Comparing the Use of Language in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet
As characters of high birth and important political positions, Titus and Hamlet are necessarily observed closely by those around them for their reaction to the tragic events that have taken in place in their lives; and it is primarily the unique language with which they express their grief and anger that disconcerts both their enemies and their friends, and keeps them under an exacting scrutiny for the duration of their eponymous plays. The other characters in Titus Andronicus and Hamlet interpret the language of these tragic heroes, the devices it employs, the lack of decorum it exhibits, as the symptom of madness. It is a language born out of suffering and crafted by intelligence and insight, and, above all, a desire to push language to its expressive limit, and as such, a language that characters like Marcus, Tamora, Polonius, Horatio, and Gertrude cannot appreciate, and are quick to label madness. And yet there is also a sense in which this term in not wholly inapplicable, for, as these plays demonstrate, there is a fine line between poetry and madness.
The language of the principal characters in Titus Andronicus is fraught with poetic devices, such as allusion to classical mythology and extended similes, many of which are in the heroic style of Virgil and Homer and appropriate classical themes. Titus compares his return to Rome with "the bark that hath discharged his fraught/ [and] returns with precious lading to the bay/ from whence at first she weighed her anchorage" and voices a desire that the virtues of Rome's new leader, Saturninus, will "reflect on Rome as Titan's rays on earth" (I.i.71-73, I.i.225-226). Lucius describes the bodies of his dead brothers as an "earthy prison of their bones" (I.i.99). Saturninus expresses Tamora's beauty through a comparison with Diana, goddess of the moon: "lovely Tamora...like the stately Phoebe 'mongst her nymphs/ Dost overshine the gallant'st dames of Rome" (I.i.315-316).
And the similes become more frequent and more drawn out in proportion as the violence and suffering that the characters experience increases, suggesting that cruel and seemingly unmotivated acts, such as the bloody murder of Bassianus, hitherto foreign to the characters, cannot be grasped in an of themselves. Only by comparing them with familiar images from daily life or from mythological legend can the characters begin to have a relationship with these acts of violence, and the grief they inspire. Quintus and Martius can only express their horror at their murdered kinsman through simile-the bloody body of Bassianus is "like to a slaughtered lamb" and the "precious ring" that he wears " lightens all this hole,/ Which, like a taper in some monument,/ Doth shine upon the dead man's earthy cheeks" (II.iii.222-229). Marcus also reverts to metaphor when faced with the horror of criminal violence, in the form of the handless and ravished Lavinia. He employs the...