In attempting to compare the two plays, it is imperative to examine first what qualifies Titus Andronicus as a Shakespearean tragedy, in order to provide a common basis on which to compare the effectiveness of the two plays. Using Bradley’s criterion2 of what composites a Shakespearean tragedy; Titus Andronicus does indeed fulfil some of the basic criteria, such as featuring a tragic hero possessing a fatal flaw and making flawed decisions as a result of that flaw, but there exists some ambivalence as to whether or not he truly attains anagnorisis..
Firstly, Titus, as a character, can be considered a tragic hero. He possesses a high status as a Roman General well-regarded and respected by his fellow Romans. This is evident in the opening act, where the citizens of Rome “have by common voice/ In election for the Roman empery” chosen Titus to succeed the dead Emperor. His fatal flaw or “tragic trait” however, is being egocentric and overly-focused on his public image, illustrated in his pursuit and anger of his children when Bassianus elopes with Lavinia aided by Titus’s other sons. His outrage does not stem from the disappointment that his children disobey him thus- rather, it stems from the horror that his children chose to rebel publicly, and that by association their behaviour reflects adversely on his own honour. Though the maintenance of one’s honour was considered important in Ancient Rome, Titus displays an obsession that borders on extreme, as defending his honour takes precedence over familial ties.
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Hence, in his rebuke of Lucius, Titus is anxious to distance himself from his children, publicly disowning them by claiming “Nor thou, nor he, are any sons of mine”, referring to Lucius as a “traitor”, and later callously refusing to bury Mutius in the Andronici’s tomb..This obsession is also evidenced in his constant invoking of the term in the immediate aftermath of his children’s rebellion. For example, he claims that his children “would never so dishonour me” (I.1.298); after he is chastised by Saturninus, Titus refers to himself as “dishonoured thus” (343); and finally, in response to his family’s pleading that he allow Mutius to be buried in the family tomb, Titus laments that Mutius “hath dishonoured all our family” (348), and accuses Marcus that with his Titus’s sons “mine honour… hast wounded.” Even after he acquiesces, his final thoughts still obsess over his tarnished reputation, “The dismall’st day is this that e’er I saw, / To be dishonoured by my sons in Rome.
”(387-388) Dishonour to Titus is such a horrific prospect, that he would choose death over it, as seen in his despondent request to “bury him the next”(389) after Mutius rather than let him endure the shame of dishonour. This myopic one-mindedness in defending his honour is emphasised when his melancholy only disappears when Saturninus pardons him publicly, and this restoration of his honour “infuses new life” in Titus, despite the fact that now Mutius’s death seems even more wasted and pointless as it has not aided Titus in regaining his honour at all. The obsession with his honour does not just illustrate how much emphasis Titus puts on public image, but also his own sense of self-importance, in that he views himself to have more importance than any other person. This is seen in the confrontation between him and Mutius, where Titus questions mockingly “barr’st me my way in Rome?” insinuating that in his own mind, Titus views himself possessing a status superior to anyone else (except perhaps, the emperor.
) Titus also views his family as extensions of his self. As a result, his children are always referred to in possessive terms, his sons are “his joys”; Lavinia is “a cordial of mine age.” (I.1.166) By implication, however, it indicates that in Titus’s mind they exist for him, and anything they do reflects back directly onto him.