‘Our Troy, our Rome’

Classical Intertextuality in Titus Andronicus

in Critical Survey
Graham HoldernessUniversity of Hertfordshire, UK

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In Titus Andronicus, the many classical literary sources of the play function as templates for its events, as if the tragedy had already been anachronistically pre-written by poets of the Augustan era. The literature of the past, like history, serves, in Titus’s own words, as ‘a pattern, precedent and lively warrant’ (5.3.57) for present action and behaviour. When literature and drama appear to become the basis and precedent for human experience, then there is a two-way process of consolidation and de-realisation. Dramatic and poetic literature can start to look more like history; but at the same time real events can take on the complexion of a mere fantasy repetition, in Hamlet’s words ‘a fiction, a dream of passion’ (3.2.179). Pieced together, this continual evocation of literary, dramatic and poetic precedent constitutes a vision of Rome which is explicitly identified as an aesthetically crafted fantasy for oral narration and dramatisation on the early modern stage.

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