“The Bookend Project” by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company (February 2011, NYC): Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest

Par Tara Bradway
Publication en ligne le 15 novembre 2011


This article combines a literary analysis – of how violence serves, language complicates, and truly engaged silence diffuses the energy of the revenge plot in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicusand The Tempest with an evaluation of its physical representation in a specific dual production of these plays by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, presented in February of 2011 in New York City. This production, entitled “The Bookend Project”, employed the same actor as Lavinia in Titus Andronicus and Caliban in The Tempest. Doubling these roles allows an exploration of how violence is perpetrated upon a single actor’s physical body in both plays, as well as each character’s varied responses to the violence.

Cet article s’intéresse l’intrigue de la revanche dans Titus Andronicus et dans The Tempest de Shakespeare ‑ comment la violence la sert, comment la langue la complique, comment un silence tout en tension contribue à son dynamisme. Il en propose à la fois une analyse littéraire et une appréciation critique de sa représentation dans une mise en scène de ces pièces par la Compagnie Adirondack Shakespeare – mise en scène présentée en février 2011, à New York City. Dans cette mise en scène, intitulée « The Bookend Project » (« Le Projet Serre-Livres »), le même acteur joue le rôle de Lavinia dans Titus Andronicus et celui de Caliban dans The Tempest. Ce double rôle permet d’explorer comment la violence est perpétrée sur le corps physique d’un seul acteur dans les deux pièces, ainsi que les réponses variées que les personnages apportent à cette violence.

Texte intégral

1In Titus Andronicus and The Tempest,we have perhaps the earliest and latest examples of Shakespeare’s revenge play. Although The Tempest does not fit neatly into the category of revenge tragedy, there is certainly an element of the revenge story embedded in this play. Prospero raises the tempest at the very opening of the play, bringing under his power those who wronged him and orchestrated his exile a dozen years past. Under Prospero’s command, Ariel enchants Antonio, Alonso, Sebastian, and the others. They are confined upon the island, made to assume that Ferdinand is drowned, charmed with strange visions. Prospero’s project does seem indeed to be vengeance until Ariel moves him to pity and forgiveness instead of revenge. He realizes, “The rarer Action is / In virtue than in vengeance” (V.1.27-28). In February, 2011, I directed a dual production of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company entitled “The Bookend Project1.” The intent of this project was to explore in production how Shakespeare’s revenge play altered from the beginning of his career to the end. How does Shakespeare move from violence to virtue? I employed a company of thirteen actors across the two shows and made very specific choices in doubling the roles. In this article, I will explore the particular choice I made in doubling Lavinia and Caliban. The same actor (Caroline Gombé) was cast as Lavinia, Alarbus, and ensemble in Titus Andronicus and as Caliban and the Ship’s Master in The Tempest. By using the same physical body in these vastly different roles, my intention was to invite the comparison between the characters. I felt the greatest challenge for the actor would be to inhabit the identities both of the victim of sexual violence in the role of Lavinia who is brutally raped in Titus Andronicus – and the perpetrator – in the role of Caliban, who has attempted to rape Miranda in The Tempest. It is unusual to see Caliban played by a female actor, and perhaps more so to invite comparisons between this role and Lavinia, considering their respective relationships to sexual violence. Yet, I see Caliban and Lavinia both as victims of violence and revenge in their respective plays. They operate in these texts in strikingly similar ways: both cast in the role of children, both the pawns of powerful male figures. Both have violence perpetrated upon them, and yet they respond to it very differently. For characters who seem on the surface to have very little power, I think we may see, both in their speech and in their silences, that they have much more agency than they are often attributed. Throughout this article, I will explore how the ways in which these characters use language and how silence might have a significant impact on the transformation of the revenge play from violence in Titus Andronicus to virtue in The Tempest.

2“The Bookend Project” of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest was produced by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, which uses a stripped-down performance style that we call “Shakespeare IN THE RAW.” The focus is almost solely on the language: scripts are performed uncut and without extensive costuming, scenery, even rehearsal. The size of the company is small, about a dozen actors who take on multiple roles in each play. When constructing character tracks for production2, one of the strongest considerations for me as a director is the number of lines the actor will be required to handle, and I attempt to distribute lines as evenly as possible among the company. The character of Lavinia was quite difficult to track in this regard, as the actor must be able to handle incredibly engaged silences, which for many actors is more difficult than a greater number of lines. In the entire play, Lavinia speaks fewer than 60 lines of verse. This actor’s most difficult work comes in scenes in which Lavinia speaks not at all. Other characters describe her actions, movements, and attempts to communicate, so she is required to perform these actions with accuracy and an extraordinary level of emotional investment. Arguably, her silence is much more powerful than the few dozen lines she actually voices. I would like to begin with an examination of the structure of Lavinia’s verse lines and consider the effects of her early silences in the play, before moving on to argue an increased agency in her silence in Act IV and, finally, to implicate the text itself in Lavinia’s ultimate silencing in the last scene.

