of the world of marriage tend to be masculine because of their temperaments” (Traub, 133) and this is very true with Titus.
For Titus the lack of a wife hinders him from seeing any other future for his sons other then to being warriors, it prevents him from sympathizing with a mother’s pleas and furthermore leave him demanding strict obedience form his children. Traub’s argument also holds true for the title character in King Lear. Like Titus Andronicus Lear’s temperament is very much masculine. He becomes outraged at his daughter Cordelia when she claims that, “I love your majesty according to my bond no more or no less” (Shakespeare, I. i, 92-93) and “disclaims all” his ”parental care.
Shakespeare, Ii, 112) Harold Bloom author of Shakespeare: The Evolution of the Human states that “the lack of a mate leaves Lear wanting to be loved,. ” (Bloom, 497) but he also is quick to mention that “Lear nevertheless always demands more love than can be given within human limitations. ” (Bloom, 493) It is quite possible that Lear’s wife has died recently and it is his daughter’s, which are all that he has remaining. As result his desire to see them confess their love for him is the result and the reason for his resentment of Cordeila as she has not given Lear the full amount of love he desires.
In Titus Andronicus Titus turns away from everything female, however Lear seems to very much desire females in his life however is unable to obtain them because of his extreme masculine nature. After the dismissal of Cordeila Lear advocates the throne and turns toward both Goneril and Regan for comfort. He travels first to Goneril’s home and then to Regan’s to visit, much the way that older parents of today will come to visit for long periods so is the case for Lear.
Ania Loomba points out in her essay Outsiders In Shakespeare that the house that Lear arrives to is not what he expects, “there are no grandchildren for him, only bleak coldness. ” (Loomba, 155) Instead of finding any form of the feminine in either house he is greeted by daughter’s who only express manly qualities such as, aggression, hostility, and mistrust. They see their father as suffering “the imperfections of long-ingraff’d condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years. ” (Shakespeare, I. i, 297-299)
For both Lear and Titus the lack of a female presence in their lives immediately creates complications for the two and their children that play out through the rest of the plays. As was mentioned earlier the lack of a mothering influence turns Tamora into a very dangerous enemy. She swears that she will, “find a day to massacre them all,” (Shakespeare, I. i, 449) and does so. For later on in the play Lavina is raped and mutilated as Aaron confesses to Titus’ son Lucious “t’was her to sons, that cut thy sister’s tongue, ravished her, and cut her hands. ” (Shakespeare, V. 91-93)
For Titus the lack of a woman is life has caused many horrific act and drives him somewhat insane “without another tear to shed,” (Shakespeare, III. i, 266) and full of laughter. Titus’ laughter is the culmination of his despair and the onset of his madness. Grief has so ravaged him that he cannot express his pain in words. His beloved Rome, for which he has fought and for which he has lost twenty-one sons in battle, has become “a wilderness of tigers” (Shakespeare, III. i, 54). Titus has slain his youngest son and foolishly backed Saturninus.
These acts and the ills of Rome weigh heavily on him. So, too, do the rape and mutilation of his only daughter, the executions of two of his sons, the banishment of the sole surviving one, and the indignity of having to debase himself before an ungrateful populace. That words and tears cannot communicate adequately his distress is evident when he remains strangely still after being presented with his murdered sons’ heads and his own severed hand. Significantly, the torrent of words he poured out when he first beheld his horribly disfigured daughter and the volume of tears he shed are missing here.
As if to underscore the loss in numbers and stature of the Andronicus family, Titus asks only, “When will this fearful slumber have an end? ” (Shakespeare, III. i, 252). With his daughter now raped and butchered in an almost unspeakable fashion Titus’ manly nature only leaves him with one method to rectify this crime.. Emily Detmer’s The Need for Lavina’s Voice, mentions that, “Lavina’s inability to say the word rape reminds the else reader that even to speak of rape brings a woman shame. ”(Detemer, 75) It is not only Lavina who feels the shame however but her father as well.
As result Titus asks Saturninus “was it well of rash Virginius to slay his daughter with his own right hand because she was enforc’d, stain’d, and deflow’r’d? ” (Shakespeare, V. iii, 36-38) Saturninus then answers that, “It was Andronicus… because the girl should not survive her shame. ” (Shakespeare, V. iii, 39, 41) Titus is no different he in turn Kills Lavina feeling that neither he nor she should have to suffer the shame of the rape by Tamora’s sons. Titus then kills Tamora but Saturninus then kills him immediately. The blame for the horrors of the last scene falls strongly on Titus’ extreme masculinity.
It creates a very powerful enemy in Tamora who in turn is responsible for his daughter’s rape and mutilation, which drives him mad and causes him to kill his own daughter then only to be murdered by Saturninus. In his search of female tenderness Lear rejects Cordelia, the only daughter who does love him and instead turns to Goneril and Regan, who do not, and finds only sadness. His inability to find this female love causes Lear to curse his daughters and then women in general. “My daughter, or rather a disease… Thou art a bile, A plague sore. Shakespeare, II. iv, 221-224)
Lois Potter calls Lear “the representation of the harsh patriarchal structure of the sixteenth century,” (Potter, 196) in her essay, Shakespeare in the Sixteenth Century and some feminist critics even label Lear as a misogynist. However such a label is unjustly warranted. Though it may be true that Lear does reject ever having any daughters it is only during his period of madness that he does so and it is this madness that is so fascinating as it his madness Lear seemingly rejects the femininity that he so dearly desires.
