Use of Catharsis

Posted: March 18, 2013 in NEW

Okay everyone,

I know that this is post is a little atypical, but when considering story and character development it is always good to look at the masters that helped to shape the art of drama and theater into what it is today. William Shakespeare’s catalog is a vast well of knowledge when it comes to story and character. His play, Titus Andronicus would probably be found on the shelf right next to movies like Saw if it were produced today… So it kind of does fit in here at The Horrors of The Horror Business!

Enjoy– Jim

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare can be said to be an intimate portrait of what a devastating effect revenge and dark hearts can have on family and friends. Titus is a noble General, seemingly bred for war. Upon returning to Rome from his war against the Goths he is asked to take the seat of Emperor of the great nation to which he has devoted his life. Titus is tired and years of killing has given him the desire to lead a life of leisure out of the limelight and notoriety. The tragedy is chock full of despicable deeds and unbelievable cruelties. It is in response to these events that Titus changes from a notable Roman patriot to a man ruined by hatred and controlled by his need for vengeance. William Shakespeare expertly uses catharsis to keep the audience engaged and shows a clear character progression for the protagonist that is almost predestined by Titus’ own hamartia.

Shakespeare uses catharsis to create sympathy for many of the characters in the play. Lavinia is perhaps the best example of this, as she is brutally raped, her hands are cut off, and her tongue is cut out. The events that befell Titus’ only daughter sound truly horrific, but they are effective in building sympathy for not only her character but also for Titus himself.  This works to set the stage for the rest of the tragedy and by the time the heads of his sons are returned to him along with his own discarded hand the audience simply cannot wait to see Titus take his revenge on the Emperor, Tamora, and her despicable Moorish lover, Aaron.  Tamora’s plight for revenge is also understandable, in another example of catharsis Shakespeare writes the heart wrenching “mother’s plea” to Titus to spare her eldest son from sacrifice after they are brought in as prisoners. Her pleas go unanswered and it is at this time that she vows to take revenge on the Andronici.

Titus is certainly a complex and multi-faceted character; he is a warrior, a diplomat, a political figure, and a father. For far too long he has allowed his service to Rome to take his loyalty and attention from his own family and only near the very end of his life does he realize the importance of his sons and daughters. Titus’ hamartia is at first his blind devotion to Rome and throughout the course of the story it becomes his need for revenge. Titus’ fatal flaw can be said to be his devotion to his country, by the time he realizes that he must fight back against the Emperor and his new wife, Tamora, most of his family has been killed, and his only virginal daughter raped and shamed.  If Titus was able to take action sooner further tragedy could have certainly been avoided. Titus’ need for revenge ensured that he would die the way that he lived: by the sword.

The events of Titus Andronicus do provide an emotional release for the audience after Titus achieves his revenge. The death of Titus helps to solidify the lesson of what revenge can do to a person’s heart and the blackness it can leave on the human soul. The ascension of Titus’ last son to Emperor is a bit of a payoff, but one could argue that if Titus had just taken the throne in the first place, the whole tragic situation could have been averted. The villainous Aaron is arrested, but never shown to be made accountable for his malicious and contemptuous acts throughout the course of the play.

In conclusion, William Shakespeare uses several dramatic elements to make Titus Andronicus a captivating and fast paced play. The level of brutal violence in the play helps to build catharsis with the audience and the struggle of Titus’ with his own hamartia is unique and tragic in itself. Some loose ends are kept open at the conclusion of the play, but for the most part the tragic fall of a great Roman general is brilliantly executed in this early work of the Bard. It can certainly be said that William Shakespeare expertly uses catharsis to keep the audience engaged and shows a clear character progression for the protagonist that is almost predestined by Titus’ own hamartia.

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