3From an actor’s perspective, the scansion of the text is incredibly useful in building a character. The verse is not simply a poetic tool; it serves a dramatic function. Deviations in the structure of the verse might indicate any number of things about a character. Early on in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia’s verse is perfectly iambic, strict pentameter although in the entirety of Act I, she speaks a mere ten lines of verse. At the opening, Lavinia’s only speech of any length is quite constrained, not only in the number of lines she is allotted, but also in the manner of her speech itself. She is constrained by ritual, as her brothers’ bodies are interred, and by duty, expressing her relief and happiness at her father’s safe return from war:

In peace and Honour, live Lord Titus long,
My Noble Lord and Father, live in Fame:
Loe at this Tombe my tributarie tears,
I render for my Brethrens Obsequies:
And at thy feete I kneele, with teares of joy
Shed on the earth for thy returne to Rome. (I.1.163-8)3

4The perfect iambic pentameter of these lines here demonstrates constraint. There are no feminine endings or trochees to trouble the rhythm. This perfect conformity to the structure of the verse is a guide for the actor, indicating conformity in Lavinia’s character, perhaps submission or compliance. We see her kneeling at her father’s feet, complying with both with the form of the family ritual and the structure of the verse. Her failure to play within or resist these forms suggests a lack of agency, which is further implied in her ensuing silence throughout the rest of the scene. When Saturninus, the Emperor, proposes to make her his “Empresse / Romes Royall Mistris, Mistris of my hart” (I.1.249-50), she is silent. Indeed, Saturninus does not make this proposal to Lavinia, but to Titus: “Tell me Andronicus doth this motion please thee?” (I.1.252, my emphasis added). Titus declares his agreement, while Lavinia is permitted no verbal response in the text. Sid Ray argues that Lavinia’s silence here could be explained by the history of coercion in betrothal and marriage ceremonies during the Renaissance in England4. In his article “‘Rape, I Fear, Was Root of Thy Annoy’: The Politics of Consent in Titus Andronicus”, he writes that parents, specifically fathers, would exert a great deal of pressure on the daughter to accept an arranged marriage, even resorting “to beating, abducting, or imprisoning the unwilling bride. The history of such coercion may explain why Lavinia, already betrothed to Bassianus, remains silent in Titus Andronicus when her father agrees to marry her to Saturninus5.” Lavinia is indeed abducted in this scene, not by her father, but by Bassianus. Her silence holds as she is passed first from Bassianus to Saturninus by her father, and she says still nothing as is she physically borne away. By enforcing Lavinia’s silence throughout, the text limits the agency she has at this point in the play. She is a pawn moved about by the more powerful and masculine figures of her father, her emperor, and her betrothed. Her silence, through events such as these, is almost surprising; it becomes increasingly noticeable, almost audible.

5Lavinia moves from silence and constraint in Act I to a slightly freer verse and sense of greater agency in Act II. Whereas in Act I, Lavinia speaks in confined forms or not at all, in Act II she speaks unbidden to the Empress, Tamora (Melanie Arii Mah), in a caustic tone not found elsewhere in the play. Many critics are troubled by this uncharacteristically abrasive quality to Lavinia6, but I would argue that this is the first time in the play that Lavinia is permitted to speak in an unbridled fashion with agency. In “The Bookend Project”, Ms. Gombé spoke proudly to Tamora, taunting her vocally and with her body language, tossing her hair and lifting her chin during these seemingly anomalous lines:

 ˇ     ´     ˇ      ´      ˇ      ´    ˇ    ´   ˇ    ´
Under your patience gentle Empresse,
  ˇ         ´        ˇ       ´    ˇ    ´    ˇ     ´    ˇ     ´     ˇ
‘Tis thought you have a goodly gift in Horning,
  ˇ     ´   ˇ     ´      ˇ      ´     ˇ          ´       ˇ      ´   
And to be doubted, that your Moore and you
  ˇ     ´     ˇ      ´     ˇ   ´    ˇ    ´ ˇ     ´
Are singled forth to try experiments. (II.1.245-7)7

6The first line of this passage is a modest deviation from a perfect line of iambic pentameter. It has a slightly awkward scansion. If trying to maintain a line of perfect pentameter, the actor would need to make one of two choices. First, she could scan “patience” as three syllables and “Empresse” as two syllables. Alternately, she could scan “Empresse” as three syllables. Another alternative would be for the actor to scan both “patience” and “Empresse” as two syllables . This creates a nine-syllable line, which is uneven and somewhat awkward. The next line, as well, does not scan perfectly: “‘Tis thought you have a goodly gift in Horning” (II.1.245). This is an eleven-syllable, feminine line, and a clear deviation from the pentameter with no option for the actor to elide any of the syllables. In these deviations from her perfect iambic pentameter of Act I, it appears that Lavinia is beginning to push against the boundaries of form to which she earlier subscribed.