It is in Lear’s madness where his powerful masculine nature strips him of any ounce of the feminine and he vents out this frustration of being unable to find this female love. “Now all plagues that are in the pendulous air hang fated on the o’er men’s faults lights on thy daughters. ” (Shakespeare, III. iv, 66-68) Though by the end of the novel it appears that Lear does find the true tenderness that he from Cordeilia who tend to his wounds even after his misdeeds to her. This love is short lived as she killed in prison and leads to Lear dying of a broken heart.
In similar fashion to that of Titus Andronicus, Lear suffers the pain of madness, the death of beloved daughter, and his own death and it is result of the lacking of a female presence in his mother role that causes suffering for Lear and his children. In both plays it is not just the protagonists that suffers because of an absent mother figure but instead many of the characters abound with this condition. In Titus Andronicus Tamora looses every bit of her femininity after the ritualistic death of her son. She becomes so consumed by vengeance that she becomes as Bloom states, “a monster with no redeeming qualities. Bloom, 76)
Her character at first draws much sympathy from the reader because of the sadness she endures after her son’s death however the sympathy is short lived. She embarks on a path completely lacking of any kind of womanlike qualities and because of it she and her children suffer greatly. Her femininity becomes in question first when she shows off “her goodly gift in horning” (Shakespeare, II. iii, 67) with Aaron. The act of adultery is clearly a very unfeminine one however, she commits this with out a second thought and both her and her new child suffers as result.
Tamora’s decision to commit adultery with Aaron the Moor leads to a greater complication for the new empress. In act four scene two of the play it is revealed that she gives birth to a black child, which would ultimately serve as the “Empress’ shame and stately Rome’s disgrace. ” (Shakespeare, IV. ii, 60) As the nurse remarks that, “the Emperor in his rage will doom her death. ” (Shakespeare, IV. ii, 113-114) Ania Loomba “Much like today racial conflict was very much a popular theme in Shakespeare’s times,” (Loomba, 151) and through Tamora’s actions show what a hot topic it was for such peoples in the sixteenth century.
She receives this new child of hers with so much contempt that she order’s it dead and such actions clearly lack any kind of motherliness. As result of her adulterous actions, Tamora suffers the burden of unwanted child, which could lead to her own death and the child suffers the sadness of not being only rejected by his own mother but to be ordered to death by her as well. The next event where Tamora’s shows an absence of womanliness is during the rape of Lavinia. Valerie Traub attacks her character claiming “Tamora, who enlists the aid of her own two sons commits an action so horrid that the reader cannot but feel contempt for her. Traub, 130)
Traub’s attack is clearly justified as Tamora coldly turns her back to Lavinia’s please that, “Where never man’s eyes behold my body… Do this, and be a charitable murder,” (Shakespeare II. iii, 177,178 and responds devoid of any femininity, “Farewell, my sons, see that you make her sure, spleenful sons this trull deflow’r. ” (Shakespeare 186-187, 190). The rape mutilation of Titus’ daughter Lavinia only leads Titus to seek vengeance on Tamora and her sons and Titus does get revenge by kidnapping Demetrius and Chiron and states, “Villains, I will rear, two pastries of your shameful heads. Shakespeare, V. Ii,189)
Titus then feeds these pies to their mother and then kills her immediately after. Again the parent has caused nothing but tragedy for the child and their self by abandoning the ways of the feminine. The child of Tamora and Aaron is clearly a child created without the act of love and that Tamora has no love at all for this child and wishes it dead. Though Titus and Tamora show an almost unbelievable ruthlessness toward each other and toward their own offspring, critics have often seen in Aaron’s behavior toward his infant son a refreshing tenderness.
Nanette Jaynes, states that Aaron, the “incarnation of evil:” will “risk everything for the sake of his child. ” Leslie Fiedler claims that Aaron “decides to save the child, which presumably could only function in relation to one as black as he. ” Closer examination of the text, however, shows Aaron as a far more ambivalent parent than the critics have described him. Aaron learns of his child when the nurse enters with the baby and says that Tamora wants the Moor to kill his child. After murdering the nurse.
Aaron addresses his son. Now to the Goths, as swift as swallow flies, There to dispose this treasure in mine arms, And secretly to greet the Empress’ friends. Come on, you thick-lipp’d slave, I’ll bear you hence, For it is you that puts us to our shifts. I’ll make you feed on berries and on roots, And feed on curds and whey, and suck the goat, And cabin in a cave, and bring you up To be a warrior and command a camp. (Shakespeare, IV. ii, 170-180) Although this passage may contain a sort of manly warmth, much in it is also suspect.
Aaron comments that he wishes to “dispose” of the child, a strange choice of words to refer to finding a home for an infant. In the same line he objectifies the child as “treasure,” certainly an echo of Titus’s attitude toward his sons, whose bodies he deposits like war booty in the family tomb. Aaron’s view of the infant becomes clearer as he paints a picture of the motherless childhood in store for the babe. He will force the child to eat berries and suck a goat and the reader cannot ignore the implications of the son being suckled by an animal rather than a human mother.
By cutting the human mother out of the picture, Aaron, like Titus, would create a manly son, like those who were the very founders of Rome, which the Goths wish to conquer. In his mind Aaron creates the child’s future identity as a warrior. The babe affords Aaron a new opportunity to create a self without the nurturing help of the mother, a self no longer a slave but a warrior who may channel the father’s aggression into the destruction of mother Rome. He desires to mold the infant’s character to his own desires and as result both he and the child suffer.