Titus Andronicus: Metaphors

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Imagery and Similes


Much of the imagery of the play is created through similes. A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that brings out a resemblance between them. Similes can often be recognized by the introductory words, “as” or “like.” In Shakespeare’s early plays, he makes much use of extended similes that often take precedence over the dramatic action. The action will stop while a character gives poetic expression to his or her thoughts in long drawn-out similes. This is noticeable in Titus Andronicus as well as plays such as the Henry VI trilogy.


Act 2, scene 1, for example, begins with an extended simile in which Aaron compare the rise of Tamora’s fortunes to the rise of the sun and its passage across the sky:


Now climbethTamora Olympus’ top,
Safe out of fortune’s shot; and sits aloft,
Secure of thunder's crack or lightning flash;
Advanced above pale envy's threat’ning reach.
As when the golden sun salutes the morn,
And, having gilt the ocean with his beams,
Gallops the zodiac in his glistering coach,
And overlooks the highest-peering hills.


As this example shows, much of the imagery is drawn from the natural world (although the above example also contains a classical allusion, to the gods that sit on Mount Olympus in Greek mythology).


Another example of a simile drawn from nature occurs when Marcus Andronicus discovers the mutilated Lavinia:


Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirr'd with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.

Act 2, scene 4, lines 22-25


A little later, Marcus uses another simile drawn from nature to describe Lavinia’s tongue and her voice:


O, that delightful engine of her thoughts
Thatblabb'd them with such pleasing eloquence,
Is torn from forth that pretty hollow cage,
Where, like a sweet melodious bird, it sung
Sweet varied notes, enchanting every ear!

Act 3, scene 2, lines 82-86


Just a few lines later, Titus uses an extended simile to describe the precarious situation he is in as a man stricken with grief:


For now I stand as one upon a rock
Environed with a wilderness of sea,
Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave,
Expecting ever when some envious surge
Will in his brinish bowels swallow him.

Act 3, scene 2, lines 93-98


Sometimes these images drawn from nature are presented not as similes but as metaphors, in which something is directly identified (rather than compared) with something else that on the surface appears very dissimilar. Thus Titus expresses his grief through a metaphoric identification between himself and the sea that includes also a similar identification between Lavinia and the welkin (sky):


I am the sea; hark, how her sighs do blow!
She is the weeping welkin, I the earth:
Then must my sea be moved with her sighs;

Then must my earth with her continual tears
Become a deluge, overflow'd and drown'd;
For why my bowels cannot hide her woes,
But like a drunkard must I vomit them.

Act 3, scene 1, lines 225-31.


The similes in the play are not limited to examples drawn from the natural world. In the following simile, Martius speaks from the pit that contains the corpse of Bassianus, and uses a simile to compare the light that emanates from Bassianus’s ring to a taper lit at a tomb:


Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
Which, like a taper in some monument,

Doth shine upon the dead man's earthy cheeks,
And shows the ragged entrails of the pit.

Act  2, scene 3, lines 226-30

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