7Despite this pushing of boundaries, it seems that Lavinia is not entirely at ease. She couches her harsh, incisive language with the introductory “Under your patience gentle Empresse” (II.1.244). This line could alternately be a genuine, if slightly unconscious, attempt to soften the upcoming onslaught, or a sarcastic jibe in itself. The Shakespeare Lexicon indicates the use of the word “under” in this phrase is “denoting protection and authorization8.” Lavinia is asking permission to speak further. I would argue, however, that there is an additional sexual connotation at work here. The word “Horning” is doing double work, referring both to an allusion that Tamora makes to the Diana-Actaeon story9 and also to the notion that a cuckold is “horned” by his adulterous wife. “Horning” therefore brings a distinctly sexual note to Lavinia’s speech, implying that the “experiments” Aaron the Moor and Tamora will be “trying” are of a sexual nature. This suggestive language then also reflects back to the first line of Lavinia’s speech, so that even the word “under,” which at first appears fairly hollow of additional meaning, actually has a sexual connotation as in the positioning of bodies.

8This infusion of sexuality into Lavinia’s speech, I would suggest, foreshadows the sexual violence about to be perpetrated upon her. It is important to note, however, that perhaps the most significant violence is the removal of Lavinia’s tongue and, thus, the deprivation of her ability to speak. I discussed earlier how Lavinia’s speech was constrained by ritual, duty, and form in Act I, where she appears in the confines of the Roman court. In the above passage from Act II, Lavinia tests the boundaries of her linguistic agency in the spaciousness of the valley. She is perhaps too much exposed here. She oversteps these boundaries and, therefore, must be stripped of the power of speech altogether. Willbern discusses Arthur Symon’s view of Lavinia’s volatile speech at this moment in the play. Symons argues that it is filled with “the grossest and vilest insults against Tamora – so gross, so vile, so unwomanly, that her punishment becomes something of a retribution instead of being wholly a brutality10.” Although I would disagree that Lavinia’s speech is so “gross” and “vile” as is here urged, it is significant that her “punishment becomes something of a retribution11.” On the level of plot, we may read Lavinia’s punishment in part as Tamora’s reaction to Lavinia’s speech but, more particularly, as she herself declares, for the death of her son, Alarbus:12

Remember Boyes I powr’d forth teares in vaine,
To save your brother from the sacrifice,
But fierce Andronicus would not relent,
Therefore away with her, and use her as you will,
The worse to her, the better lov’d of me. (2.1.346-50)

9On another level, however, I would suggest that it is not only Tamora who seeks retribution in this instance, but perhaps the text as well. We might read the ravishment of Lavinia, the lopping off of her hands, and most particularly the removal of her tongue as retribution for her seeking and exercising too much linguistic agency.

10The staging of this moment in the play can contribute to this view of Lavinia being punished for her abrasive speech. Pascale Aebischer describes how the 1987 RSC production of Titus Andronicus directed by Deborah Warner alludes to a “charivari element [introduced] into the rapists’ treatment of their victim13.” She interprets the actions of Chiron spitting in Lavinia’s face following the rape as inviting, not the usual interpretation of simple sexual aggression, but one that is “the result of a collective endeavour to silence and control her ... understood as a punishment for her outspokenness14.” In the Bookend production, Demetrius (Aaron White) held Lavinia by the hair as Chiron (Tobias Shaw) covered her mouth with his hand so forcefully that she was bent over backwards, supported only by their hands from underneath. As Chiron dragged Lavinia from the stage, his hand still covering her mouth, he was sibilantly shushing her. This shushing had the bizarre sense that Chiron was attempting to comfort Lavinia, which was so utterly repellent that it in fact compelled her silence. This protracted, forceful silencing of Lavinia foreshadows the removal of her tongue, but it also gives a visual suggestion that she is being punished specifically for her inappropriate, even illicit speech in this scene.

11Through the figures of Chiron and Demetrius, the text directly assaults Lavinia’s ability to communicate. Without her tongue, she cannot form words. Without her hands, she cannot write or make signs. This violence is specifically orchestrated to destroy her ability to communicate, and indeed the revenge plot is stalled until Lavinia finds a way to identify her attackers: through text. She appropriates Ovid’s “tragic tale of Philomel” (IV.1.51), drawing out the connection to her own circumstances. Titus is the first to assess Lavinia’s attempts to communicate correctly: “And rape I feare was roote of thine annoy” (IV.1.53). The successful reading of the text quickly progresses to writing a text. Marcus encourages Lavinia to use his staff to write in the sand; she thus identifies the crime and the perpetrators: “Stuprum, Chiron, Demetrius” (IV.1.81). In the Bookend production, Marcus (Ross Hamman) used a dagger instead of a staff, holding it between his feet and attempting to guide it into writing letters. Lavinia in her frustration kicks aside the dagger, but comes to the realization that she may use her feet as the writing utensils. This choice gives Lavinia a greater agency over the text she is producing, using not a tool proffered by a masculine figure, but her own body to create the written word. At this moment, Lavinia has taken control of the narrative; she has become the author by writing these words. The revenge plot may now drive forward through Lavinia’s authorship. This is sometimes read as Lavinia regaining and even surpassing her previous levels of eloquence. Lavinia may be silent, but as Mary L. Fawcett claims, “her silence after her mutilation appears to be a development, an increase in eloquence, rather than a stopping or a reversal15.” I would suggest it is not necessarily that Lavinia becomes more eloquent, but rather, in an attempt to communicate, she must try on new voices. These new voices are accompanied, however, by risk and danger. In Act II, Lavinia’s attempts to speak with greater agency lead to reprisal in the form of mutilation designed to silence her. Once again Lavinia’s efforts at greater linguistic agency – this time in the form of written authorship – lead to retribution. Her punishment comes in the very form of communication Lavinia has attempted to appropriate: text.

