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…

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