Stealing Shives: Titus Andronicus as Chaucerian Anti-Romance


Kurt Schreyer


Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus, or as it was originally titled in the 1594 quarto, The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus, is famous for its Senecan and Virgilian influences, as well as for its staging of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Yet this essay argues that Titus may be more medieval than we have allowed ourselves to believe, demonstrating in particular the play’s indebtedness to Chaucer. The first part of the essay explores the Chaucerian resonances which Shakespeare adapts from The Canterbury Tales. Having established Chaucer’s influence on Titus, the second part of the essay considers what it would mean if Q1’s titular adjective “Romaine” were understood more broadly to implicate medieval Romance as well as ancient Rome. I show that Chiron and Demetrius’s cruel treatment of Lavinia is not the aberrant behavior of uncivilized foreigners (as Titus and his family would have it) but the commonplace and indeed requisite attitude of aristocratic chivalry. Shakespeare finds in Chaucer a ready-made critique of the conventional rhetoric of courtly love which animates both chivalric romance and classical stories like the tale of Philomela. Joining Chaucer, and indeed a broader community of medieval authors like Boccaccio, in examining the legacy of Rome in the literary traditions of both Latin humanism and medieval romance, Shakespeare exposes the awful violence suborned by the humanist project.

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