12When Lavinia enters in the final scene of the play, her body is completely obscured and concealed. Accompanying Titus, she enters “with a vale over her face16.” The veil covers her, obscuring her physical body, so we may not even read her facial expression. She is a blank to the audience. The authorship she discovered in Act IV is thus denied. Yet it seems that even this obscurity is not enough. Lavinia must be completely erased from the text in retribution for her attempts to author her own story. Through Titus, the text employs literature as the justification for her destruction:

My Lord the Emperour resolve me this,
Was it well done of rath Virginius,
To slay his daughter with his owne right hand,
Because she was enfors’t, stain’d, and deflow’rd? (5.1.413-6)

13Titus here refers to a story, to a text, in order to seek justification and approval for Lavinia’s eradication, the story of Virginius, a Roman centurion. Much as Lavinia previously invited the comparison between herself and the literary figure of Philomel, Titus identifies himself with Virginius. The text confiscates from Lavinia the capability of literary appropriation, granting it instead to Titus. By allowing him to kill Lavinia, the text appears to support Titus’s literary agency and the final silencing of Lavinia. It is worth noting that Titus does not accurately represent this story, but may be twisting it slightly for his own purposes. Gillian Murray Kendall, in her article “‘Lend Me Thy Hand’: Metaphor and Mayhem in Titus Andronicus”, explains:

Virginius, in the best-known version of the tale, kills his daughter to prevent her rape; Titus kills his because of her rape. And it seems to me that Titus here must make a compromise in choosing his textual exemplar: he is forced to make do with what fictions he can in order to complete his plot and match word to deed, present action to written precedent, language to reality. To do so, he refers to a less well-known version of the tale of Virginius. This reference would almost certainly make a Renaissance audience more aware that Titus is engaging in an act of textual choice than if he were simply to get the story wrong (as critics have accused him).17

14It seems that Titus is permitted to pick and choose between texts for his own uses. He requires a text in which the murder of his daughter is honorably justified, so he chooses the version which suits his needs. As Kendall points out, Titus chooses the text, not the most definitive version, but rather a version known to be printed in popular books of Shakespeare’s time18. Titus may manipulate texts to his own ends, but Lavinia may not. Her appropriation of literature is punished. She is essentially killed with text, with literature, which she herself was attempting to appropriate. Whereas Lavinia’s body has previously acted as a text which might be read as a “Map of woe” (III.1.325), in the final scene her body is veiled, covered, and completely obscured, so that the last vestige of a voice she had is finally silenced in death.

15In Titus Andronicus, Lavinia’s body functions as a text which must be read not only by the other characters but by the audience as well. With the usual focus of Shakespeare IN THE RAW productions on text alone, rather than costuming, sets, lighting designs, or props, the audience was able to focus in exclusively on the language and, perhaps more importantly in Lavinia’s case, the body of the actor. Ms. Gombé’s characterization was very clearly reflected in her physicality. Lavinia began the play tall, proud, and regally still. In the immediate aftermath of the rape, however, her body completely changed. She was no longer straight and tall but curved, bent, and always in continuous, painful motion. Before her death at the end of the play, she returned to stillness but it was cold, silent, and complete, obscured by a black, rather opaque veil. Her physicality might be said to follow the arc of Lavinia’s linguistic agency throughout the play. Her straight body at the outset of the play was as rigid as her verse. Later her posture became bent and her motions more unsettled as she struggled to find a new mode of communication. Ms. Gombé’s physicality as Caliban was markedly different, but also followed the arc of his linguistic transformation. Caliban begins the play hunched over, limping, his movement jerky and lurching. This physicality reflects his volatile and violent language to Prospero and Miranda. Later, there is a glimmer of transformation during his speech on the noises of the isle, in which Ms. Gombé’s energy directed upwards away from the body. Caliban lifted up on his toes and reached out with his hands towards the heavens. This transformation was fully realized at the end of the play with a brighter tone of voice, hands reaching joyfully outward toward Prospero to embrace him, rather than shrinking into his own body. While Lavinia’s body never recovered from the violence perpetrated upon it, Caliban’s body seemed to heal before our eyes, transforming from a tortured Other to an accepted part of the self. Caliban’s physical transformation emerged from an act of silence and of listening. Whereas Lavinia’s silent agency perpetuated the revenge plot in Titus Andronicus, I suggest that Caliban’s very different silence actually diffuses the violent energy of the revenge play, allowing Prospero to move, as Ariel does, from vengeance to virtue.


