Violence in ‘Titus Andronicus’: a Benjaminian approach
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This paper offers an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus from the vantage of Walter Benjamin’s concept of«divine violence»,which he theorized in his early work A Critique of Violence(1921). Titus is well known for its over-the-top, gruesome violence, which is perhaps what led to the play’s waning popularity during the 17th, 18th, and19thcenturies. The gore of the play is punctuated by the violent legal apparatus operative within, the Roman Law of equal retribution, lex talionis. Lex talionis ensures that the play’s characters seek retribution in the form of extreme violence, ushering in what Benjamin refers to as mythical violence, a never ending cycle of bloody, violent acts sustained by the legal system itself. What has yet to be considered is the presence of divine violence in the play, as Benjamin puts it, as a form of violence that is«lethal without spilling blood».This paper considers how Aaron the Moor’s self-reflexive villainy, and radical act of grace (when he saves his son from certain death at the hands of Tamora and her nurse) suspend the dialectic of mythical violence and thereby threaten the hegemonic legal order of lex talionisin terms consonant with Benjamin’s description of the function of divine violence.