Bitter business and spoken daggers: George Peele's senecanism and the origins of William Shakespeare's ethos of revenge in 'Titus Andronicus'
Lynch, Jeff Raymond
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For nearly three centuries, scholars and critics have argued that Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's earliest revenge tragedy, lacks for thematic and characterological consistency and dramaturgical merit. Many have suggested that Titus was not written by Shakespeare--or not written by him alone. In 2002, British scholar Brian Vickers presented a comprehensive study of the authorship of the play, concluding that Titus was co-written by Shakespeare and his early modern contemporary George Peele. Critical literary scholarship has not caught up with Vickers's settlement of the authorship question and there exists a lacuna in the analysis of the play, namely, for my purposes, how do the disparately authored scenes reflect sourcing influences and intratextual character development regarding revenge as a literary descendant of classical drama and as an ethical enterprise of moral agents. Shakespeare's subsequent treatments of the ethical dimensions of vengeance, as both a public and private manifestation of the quest for justice and a psychological response to injury, spawn from the complex tropology in Titus--both those he assumed from Peele and those he introduced into the text himself. A study of the moral philosophy espoused in the joint composition of Titus affords the opportunity for a deeper understanding of how early modern playwrights addressed the desire for revenge as a psychological and moral activity and how the jointly composed play launched Shakespeare's subsequent negotiation with the revenge tragedy genre and the ethos of revenge in his later revenge tragedies.