(L-R): Tobias Shaw (Stephano) and Caroline Gombé (Caliban) in The Tempest, Adirondack Shakespeare Company, 2011. Photo credit: Jaime Medrano, Jr.

16Our introduction to Caliban in The Tempest is fraught with concern over language. We learn that Caliban was unable to speak until Prospero and Miranda arrived on the island and taught him. Miranda casts herself in the role of Caliban’s instructor in a rather patronizing manner:

I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not (savage)
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. (I.2.352-7)19

17She claims to have “endowed” Caliban with words. The earliest known usage of the word “endow,” as Miranda here intends it, is recorded in 1420, meaning “to enrich or furnish with any gift, quality, or power of mind or body20.” To endow bespeaks a power relationship, in which one party possesses something (in this case, the ability to speak a language) and chooses to bestow or withhold it from another. Miranda places Caliban at the bottom of this particular power relationship; he is the recipient and Miranda rather condescendingly chooses to “endow” him with speech. Her claim to his education is almost insidious, as she inserts herself into his language and comprehension. She claims that before Caliban could speak he was incapable even of understanding his own thoughts and feelings: “When thou didst not (savage) / Know thine own meaning” (I.2.354-355). It is Miranda herself, she asserts, who gave him the words to express these meanings. By implication then, Miranda has shaped the very meanings themselves and given Caliban the only lens he has to interpret his thoughts and feelings. Yet the text almost immediately upsets this power relationship, allowing Caliban to completely disrupt the structure that Miranda has attempted to establish

You taught me language, and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language! (I.2.362-4)

18The text here gives Caliban greater agency. He turns a “profit” on Miranda’s endowment and uses it to spite her. His response is a particularly violent curse, calling down the “red plague” to destroy her, cursing her with death for her teaching. Miranda does not respond verbally to Caliban’s curse and is, therefore, effectively silenced.

19At least a portion of the energy of this curse, I would argue, seems to be sexual. This curse follows Prospero’s accusation that Caliban has attempted to sexually violate Miranda. In this way, Caliban is operating in a completely opposite function from Lavinia. He is guilty of attempted sexual violence, whereas Lavinia was utterly victimized. Caliban’s spirited response to Prospero’s accusation is teeming with sexual energy:

Oh ho, Oh ho, Would’t had bene done:
Thou didst prevent me, I had peopel’d else
This isle with Calibans. (I.2.420-2)21

20Caliban’s sexuality is not to be contained; it seems to burst forth from him, which is evident in the structure of the verse. Most modern editions print a shared line for Prospero and Caliban:

PROSPERO    I have used thee
   (Filth as thou art) with humane care, and lodged thee
   In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate
   The honor of my child.
CALIBAN       O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done! (I.2.348)22

21This printing makes for a very irregular line of verse with a full two extra feet. Either the actor playing Caliban must wait for Prospero to finish his line before beginning to speak, or he must begin his laughter “O ho, O ho” before Prospero finishes speaking, which is my preference as a director and as Ms. Gombé performed it. These are sounds Caliban is making, not words, which seem to burst out of him. He is unable to contain himself when Prospero mentions the attempted rape. He laughs heartily overtop of Prospero’s speech:

PROSPERO    The honor of my childe.
CALIBAN    Oh ho oh ho Would’t had bene done. (I.2.420-2)23

22The force of Caliban’s laughter, arguably an extension of his sexual energy as he laughs in response to his attempted rape of Miranda, takes over the end of Prospero’s line of verse to the extent that it might be said to be a rape of the line. Caliban’s response is a boast of his sexual potency, that he could “people” the entire island “with Calibans.” It is worth noting that Caliban eradicates Miranda from their potential children. There are only “Calibans,” no Mirandas or even children equally mixed. She becomes a non-entity. Caliban is acting as a sort of sexual-linguistic force unto himself – usurping Prospero’s line of verse and driving Miranda into silence as well with his curse of the “red plague,” which I mentioned earlier.

