Tag Archives: sexual assault

“Titus Andronicus” by William Shakespeare: An Orgy of Violence with a Dose of Racism

TitusAndronicus

Because I am such a glutton for punishment, not only did I finish reading Titus Andronicus yesterday (considered Shakespeare’s worst play), but I also went to see it performed by a local theater company that same evening. I was familiar with the tragedy, having suffered through the visually disturbing film version starring Anthony Hopkins; but still, reading and seeing it back-to-back was a bit much even for me.

I totally understand why people hate this play. Really, there is not much to like about it. It is nothing but gratuitous violence taken about as far as you can go: rape, dismemberment, cannibalism, and murder (murder almost sounds trivial at this point). If Marilyn Manson was to ever record a rock opera, this would be the perfect choice. In addition, the play contains some very racist passages which are even more offensive considering the current issues that society is dealing with regarding race relations.

Arguably the most disturbing scene is the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia. She is raped by Chiron and Demetrius, who then cut out her tongue and lop off both her hands. They then proceed to mock her mangled and abused body.

Demetrius: So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who ‘twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.

Chiron: Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.

Demetrius: See how with signs and tokens she can scrowl.

Chiron: Go home, call for sweet water, wash thy hands.

Demetrius: She hath no tongue to call, nor hands to wash;
And so let’s leave her to her silent walks.

(Act II, scene iv)

Scene from the film Titus

Scene from the film Titus

Although there is no shortage of villains in this play, Aaron, the Moor (or black person), is by far depicted as the worst of the lot. His skin color is presented as a display of his unrepentant lust for evil. Right up to the very end, he revels in the misery he causes. His only regret is that he will not live longer to cause more suffering. It is truly an offensive representation of a black person and certainly must have fed the stereotypes and prejudices of the time.

First Goth: What, canst thou say all this, and never blush?

Aaron: Ay, like a black dog, as the saying is.

Lucius: Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?

Aaron:  Ay, that I had not done a thousand more.
Even now I curse the day–and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,–
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

(Act V, scene i)

As I made my way home after the performance, the images and words still vivid in my mind, I could not help but think of all the hatred, violence, and racism that still plague us. If this play has any redeeming value, it’s that it forces us to look at the world around us and recognize the horror of violence. I sincerely hope that one day we can look at this play as a relic depicting the dark past from which a loving, compassionate, and tolerant humanity emerged.

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Sexual Violation in Shakespeare’s “Double Falsehood”

DoubleFalsehood

It’s strange how often I read something and discover it relates to events taking place in the world around me. Many of us are outraged at the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner, a mere six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. As such, I found it serendipitous that Double Falsehood, written over 500 years ago, also addresses the issue of the sexual violation of women.

For those of you who do now know the history of this play, it is thought to be a lost Shakespeare play. The play has only recently been attributed to him and added to the collection of Shakespeare’s works. If you are interested in reading more about the history of the text, check out this Wikipedia page.

Anyway, I want to focus on the text.

First off, I want to point out that one of the central female characters, the one who is sexually violated in the beginning by Henriquez, is named Violante. I instantly noted the similarity of her name to the word “violate.” Remove the “n” from her name and you have violate, symbolizing a violated woman.

After forcing himself on Violante, Henriquez tries to convince himself he did nothing wrong, that even though she resisted, she did not resist enough and therefore acquiesced in his mind.

Hold, let me be severe to myself, but not
unjust. Was it rape then? No. Her shrieks, her
exclamations then had drove me from her. True, she
did not consent: as true, she did resist; but still in
silence all.

(Act 2, scene 1)

Afterwards, as is often the case with victims of sexual abuse, Violante feels guilt and shame.

Whom shall I look upon without a blush?
There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze
Pierces not to my guilt. What will’t avail me
To say I was not willing?
Nothing, but that I publish my dishonour,
And wound my fame anew. O misery,
To seem to all one’s neighbours rich, yet know
One’s self necessitous and wretched.

(Act 2, scene 2)

In her despair, Violante escapes to the country and disguises herself as a young boy. But her master figures out she is actually a woman and also tries to violate her sexually.

Come, you’re made for love.
Will you comply? I’m madder with this talk.
There’s nothing you can say can take my edge off.

(Act 4, scene 1)

She manages to escape her new attacker, but is then wracked with guilt and despair. Sadly, she considers suicide as the only way to rid herself of the pain she feels as a result of her violation.

And O, thou fool,
Forsaken Violante – whose belief
And childish love have made thee so – go, die!
For there is nothing left thee now to look for
That can bring comfort but a quiet grave.
There all the miseries I long have felt
And those to come shall sweetly sleep together.

(Act 4, scene 2)

While this is certainly not one of Shakespeare’s best works (if in fact it truly is the work of the bard), it’s an easy read and worth checking out, if nothing else but for insight into a social plague that still vexes us today. All sexual assault should be condemned and perpetrators given punishments that suit the crimes. But let me not get too high on the soapbox. Give the play a read and feel free to share your comments in the space below.

Thanks for stopping by and showing an interest in literature.

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