Sorrow Flouted at Is Double Death

Titus Andronicus, Act III

One of the most horrific news stories I’ve ever encountered occurred on 2 October 2006, when a lone gunman opened fire in an Amish schoolhouse.  A summary of that tragic event and how it unfolded may be found HERE.

What’s more remarkable than yet another shocking episode of violence perpetrated against innocent children is the Amish reaction that followed.  Rather than avenging the deaths or seeking the harshest available form of justice, the Amish community rallied to forgive the perpetrator and include the mother of the shooter in the circle of healing.

It’s a truly heart-wrenching story that will rewrite your assumptions about the capacity of the human heart to handle grievous loss.  If you are seeking an example of how religion exemplifies the capacity to elevate the soul, look no further than HERE.

This surely came to mind because of how Titus Andronicus has unfolded.  I think back to Act I and what Titus did to invoke the wrath of the gods.  I say gods as if I were referring to someone like Job, who God allowed Satan to mess with.  But like all matters regarding Shakespeare, the evils invoked have a human source of origin, in this case, the unwillingness of Titus to grant amnesty to the son of the captured Goth queen, Tamora.  If he had done this, there would have been no tragedy.

But is this really true?  I wonder, because Saturninus, Aaron and Tamora are not nice people.  Without the initial injustice, will Tamora and the captured Goths make nice?  Would the lust of Tamora’s two sons still vent in the bestial acts committed against Lavinia, Titus’ lovely daughter?  Would his two sons have been falsely set up for murder?  Would Saturninus be any nicer?  Would Aaron, Tamora’s secret lover, not savor the black art of dirty tricks?

Titus, it seems to me, is very much in the mold of Othello, a great general who finds the real trouble begins once he returns home.  At every point in the story so far, he has behaved with the utmost attention to honor, even to the extreme of killing his own son for attempting to save Lavinia for marriage to her betrothed.  He declined the title of emperor in favor of Saturninus.  And when he allows the son of Tamora to be executed, he does so not out of power but because his own soldiers seek a ritual act to becalm the souls of their slain brethren.  The moment demands it, even if he still might override convention and heed Tamora’s plea to amnesty her son.

Nothing Titus ever did equates to the cataclysm that befalls him.  Had Tamora recognized this, she might not have unleashed the venom of blood-feud revenge that exacts such a toll on the whole Titus clan.  It might have ended long before the woe. 

But it didn’t – and hasn’t – and isn’t about to, I’m afraid.  For we’ve reached the turning point when Titus has discovered the source of his pathetic misery.  His troubles have a known cause and that cause is about to meet his wrath.  I wonder what Job might have done if his plagues had a human genesis.  Would he too have exacted his revenge?

Because of Titus’s essential goodness, the turn we’re about to take has a familiar feel to it.  The avenger of inflicted wrongs has become a common anti-hero in Hollywood movies.  The ones that come to mind are Death Wish, Braveheart, Once Upon a Time in the West, Dirty Harry (basically anything starring early Clint Eastwood), and another film featuring Mel Gibson.

Shakespeare would have made one helluva screenwriter.

 

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