23Caliban here seems aware that his words cause discomfort to both father and daughter, and he pushes the envelope with his sexually laced language. Prospero is clearly anxious about Caliban’s sexuality, as evidenced by his locking Caliban away from his child. In the Bookend staging, Caliban moved in a circuit around Prospero (Patrick Siler) in an attempt to direct his energetic speech towards Miranda (Laura Montes). Prospero, however, continually countered this movement in order to keep Miranda hidden away, using his body as a shield between her and Caliban. Yet Miranda was moved in turn by the force of Caliban’s language. Ms. Montes emerged from behind Mr. Siler to burst out with, “Abhorrèd slave, / Which any print of goodness wilt not take, / Being capable of all ill” (I.2.350-2)24. In this exchange, however, we will recall that Caliban is awarded the last word, responding forcefully with the “profit” of his “curse”: “The red plague rid you / For learning me your language!” (I.2.362-4). Miranda then speaks no more to Caliban for the entirety of the play. He has utterly silenced her, if only toward himself, so perhaps it is worth questioning if this might be a linguistic rape which turns out more successfully for Caliban than his previously attempted physical rape. Caliban has conquered Miranda with words, indeed using the very words she taught him in order to silence her.

24The “profit” of Caliban’s curse suggests that his words might have more value than Miranda’s and, moreover, perhaps that the text privileges Caliban’s language over Miranda’s and over Prospero’s as well. Both Miranda and Prospero have a hand in Caliban’s linguistic education, which Caliban at this point in the play attempts to reject. He curses Miranda with the “red plague” and upbraids Prospero for his current abuse:

When thou cam’st first
Thou strok’st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee
And showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile. (I.2.332-8)

25It is Prospero who has taught Caliban to “name” the objects of his world. Yet Caliban here resists not only his teachers but perhaps the very essence of the linguistic education he has received. He either neglects or refuses to name “the bigger light,” which is of course the sun, and “the less,” which is the moon. While it is clear that he is referring to the sun and the moon, his description compels the listener to find the signifiers for what he describes. This requires labor from his audience to listen and interpret, giving Caliban a certain amount of power over Prospero and Miranda. He effectively directs their word choice and thought process, leading them by description, but requiring them finally to provide the label “sun” or “moon.” In effect, Caliban dispels Miranda’s earlier claim over his linguistic education. His descriptions here are sufficient, perhaps even more eloquent, without using the words “sun” or “moon.” This might then indicate that Miranda and Prospero’s efforts to educate him were lacking or even unnecessary. The “bigger light” is what defines the sun from the moon, so arguably Caliban’s definition is more practical than Prospero’s less meaningful signifier.

26Caliban, I would argue, enjoys greater eloquence throughout The Tempest than Lavinia does at any time in Titus Andronicus. He also seems to have more agency in his speech, with the power to silence others, which Lavinia never possesses – at least not while she is still able to speak. There is no marked, physical silencing of Caliban’s voice in the way that Lavinia’s is silenced by sexual violence. He has more subtle silences worked into the play, and, indeed as Lavinia seems to become more eloquent and experimental with language in her enforced silence, so Caliban too seems to say more when he says nothing at all. One of the most beautiful speeches in the whole of the play, certainly the most beautiful of Caliban’s, is that in which he describes the noises of the island to Stephano and Trinculo:

Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wakedafter long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again. (III.3.133-41)

27Although Caliban is speaking to Stephano and Trinculo at this moment, what he describes is an act of listening and therefore an act of silence. When the isle speaks, Caliban listens and is silent. Such an act of listening produces an extraordinary change in this character, who has previously been portrayed as base, lowly, earthy, servile, hostile, and belligerent. Although Caliban is representative of the earth in many ways, this speech suggests that he is very capable of reaching the more airy and ethereal poetical heights of his counterpart, Ariel. At this moment, he is almost transformed. The verse itself is rather light, not plodding in perfect iambs. Nearly every other line is feminine, and the extra syllable seems to draw Caliban from one line to the next with ease. In the last line of the speech, there are two empty feet at the end: “I cried to dream again. ˘ ´  ˘ ´ .”This a rare opportunity for silence, marked in the verse and indicated in the text only by empty, white space. The audience should feel those two beats of silence, in which Caliban cries “to dream again.” We do not hear his physical tears or sobs, but we feel a visceral sympathy for him. This is not a base, inarticulate character. He is touched with poetic eloquence, which we hear most strikingly in this moment of silence. Ms. Gombé spoke with a sense of mixed joy and loss. Her body was uplifted, her arms raised, in contrast to much of the rest of the play in which she was bent over and her shoulders rounded, her whole attitude pulled downward. In this speech, however, all of her energy was directed upwards.

28In the final scene of The Tempest, the text enforces a different kind of silence on Caliban. Whereas in describing the noises of the isle, Caliban is overcome with high emotion, his silence at the end of the play seems to be rather fearful. In the entire scene, he speaks a mere eight lines of verse, upon only three separate occasions. The first two are declarations of his fear of Prospero: “I am afraid / He will chastise me” (V.1.262-263) and “I shall be pinched to death” (V.1.276). His silence is broken by exclamations of fear, which prove to be unfounded. Prospero pardons the ill-conceived rebellion, and indeed acknowledges Caliban as his own: “this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine” (V.1.275-276). With this acknowledgment, the cycle of threats and violence between Prospero and Caliban comes to an end. Prospero owns the Otherness of Caliban; he brings it into himself, rather than continuing to “other” Caliban. Caliban, in turn, responds to Prospero’s gesture: “I’ll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace” (V.1.294-295). Caliban’s sexually, violently charged speech of his first scene is dissipated. He has exchanged it for a more elegant, peaceful language that may emerge because in his silence, Caliban has learned to listen. His silence is directed outward; it is attentive. Lavinia’s silence, however, draws attention only to herself; she seeks to be understood. Caliban understands.

