Titus Andronicus | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Titus Andronicus | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Demetrius and Chiron rape Lavinia and cut off her hands and tongue. The men taunt her because she will not be able to use speech or writing to tell anyone the identity of her assailants and who killed Bassianus. The men leave and Lavinia is left to wander in the forest. She is found by her uncle, Marcus Andronicus. Marcus correctly guesses she was mutilated by a rapist who wanted to protect his identity. He compares his niece to Philomela and laments she cannot write the name of her attacker, as Philomela did. Marcus takes Lavinia to find her father, crying out, "O, could our mourning ease thy misery!"

Analysis

This scene is among the most horrible of all of Shakespeare's works, as the "ravished" and violently maimed Lavinia is taunted by her rapists: "Now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak, / Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee," says Demetrius, with Chiron quickly adding, "Write down thy mind ... if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe."

Marcus Andronicus manages to speak of what has happened in gentler terms, which may seem out of place next to the blood-soaked and mutilated Lavinia. He clearly sees someone has "lopped and hewed and made thy body bare / Of her two branches" and wishes she had hands so that, like Philomela, she might create a tapestry identifying her rapist. Marcus is severely grieved by what has happened, and he knows Titus will be blinded by grief and anger when he sees her. But he also acknowledges the limits of these feelings—they cannot undo what is done. Their mourning cannot ease her misery.

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