Mythological reconfigurations on the contemporary stage: Giving a New Voice to Philomela in Titus Andronicus
University of Montpellier, France
During the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries drama in its various forms was the most emblematic of all the literary arts, combining as it does a visual experience of character and gesture, silent tableau and active scene, with the verbal experience of the spoken and occasionally written word. (Daly 153)Michael Bath took these remarks further by questioning what the choice of this emblematic frame of mind revealed about the English Renaissance episteme. His research on the corpus of Court masks or on the many rewritings of the Ovidian Metamorphoses led him to conclude that these reconfigurations of the Ovidian text could be read in two different ways: as a retractatio (or reworking) written by a successive tradition of different authors who each propose new interpretations of the myth, or as a series of repetitions that offer a crystallisation of a single meaning (be it physical, moral, allegorical or symbolical) of a particular fable. It seems to me that we ought to consider emblems in accordance with the former, less as a fixed repertory of pre-established readings (a ready-made compendium of classical wisdom in the form of common place books) and more like a repertory of variations on the myth, illustrating the adaptable quality of mythology.
We do not explain a thing simply, but display it to be looked at as if it were expressed in colour in a picture, so that it may seem that we have painted, not narrated, and that the reader has seen, not read (De Copia qtd. in Daly 202).Erasmus’s energeia is potentially realized by a rhetorical tool that is commonly used in the Renaissance: hypotyposis. This trope offers the possibility of bridging the gap between saying and showing, representing in words but not narrating, introducing the image without providing its immediate gloss, so to speak. By not providing a gloss to the picture it imagines, hypotyposis resembles an emblem without a gloss: it allows the pictura to take on several meanings.
Alas a crimson river of warm blood,The move from the vision of Lavinia’s body to its aestheticised description is suggestive of the complex way in which “stories [taken from Ovid] about bodily violation [...] dramatize language’s vicissitudes” (Enterline 3). Analysing Ovid’s intertext Enterline shows that “[in Philomela’s story] poetic language and the ruined body insist on being read together” (Enterline 10). This may be what makes the disjunction between rhetoric and performance so blatant and affecting in Titus (all the more so in 3.1. when Marcus leads Lavinia to her father). As Enterline notes, “[…] Marcus speaks about [Lavinia] as if she were an aesthetic object, a marred beauty, best understood in terms of the dismembering rhetoric of the blazon. […] Lavinia endures yet one more male reading” (8).
Like to a bubbling fountain stirred with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath (2.4.22-5)
But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee
And lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue (2.4.51-52)
Later, violated, her hands and her tongue cruelly cut away, she stumbles into view drenched in blood, flesh dangling from her hacked wrists, moaning and keening, almost animalistic. It’s the production’s most powerful symbolic image, redolent of the dehumanising effects of war.
[…] During the stomach-turning banquet that follows, he [Titus] bounces on his knee his raped and mutilated daughter, Lavinia, who, shrouded in white, resembles a grotesque, jiggling doll. It all accentuates the hideous stupidity of the play’s ghastly game of tit-for-tat, in which sex and power politics collide lethally.
The psychopathic homosociality inherent in the conspiracy of Chiron and Demetrius was foregrounded, and was savagely consummated as, after desecrating Lavinia, they emerged embracing, ecstatic, naked, bloody torrents cascading from their genitals. The aftermath featured a carefully composed, almost still tableau, again indebted with Kabuki theatre with its aesthetics of stasis. Titus cradled Lavinia centre stage, rendering concrete the image of her as his own flesh, enveloping her in his robe.Bloodshed and beauty created a stark dissonance, which was quite powerful. Distancing itself from the violence it stages thanks to “dissonance,” the production presents Lavinia onstage as if she were a painting.
Their position on the steps leading down from the stage recalled Michelangelo’s Pietà, while Marcus and Lucius flanked the scene like the wings of a triptych, the towering wolf standing in for a metaphysical point of reference (Allan and Revers 41).
[...] Shakespeare has his character react to events with a prolixity that suggests insincerity to the modern ear. To his great credit, Bill Alexander did not shy away from the problem, rather he made the disjunction between rhetoric and performance one of the issues to be explored (59).In Alexander’s production, Lavinia is represented in a realistic style.
This breviary of interpretation, mirroring the audience’s heuristic activity, in which Lavinia’s body forms then a first emblem of suffering (in 3.1 and 3.2), raises once again the issue of interpreting the classical fabula. This is what a staging of Lavinia’s body as a tableau underlines and draws the modern audience’s attention to.
Speechless complainer, I will learn thy thought;
In thy dumb action will I be perfect
As begging hermits in their holy prayers.
Thou shalt not sigh, nor hold thy stump to heaven,
Nor wink, nor nod, nor kneel, nor make a sign,
But I of these will wrest an alphabet,
And by still practice learn to know thy meaning (3.2.39-45)
Soft, so busily she turns the leaves.From an Illustrated Ovid to a true-to-life embodiment, Lavinia’s plight oscillates between illustration and emblematic synthesis: the moment when the image is brought to a standstill, interconnecting several layers of interpretation. Books are substitutes for speech, showing Lavinia’s plight. A media of communication in Shakespeare’s drama, the mythological story on the written page is substituted for Philomela’s woven tapestry in the Ovidian version. The use of Ovid’s text, and its presence onstage, realize Enterline’s stress on the fundamental fusion between the realm of the symbolical and the physicality of the classical story:
Help her. What would she find? Lavinia, shall I read?