29In both plays, language tinged with violence and sexuality, as represented in the characters of Lavinia and Caliban, is superseded in the end by silence. Alexander Leggatt points out “the extraordinary power to command attention and concern” Lavinia’s silence gives her25. He claims that Chiron and Demetrius in their wanton violence, “inadvertently made her the most powerful character in the play26.” Certainly, Lavinia’s silence is incredibly powerful, and she finds new, resourceful ways of communicating. Her resourcefulness threatens the integrity of the narrative text, however, and she is destroyed at the end of Titus Andronicus. Caliban seems, on the other hand, ultimately to be transformed at the end of The Tempest. Silence itself is not what actually ends the cycle of revenge in The Tempest, but silence is what allows for the possibility of acknowledgement of the Other. It promotes active listening and sympathy. It allows us to be “wise hereafter” and to “seek for grace.” This is what successfully breaks the cycle of violence and vengeance. We must “seek for grace.”


AEBISCHER, Pascale, “Titus Andronicus: spectacular obscenities,” in Shakespeare’s Violated Bodies: Stage and Screen Performance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 24-63.

FAWCET, Mary L., “Arms/Words/Tears: Language and the Body in Titus Andronicus”, ELH 50.2 (1983), p. 261-277. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872816

LEGGATT, Alexander, “Titus Andronicus: This was thy daughter”, in Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 8-28.

KENDALL, Gillian Murray, “‘Lend Me Thy Hand’: Metaphor and Mayhem in Titus Andronicus”, Shakespeare Quarterly 40.3 (1989), p. 299-316.


OVID, The Metamorphoses, “Book III”, Trans. Horace N. Gregory, New York, Mentor, 1958.

Oxford English Dictionary Online


RAY, Sid, “‘Rape, I Fear, Was Root of Thy Annoy’: The Politics of Consent in Titus Andronicus”, Shakespeare Quarterly 49.1 (1998), p. 22-39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2902206

SCHMIDT, Alexander, and Gregor SARRAZIN, Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary: a Complete Dictionary of All the English Words, Phrases, and Constructions in the Works of the Poet, 2 vols, New York, Dover Publications, 1971.

SHAKESPEARE, William, The Lamentable Tragedie of Titus Andronicus, Ed. Neil Freeman, New York, Applause, 2000.

–, The Tempest, Ed. Neil Freeman, New York, Applause, 1998.

–, The Tempest: Sources and Contexts, Criticism, Rewritings and Appropriations, Ed. Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, New York, W.W. Norton, 2004.

WILLBERN, David, “Rape and Revenge in Titus Andronicus,” English Literary Renaissance, 8.2 (1978), p. 159-182. Wiley Online Library. Web. 18 Nov. 2010.

Documents annexes


1  “The Bookend Project” performed on the Queens and Manhattan campuses of St. John’s University for two consecutive weekends in February, 2011. Titus Andronicus performed on Friday, February 18 and 25; The Tempest on Saturday, February 19 and 16 with the following cast: Virginia Bartholomew - Nurse, Mutius, ensemble / Gonzalo, Iris

2  A “character track” is the group of roles that an actor plays in a given script. It is rare in a Shakespeare IN THE RAW production for an actor to play only one role. For example, Caroline Gombé played the Ship’s Master in addition to the role of Caliban. Her character track included two roles. In some cases, an actor may have up to eight or nine different roles in his or her track.

3  William Shakespeare, The Lamentable Tragedie of Titus Andronicus, ed. Neil Freeman, New York, Applause, 2000. All quotations will be taken from this edition.

4  Sid Ray, “‘Rape, I Fear, Was Root of Thy Annoy’: The Politics of Consent in Titus Andronicus”, Shakespeare Quarterly 49.1, 1998, p. 26

5 Ibid., p. 26

6  David Willbern, “Rape and Revenge in Titus Andronicus,” English Literary Renaissance, 8.2, 1978, p. 168. Willbern argues that Lavinia’s atypical tone is a kind of “ambivalence” on Shakespeare’s part, which he suggests is present in every major character in the play. He further illustrates his point with Dover Wilson’s somewhat exaggerated argument “that there are two Lavinias: one, ‘the sister of Viola and Desdemona,’ modest and womanly, and two, ‘the insinuating hussy’ who ‘railed’ at Tamora.”

