Titus’ Greatest Speech

Although Titus Andronicus is not considered one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies, it is not without its compelling speeches. This I believe applies to all thirty-seven plays in the standard canon. Act Three in this tragedy of Titus Andronicus, contains a speech that leaves me breathless in its profundity. In Act Three, Titus bemoans his, “heart’s deep languor,” over two of his son’s shameful and soon-to-be-carried-out executions. Titus has in the past lost, “two and twenty sons,” but he notes, “I never wept because they died in honor’s lofty bed.” The two sons implicated were framed for murder maliciously by Tamora’s lover, Aaron, by being led into a pit disguised with leaves and branches where the stabbed and murdered Bassianus lay. At the outset Tamora’s eldest son was sacrificed by Titus Andronicus himself, which adds an element of karmic irony since Tamora wasn’t directly privy to Aaron’s conspiracy but certainly would invite any harm that would spite Titus. Shakespeare is certainly making an observation that revenge creates a cycle of injuries that results in exponentially increasing bloodshed. In any case, after Titus has pleaded incessantly for his two sons’ lives and is ignored by the tribunes passing by, a brother to the doomed pair, Lucius, chides Titus sternly:

Lucius. O noble father, you lament in vain,

The tribunes hear you not, no man is by,

And you recount your sorrows to a stone.

Titus. Ah, Lucius, for thy brothers let me plead.

Grave tribunes, once more I entreat of you.

Lucius. My gracious lord, no tribune hears you speak.

And then comes Titus’ poignant explanation that he is in fact not speaking to the tribunes at all.

Why, ’tis no matter, man, if they did hear

They would not mark me, if they did mark

They would not pity me, yet plead I must, 

And bootless, unto them.

Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones,

Who though they cannot answer my distress,

Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes,

For that they will not intercept my tale:

When I do weep they humbly at my feet

Receive my tears and seem to weep with me…

A stone is soft as wax, tribunes more hard than stones:

A stone is silent and offendeth not,

And tribunes with their tongues doom men to death.

Shakespeare is here showing his appreciation of being able to speak freely, without fear of derision or retribution. We all know the things we say to others have consequences, but there is a satisfaction in speaking what we truly feel to someone who will sympathize with our sorrows and rest indifferent to our misconceptions. The fear of criticism is one of our biggest dreads, as the desire for expression is one of our chiefest needs, and to avoid the former and fulfill the latter Titus boldly decrees his solution and without hesitation:

I tell my sorrows to the stones…

Pericles and Thaisa’s Miracle

The essence of Pericles is hope, miracle, and devotion. In the first scene of act three, a strong tempest rages at sea. After giving birth to Marina at sea, Thaisa is presumed dead . Pericles shows his simple humanity and doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. He laments, “O you gods! Why do you make us love your goodly gifts, and snatch them straight away?” Thenceforth, the sailors demand that because of the strong storm at sea, that the Queen must overboard, or they believe the sea will refuse to wax calm. Pericles immediately dismisses this as their superstition but the sailors are steadfast and Pericles has no choice but to relent. He offers an emotional tribute to Thaisa that rings painfully heartwreching:

[3.1 lines 56 -64] A terrible childbed hast thou had my dear

No light, no fire, Th’ unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly! Nor have a time

To give the hallowed to thy grave, but straight

Must cast thee, scarcely coffin’d, in the ooze;

Where, for a monument upon thy bones

And e’er remaining lamps, the belching whale

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse,

Lying with simple shells.

After Pericles offers his apology for not being able to offer her the proper burial he so firmly believes that she deserves, he asks for some items to assist him in giving her the best burial he can given the circumstances: spices; to preserve a pleasant aroma to her casket, ink and paper; to compose a hand-written petition to bury her, (should the casket be retrieved) and jewels; to afford her burial. Pericles writes thus:

Here I give to understand,

If e’er this coffin drives-land,

I, King Pericles, have lost

This queen, worth all our mundane cost.

Who finds her, give her burying;

She was the daughter of a king.

Besides this treasure for a fee,

The gods requite his charity!

 He also procures a water-sealed casket to preserve her body. His devotion and love is as boundless as the sea, and it is beautiful to witness. It is obvious from our observation in this scene, that he had no reasonable expectation of ever seeing her again, but because the sailors wanted her overboard straightaway after presuming her dead, we cannot be sure if or if not Pericles had any modicum of hope that she might be able to be revived, but he had no time, the sailors were firm in their demand, yet the meticulous way he handled her conveyance overboard may intimate a sliver of hope for her survival somewhere deep in his psyche. 

Miraculously, her case washes ashore and even more miraculously, she is revived. 

Many years later, ultimately, Pericles and Thaisa are reunited, Pericles thanks the gods most robustly, “You gods, your present kindness makes my past miseries sports.” 

Conclusively, Pericles’ towering love and devotion to Thaisa undoubtedly deserved his reward, and in a moment of overwhelming joy he bids her to, “Come, be buried a second time within these arms.”

The Speech That Sums It All Up In “The Two Noble Kinsmen”

If the epilogue to the Tempest is Shakespeare’s official farewell to the theatre, then the last speech of TTNK (not including the epilogue strongly presumed to be authored by Fletcher) is Shakespeare’s   ultimate farewell of farewells; as it is likely, other than his will, it is the last thing he wrote. It is a speech that to me ranks as one of the most momentous in the canon as it summarizes one of the most profound and ultimate truths:  uncertainty & the vicissitudes of fortune. It is render’d in poetic terms unmatch’d by any:

[5.4 lines 123-136] A day or two

Let us look sadly, and give grace unto

The funeral of Arcite, in whose end

The visages of bridegrooms we’ll put on

And smile with Palamon; for whom an hour,

But one hour since, I was as dearly sorry

As glad of Arcite; and am now as glad

As for him sorry. O you heavenly charmers,

What things you make of us! For what we lack,

We laugh, for what we have, are sorry; still

Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful

For that which is, and with you leave dispute

That are above our question. Let’s go off,

And bear us like the time.

I think it’s heartwarming to note the last speech Shakespeare ever wrote leaves us with the bard’s impression of what it means to appreciate our lives. Shakespeare certainly realized he had lived an incredible life and here two years before his death he writes his thanks: “Let us be thankful for that which is, andleave dispute that are above our question.” What a beautiful motto for us to live by as we navigate through life and continue to discover what it means to be human. We thank you, William Shakespeare.