This is the tragic tale of Philomel,
And treats of Tereus treason and his rape,
And rape, I fear, was root of thy annoy (4.1.45-49)
Capturing in one figure a Roman commonplace for the aims of rhetorical speech (“movere,” to “move” one’s audience), Ovid tells us that [Philomela’s] tongue has motion and that it moves those who listen. Rhetoric, in the story of Philomela’s tongue and tapestry, means taking the idea of symbolic action very seriously. It means acknowledging that the body is a bearer of meaning as well as a linguistic agent, a place where representation, materiality, and action collide (6).This duality already present in the Ovidian tale underlines once more the paramount role of Philomela in connexion to Lavinia.
All references to Shakespeare are from the Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford text, London, 1997.
 This is noted by Warren 156. This strategy may be reminiscent of Ravenscroft’s Titus Andronicus or the Rape of Lavinia (first performed 1678, first published 1687) in which two prominent allusions to Philomela are suppressed 2.4.38-43/ 4.1.1-58 and in which Lavinia’s access to classical knowledge is denied (see Oakley Brown 35-39).
 The illustration is reproduced in Henkel and Schöne 1596.
 See Jones and Stallybrass 159 (fig. 37) for a detail of the bed valance with Philomela. The bed valance as a whole is reproduced in Hackenbroch (fig. 27; qtd. in Jones and Stallybrass 308, note 69).
The main readings are suggested by Barkan 247, Bate, 101-117, Enterline 99 sq., Robertson 213-240. See also endnote 36 in Oakley-Brown for a comprehensive survey of the bibliography on the myth of Philomela (41).
 See Daly about the emblematic elements in Titus Andronicus by Horst Oppel (Heidelberg, 1961). For a historical contextualization of the use of the myth of Philomela in early modern England by female authors, see Lamb 194-230. As Robertson notes, by conflating Virginia’s plight (she was killed by her father in Livy) with the Ovidian Philomela, Shakespeare excises Progne from Titus Andronicus and shifts the focus on a paternal, rather than on a sisterly revenge: “the change in the well-known school text, with the elimination of Progne’s revenge for her sister […] and the appropriation of her revenge by a male revenger of blood all emphasize rape as a wound to the patriline” (214). For an analysis of the overt moral reasoning and the negative reception of Progne's maternal revenge in some versions of the Metamorphoses, see Carter, 41-43.
 For a handy display of pictures, see the useful dictionary by Henkel and Schöne 1596-1598.
 This is glossed in Alciat as Garrulitas punished: see for instance Alciato 230-31, emblem 74 and http://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/emblem.php?id=FALe074. Interestingly, this edition presents the same Bernard Salomon engraving as in Ovid, Metamorphoses (1557); see http://etext.virginia.edu/latin/ovid/vasal1557/0090_e7r.html. This is taken up by Virgil Solis in Johannes Spreng's Metamorphoses Illustratae (1563), http://etext.virginia.edu/latin/ovid/images/medium/OVIM178.jpg.
 The motto was analysed as a means of reconfiguring the Ovid reading, since the Ovidian Philomela weaved her plight while Shakespeare’s Lavinia can actually write in Latin. See Oakley Brown 26-34 and also Robertson: “[T]he mutilated figure of Lavinia, reconstituted not as a weaver but as a monstrous writer of words read only by a male audience, signals a potential for women’s participation in written culture [...]” (216).
 The theme of mutilation of the hand is studied in Rowe 279-303. Another interpretation of Lavinia as the lopped tree is suggested by Bladen 67-104 . She reads Lavinia as a “mutilated garden,” a reading initiated by Horst and taken up by Tricomi.
 Marlowe 630 (performance of June 1, 2006). To represent Lavinia as a doll is a modern adaptation that goes against the grain of the Ovidian myth. Far from being a doll, Philomela avenges herself and gains her freedom. A number of feminist readings of former productions of the play unveil the bias under such a representation: it turns Lavinia into her father’s puppet and therefore denies her the potential power suggested by the Ovidian intertext. See Enterline’s analysis of the influence of Ovid’s Philomela on Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece (167) and Aebischer for an analysis of how “in the playtext […] Lavinia’s choice of the Ovidian pre-text, in which the silenced rape-victim Philomela finds a new voice and identity as a result of her revenge” is important (“Silencing the Female Voice” 32-33).
 Spencer 28. This was, although to a lesser extent, Bill Alexander’s choice in his staging of Titus Andronicus for the RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 2003. See the review by Walker.
 This is also noted by Billington. He mentions Brook’s “famously stylized Stratford production” (36).
 “But is it enough to suggest bloodletting by having red ribbons flow from wrists and throats?” (Nightingale 631); contrast with “Blood itself was denoted by spools of red thread spilling from garments, limbs and Lavinia’s mouth. Cruelty was stylized; the visceral became the aesthetic” (Allan and Revers 40). “Gore is represented by swatches of red cords that tumble and trail from wounded wrists and mouths. You might think that this method had a cushioning effect. In fact it concentrates and heightens the horror” (Taylor 630).
 Ovid’s ventriloquism is studied by Enterline 11. I believe that the Philomela emblem is one of Shakespeare’s attempts at ventriloquism.
 Much later, in Cymbeline (1609), the book is also used as a prop. Lavinia’s handling of the Metamorphoses is mirrored by Innogen’s reading “the tale of Tereus.” This is the only other reference to the figure of Philomela in the Shakespearean corpus. The allusion is clearly to the Ovidian source rather than to any other emblem book or contemporary dictionary, since a volume of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is explicitly on the stage: “She hath been reading late, / The tale of Tereus. Here’s the leaf turne’d down / Where Philomel gave up. I have enough” (2.2.44-46). This moment is reinterpreted later by Iachimo in order to cast doubt on Imogen’s chastity. The dangers of misinterpreting the fabula are exposed in this play. For a comparative study of these two plays, see Thompson 32-33 and also Barkan 243-48.
 I have used some of the arguments suggested by Hunt to question my own definition of emblematic theatre.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2013-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).