7  Neil Freeman indicates that “some modern texts add Q1’s ‘thy’ even though this creates an eleven syllable line: other texts follow Q2-3/Ff and omit the word” (p. 28n). The line would then read “Are singled forth to try thy experiments” (II.1.247). This additional syllable in the line would disrupt the verse. It is possible then that Lavinia’s first three lines of this speech would be irregular verse, a destabilization of the structure to which she has previously adhered.

8  Alexander Schmidt and Gregor Sarrazin, Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary,vol. 2, New York, Dover Publications, 1971, p. 1279

9  The story of Actaeon is from Book III of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. He accidentally comes upon Diana bathing in “a shaded valley” (p. 89), which recalls Lavinia’s line “I pray you let us hence, / And let her joy her Raven color’d love, / This valley fits the purpose passing well” (II.1.261-2). In Ovid, Diana transforms Actaeon into a stag for this offense, causing his own dogs to hunt him down and kill him.

10  David Willbern, op. cit., p. 168. Willbern cites Arthur Symons’ Introduction to the Praetorius facsimile edition of the Quarto of 1600, Shakespeare Quarto Facsimiles, ed. William Griggs (London, 1885), p. xii. “Arthur Symons expresses his ‘amazement at the folly of the author, who, requiring in the nature of things to win our sympathy for his afflicted heroine, fills her mouth with the grossest and vilest insults against Tamora-so gross, so vile, so unwomanly, that her punishment becomes something of a retribution instead of being wholly a brutality.’”

11 Ibid., p. 168

12  Recall that Ms. Gombé was also doubled as Alarbus.

13  Pascale Aebischer, “Titus Andronicus: Spectacular obscenities,” in Shakespeare’s Violated Bodies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 43. Aebischer describes charivari as “the ritual silencing and shaming of so-called ‘scolds’” (p. 43). For more on charivari,Aebischer cites Lynda E. Boose, “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member”, Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991), p. 178-213.

14 Ibid., p. 43.

15  Mary L. Fawcett, “Arms/Words/Tears: Language and the Body in Titus Andronicus,” ELH, 1983, p. 266

16  William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus,ed. Neil Freeman, op. cit., p. 88, Stage directions.

17  Gillan Murray Kendall, “‘Lend Me Thy Hand’: Metaphor and Mayhem in Titus Andronicus,Shakespeare Quarterly 40.3, 1989, p. 313.

18 Ibid., p. 313n.

19  William Shakespeare, The Tempest: Sources and Contexts, Criticism, and Rewritings and Appropriations, ed. Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, New York, W.W. Norton, 2004, p. 19

20 Oxford English Dictionary, “endow,”def. 3b. In the OED, the first listed definition of the word “endow” is “to give a dowry to (a woman)” and the second is “to enrich with property” (“endow” defs. 1 and 2). Clearly both indicate a very clear economic transaction of money and property. While Miranda is trafficking in a more abstract kind of property, the use of the word “endow” is heavily laced with materialism and economics.

21  This citation is from the Applause First Folio Edition, ed. Neil Freeman. I tend to prefer these editions for performance in part because modern editions, in my opinion, are entirely too liberal with exclamation points. Exclamation points are sometimes used in the First Folio but much more rarely. If there are too many exclamation points, actors tend to waste moments instead of really using the rare exclamation point as a guidepost. This is one such instance in modern editions pepper a speech with exclamation points that was first printed without them. The line in the Norton Edition reads, “O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!” (I.2.348). For all following quotations from The Tempest, I return to the Norton Edition.

22  I return to the Norton edition for the remainder of this article, p. 19.

23  This citation is from the Applause First Folio Edition, ed. Neil Freeman. I tend to prefer these editions for performance in part because modern editions, in my opinion, are entirely too liberal with exclamation points. Exclamation points are sometimes used in the First Folio but much more rarely. If there are too many exclamation points, actors tend to waste moments instead of really using the rare exclamation point as a guidepost. This is one such instance in modern editions pepper a speech with exclamation points that was first printed without them. The line in the Norton Edition reads, “O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!” (I.2.348) For all following quotations from The Tempest, I return to the Norton Edition.

24  Freeman indicates that this speech of Miranda’s was given to Prospero “following a later seventeenth century editorial/theatrical practice” and many modern texts follow suit. He argues that this editorial decision “robs Miranda of a key moment of development” (p. 17n).

25  Alexander Leggatt, “Titus Andronicus: This was thy daughter,” Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 26

26  Ibid., p. 8

Pour citer ce document

Par Tara Bradway, «“The Bookend Project” by the Adirondack Shakespeare Company (February 2011, NYC): Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], L'Oeil du Spectateur, Adaptations scéniques, N°4 - Saison 2011-2012, mis à jour le : 27/12/2019, URL : https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/shakespeare/index.php?id=528.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Tara Bradway

Tara Bradway is currently completing her second and final year of coursework as a Doctoral Fellow in English at St. John’s University in New York City. Her research interests include Shakespeare, Performance Studies, and the Nineteenth-Century British Novel. She holds her B.A. in English and Anthropology from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ms. Bradway is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company based in New York State. She has also worked fo ...